There’s been some controversy lately about spirulina, and it’s time to clear up the confusion. Spirulina—also called blue-green algae—is a type of cyanobacteria, a single-celled microbe that grows in saltwater and in fresh water. It’s a favorite food source for many types of fish. And among humans, it has long been considered a superfood. But is it really good for you?
A Nutritional Powerhouse
Chock full of nutrients, it boasts a 60% protein content and is a good source of B vitamins, vitamin E, beta-carotene, copper, iron, and selenium. It can also provide omega-3 fatty acids. Because spirulina provides a healthy dose of B12, iron, and good-for-you fatty acids, it is one of the products I recommend for vegans and vegetarians. People who don’t eat animal products are often lacking in these nutrients, and spirulina offers a plant-based option for getting them.
Why Spirulina is Better Than Flaxseed Oil
Spirulina is a much better choice for fatty acids than other plant-based options, such as flaxseed oil, which is pro-inflammatory.
Flaxseed oil contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that converts in small amounts to EPA/DHA, the specific types of fatty acids your brain needs for optimal functioning. However, because there is only about a 5% conversion of ALA to EPA/DHA, it shouldn’t be considered a reliable source of the good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids you need. Because of the low conversion rate, you would have to have to consume large amounts of flaxseed oil to reap the benefits.
I typically recommend fish oil for omega-3 fatty acids, but I know there are many vegans and vegetarians who won’t take fish oil. For these Warriors, spirulina is the next best thing.
More Health Benefits of Spirulina
Some research also suggests that spirulina provides a wealth of health benefits, including:
- Antioxidant power
- Anti-cancer properties
- Lowers blood sugar levels
- Lowers triglycerides
- Reduces blood pressure
- Protects against anemia
Sounds great! So why would anyone suggest it isn’t good for you?
What’s the Problem with Spirulina?
Spirulina does have some potential downsides, which is why some experts are hesitant to recommend it. For example, it contains the amino acid phenylalanine. For most Warriors, this isn’t an issue. However, it can be a problem for people with phenylketonuria (PKU), a condition that prevents the body from metabolizing phenylalanine. If you have PKU, don’t take spirulina without talking to your healthcare provider.
In addition, spirulina, which comes in the form of tablets or powders, isn’t regulated by the FDA. This means it doesn’t have to meet stringent requirements regarding its ingredients or labeling. If it isn’t from a reputable source, it may contain contaminants, such as microtoxins. And because blue-green algae comes from the sea, it can also have heavy metals, such as mercury, lead, or cadmium, which are found in certain fish.
My best advice is to make sure you’re getting spirulina from a brand you trust and try to find out if it’s been filtered or screened for contaminants.
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