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?
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
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.
Some research also suggests that spirulina provides a wealth
of health benefits, including:
Sounds great! So why would anyone suggest it isn’t good for
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
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