What Is Spirulina? Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About This Superfood

What Is Spirulina? Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About This Superfood

I was ordering a combo pack of wheatgrass and avocado powder and along came this box of Spirulina powder which I had never heard about before. It was a beautiful finely-ground, dark green colour powder. As I opened the box and used my olfactory senses to explore this new product, I must admit, it isn’t a pleasant fragrance. My first thought was, how will I ever be able to consume Spirulina? However, this provoked me to research about the product and the benefits of Spirulina were convincing enough for me to consume the powder on a daily basis.

Table of Contents

    What Is Spirulina?


    Spirulina can be counted as one of the oldest food sources because of its high nutritional value. Ancient Aztec and African civilizations understood Spirulina's health benefits. Spirulina is a genus of blue-green algae (yeah, that green thing you see stuck on the walls of floating in the water) which we use as a nutritional supplement. Blue-green algae also known as cyanobacteria are microscopic fresh-water organisms. They get their green colour from chlorophyll and blue from the protein known as phycocyanin. This nutritional supplement naturally forms in warm, alkaline, salty, brackish lakes. Now, as it is used for nutritional purposes and for commercial usage, it is grown by aquaculture. 

    Mostly, Spirulina is used as a source of protein and beta-carotene. It was used by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to feed malnourished kids in India and the results were amazing. They were fed 1 gram of Spirulina every day for a year. It decreased a type of blindness that results from insufficient consumption of vitamin A.  

    It’s often recommended to vegans and vegetarians as Spirulina is also a good source of vitamin B12. But I wouldn’t recommend that. Rely on other sources of vitamins. Spirulina is not a very effective source of vitamin. Most vitamins in it are in a form that’s unusable for humans. 

    Spirulina is also considered a great source of zinc and iron. It helps boost your immune system and is said to alleviate the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The superfood is rich in Evercetin, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that is beneficial for sinusitis and asthma patients. The protein that gives the algae its blue relieves various allergies and arthritis. 

    Nutritional Profile of Spirulina


    You might be thinking what makes this weird smelling algae so fascinating? Let me tell you that this blue-green supplement contains many nutrients including B-vitamins, beta-carotene, gamma-linolenic acid, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, selenium, zinc, bioflavonoids, potassium and protein. This superfood is considered better than kale and chia seeds. 

    Sixty-five per cent of Spirulina’s composition is protein. These proteins contain all the essential amino acids and some non-essential ones as well. Spirulina’s protein is compared to the animal protein as it’s similar but doesn’t contain saturated fats, residues of hormones or antibiotics found in some meats. Its iron content makes it even more popular amongst vegetarians and vegans.

    Even though it is a good source of minerals, vitamins, bioflavonoids and other phytochemicals, Spirulina is always safely consumed in small quantities. It also has high digestibility and bioavailability of nutrients. 

    Health Benefits of Spirulina


    As per National Institutes of Health (NIH), Spirulina is promoted as a treatment for metabolism and heart issues such as weight loss, diabetes and high cholesterol. It is also recommended for mental and emotional issues like anxiety, stress, depression and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Other than these, here are some more benefits of Spirulina. 

    1. Rich source of nutrients

    Spirulina contains vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, vitamin B12, fatty acids, Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) and Spirulina has the highest concentration of protein. It is also rich in Iron, Calcium, Protein, Essential And Non-Essential Amino Acids, Antioxidants, Phycocyanin, Chlorophyll, Sodium, Carotenoids, Zeaxanthin, Magnesium, Manganese and Vitamin K.

    2. Enhances immune system

    Spirulina stimulates the immune system by increasing body’s immunity defenses. It promotes cell regeneration which helps the body in recovering faster from an illness.

    3. Good for athletes

    Spirulina encourages the production of various stem cells including red blood cells to bring more oxygen to the body's organs. Spirulina also improves blood circulation through the production of nitrous oxide.

    4. Powerful antioxidant

    Because of the presence of phytonutrients (carotenoids, chlorophyll and Phycocyanin), Spirulina is a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. These antioxidants protect cells from the damage.

    5. Detoxes heavy metals

    Chlorophyll present in Spirulina helps the body remove toxins like heavy metals. It improves gut health and digestion. It removes the free-radicals that are harmful for the body. 

    6. Energy Booster

    Spirulina’s rich nutrient-filled resume lead to more natural energy for the body. Spirulina contains iron that helps one recover from fatigue and in improving blood circulation. The plant based protein naturally provides more energy to the body. 

    7. Natural plant protein

    Sixty per cent of Spirulina is protein. It improves muscle growth, recovery and endurance power. Spirulina is an easily absorbing vegetable protein. It’s also non-allergic.  

    8. Anti-inflammatory benefits

    Inflammation can occur after injuries or exercise. Spirulina’s phytonutrients help reduce inflammatory conditions.

    9. Cholesterol benefits

    The studies have shown that Spirulina helps in maintaining the levels of LDL (Low-density lipoprotein - bad cholesterol) and increases HDL (High-density lipoprotein - good cholesterol). 

    10. Natural source of iron

    The natural iron present in Spirulina helps increase oxygen intake and reduce fatigue. Iron helps in maintaining Hemoglobin levels and transports oxygen to the body tissues. It improves blood circulation which decreases the possibility of anemia.

    11. Phytonutrient benefits

    Phytonutrients are produced by plants and benefit the body by improving immune functions. Phycocyanin acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and Chlorophyll helps in detoxing and cleansing body. 

    12. Eye health

    High vitamin A present in the form of beta-carotene helps protect the cornea which is important for good vision. Spirulina’s beta-carotene gets converted into vitamin A and its carotenoids improve cell-health. Spirulina also contains zeaxanthin which promotes eye health.

    Skin Benefits of Spirulina


    Most of all skin benefits, Spirulina helps you fight acne. It heals and relieves inflammation, fights free radicals and eliminates toxins along with the skin bacteria. If you consume it regularly, it can heal and prevent acne.

    As Spirulina is rich in vitamins, it tones the skin and encourages cell turnover to promote youthful skin. The nutrients do wonder even when applied to the skin. It works on the dullness of skin and gently detoxifies it. It helps in shedding dead skin cells which leads to a healthier skin and natural glow. 

    How To Include Spirulina In Our Daily Diet?


    Spirulina’s smell and the thought that it is algae, did make it a difficult task for me to consume it but with time I figured out a few ways to make it easier on myself. Spirulina supplements are usually available in powder, flake, capsule and tablet form. However, they are expensive and have a strong flavour but they are the best forms to consume this superfood. If you are consuming Spirulina in the powder form, you can always add them to your smoothies, desserts and juices. Here are a few recipes you can try! 

    Spirulina Smoothie Bowl

    Ingredients: 1 Banana, ¼ frozen cauliflower, 3 tablespoon protein powder, 1 tablespoon coconut flakes, ½ cup vanilla almond milk and 1 tablespoon Spirulina

    Process: Put banana, frozen cauliflower, protein powder, coconut flakes and Spirulina in a blender along with a quarter cup of vanilla almond milk. You’ll get a beautiful, super thick green paste. Pour it in a bowl and smoothen the surface for toppings, using a spoon. Top your smoothie bowl with your favourite fruits like strawberries and kiwis. I do it with bananas, coconut flakes, chia seeds. 

    Chocolate Brownie Bites

    Ingredients: 5-8 Dates, 8-10 almonds, 2 tablespoons of raw cacao powder, 2 of tablespoon peanut butter, 1 tablespoon Spirulina, 2 tablespoon maca powder and ½ cup water

    Process: Grind almonds in a food processor. Add dates, raw cacao powder, maca powder and Spirulina to it. Blend it all together. Then add some peanut butter and water to the mixture. Blend it up again until the dough forms. Make balls out of the dough with your hands and shape and smoothen them. Freeze them for about 10-15 minutes. They taste like little brownie bread. Eat them and store the leftovers in the freezer. 

    Mermaid Chia Fresca

    Ingredients: 1 glass water, 1/2 cup grapefruit juice, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of chia seeds and q tablespoon spirulina powder

    Process: Add water, grapefruit juice and lemon juice into a mason jar. Then add chia seeds and Spirulina powder. Seal it tightly and shake the jar until everything mixes well and chia seeds are incorporated properly throughout the water. Refrigerate it for about 15 minutes. Just remember that the longer it sits, the thicker it will get so choose your desired consistency and drink it. It’s very energising, hydrating and easy-to-drink.

    Mermaid Toast

    Ingredients: 1 bread, 1 cheese slice, ½ tablespoon Spirulina powder and 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds

    Process: Spread some cheese on your bread. Add two-three pinches of Spirulina powder on top of it and spread it all over. Add pumpkin seen on it to make your breakfast crunchier. Warm it up in your microwave until the cheese melts and then eat it. It makes a great, energising breakfast and it’s easier to consume Spirulina this way.

    Green Smoothie

    Ingredients: 1 Banana, 1 slice of pineapple, 1 tablespoon of Spirulina, 5-6 leaves of spinach or kale and 1 cup almond or coconut milk

    Process: Blend all ingredients together in a blender and keep adding your choice of milk until you have the desired consistency. Put it in the fridge for 15-20 minutes and drink it up while it’s cold. It tastes good and is energising.

    Lemon Spirulina Vinaigrette

    Ingredients: ½ cup Lemon juice, ½ tablespoon Spirulina, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar

    Process: Mix lemon juice, Spirulina, olive oil and apple cider vinegar in a bowl using a spoon. Add salt and pepper to it as per taste. Pour vinaigrette on your salads for the extra flavour. 


    How much Spirulina should I take daily?

    It is not recommended to consume a large quantity of Spirulina as it has power-packed composition of nutrients and strong flavour. A standard daily dose of 1 to 3 grams is sufficient. However, you can consume up to 10 grams per day.

    Are Spirulina stimulants safe?

    Massive studies on the effects of Spirulina are still in process, but the results from small studies suggest that Spirulina supplements are absolutely safe when consumed in the recommended quantity. A lot of controversy has surrounded the effects of blue-green algae in the past but Spirulina has proven itself to be efficient. All thanks to the nutrients present in the superfood!

    What forms does Spirulina can be consumed in?

    Spirulina is usually found in nutritional supplements in the form of capsules, tablets and powder.

    How do you make Spirulina taste better?

    The easiest way to consume Spirulina is in the form of tablets and capsules but if you are consuming it in powder form, you can add a small spoon of Spirulina to your juice and smoothies to make it taste better. If you are drinking it in water, warm your water and then consume it. The warmth of water suppresses the taste and smell of Spirulina.

    What are the side effects of Spirulina?

    Spirulina is a sensitive pollutant in seawater, hence is also used as a biosensor to measure the toxicity in water. Due to this Spirulina is grown in toxic water or sea is contaminated with heavy metals. Consuming it could be infectious and may show more side effects than benefits. Also, you may see side effects even when it is not consumed in the recommended quantity as it is a strong substance. The potential side effects of Spirulina are gastrointestinal, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. It is rare but it can also cause allergies, insomnia and anxiety in some cases.  

    Featured Image Source: Shutterstock

    Also Read: Superfood Edit: 3 Nutrient Dense Foods That You Can Add To Your Smoothies AND Face Masks! And These Underrated Superfoods For Happy Skin Might Already Be A Part Of Your Diet!

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