A type of blue-green alga, spirulina has been nourishing humans for thousands of years-from the ancient Mayans and Aztecs to today's nutrition-savvy, multitasking women and men. And for good reason. A mere 3 grams of spirulina powder, or about 1 teaspoon, can match the benefits of 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, according to Gerald Cysewski, PhD, co-author of The Hawaiian Spirulina Equation.
Of course, spirulina doesn't have the high fiber content or exact same nutrients as fruits and veggies. With some nutrients, such as iron and certain antioxidants, spirulina has more, and with others, such as vitamin C and calcium, it has less. But according to Cysewski, the comparison is a fair one because it takes into account the benefits of the combination of nutrients in each case. And the fruits and veggies used in the analysis were ones commonly eaten in the United States.
Cysewski focuses solely on Hawaiian spirulina, which is cultivated in pristine water 2,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific Ocean. While the exact nutritional profile of spirulina harvested from other areas will differ, there are common properties. And various types of spirulina, including varieties from Hawaii and California, have been tested in lab, animal, and human studies.
Nutritional analysis shows that spirulina is high in protein and contains healthy fats, a variety of vitamins and minerals, and powerful antioxidants. A few of its documented benefits:
- University of California, Davis researchers found that spirulina significantly improves the immune system, which helps ward off both viruses and bacteria.
- In treadmill tests, spirulina improved performance and endurance compared to a placebo.
- Studies in Japan found that certain antioxidants in spirulina have a blood-thinning effect, help to break down blood clots, and help to prevent thickening of blood vessels and atherosclerosis.
- Other research found that spirulina helps to eliminate metals and other toxins from the body.
What to Look For
Available in both pills and powders, good quality spirulina is produced by companies that document and share information about their cultivating, drying, and storing processes. Algae grow in water-and will absorb toxins from their surrounding environment-so it's important to choose spirulina that has been harvested from non-toxic environments. If in doubt, call the manufacturer and ask, or visit company websites.
The suggested dosage for adults is 3 grams (equivalent to about 1 tsp.) daily. For children, adjust for body weight as a fraction of 150 pounds (considered the average adult weight).
How to Eat Spirulina
If you don't enjoy the flavor of spirulina, there are many ways to disguise it. "So little spirulina is needed to boost a recipe into superfood status that it's quite easy to hide, from a taste standpoint," says Julie Morris, author of Superfood Spirulina. Here are a few suggestions, plus two recipes from Morris's book to help get you started:
- Smoothies and fresh-squeezed juices (½-1 tsp. per serving)
- Popcorn, sprinkled on with other seasonings (about 1 Tbs. per 1 large bowl)
- Dips, salsas, and raw soups (1-2 tsp. per 2-3 cups)
- Sandwiches or wraps (½ tsp. per sandwich)
- Raw desserts (because high heat destroys nutrients) with a chocolate flavor and creamy texture
Earth CircleOrganicsRaw Organic Spirulina Powder is cold-processed for maximum potency.
HealthForce SuperFoodsSpirulina Manna has been dried at low temperatures to preserve nutrients.
NutrexPure Hawaiian Spirulina Pacifica tablets can be refrigerated after opening to retain freshness.