You’ve seen it out in nature floating on ponds or surfing on waves, but what exactly are algae and can they be good for your health? Including algae in your diet just might support your health in a variety of ways. So it’s good that algae are finally getting their moment in the sun among healthy eaters. But what exactly are algae and should you be consuming algae as food? Read here to learn about the potential health benefits and environmental benefits of microalgae.
What Is Algae?
Algae are at the bottom of the food chain in any body of water. But like any other form of plant life, algae absorb carbon dioxide as they grow. Therefore, they have a major role in releasing the oxygen that we breathe. Algae are grown, not just as a food source, but also as feedstocks. And since ⅔ of the planet’s surface is technically water, algae is a great nutrient source with a lot of health-supporting potential that can grow all over the world.1 Algae are a massive, varied group of organisms, the likes of which are among the oldest forms of life on the planet. Algae are simple plants that can range in size from microscopic (microalgae) to large, lengthy seaweed or kelp (macroalgae). Let’s take a closer look at microalgae and how to reap its health benefits.
Microalgae: Common Types
Microalgae are single-cell organisms found in all kinds of water systems throughout the planet. You can find microalgae in freshwater systems, seawater systems, hypersaline lakes, and even in desert and arctic ecosystems.2 Microalgae are energy-packed and because they can grow so easily in photobioreactors (translucent systems that support biologically active environments) or in open water ponds they’ve become extremely popular.3 Two common types of microalgae include cyanobacteria, (similar to bacteria, and referred to as “blue-green algae”) and green algae. Blue-green algae — Often referred to as cyanobacteria, blue green-algae grow in freshwater and saltwater ecosystems. They do especially well in quiet lakes and ponds where they give the water a deep green color. Cyanobacteria basically harness energy from the sun and process it to become valuable nutrients and proteins your body needs.4 Blue-green algae, like spirulina, is full of useful nutrients and can provide some important health benefits.5 Green algae — Chlorella is actually a single-celled algae that can live on land and in aquatic ecosystems. Not only that but green algae like chlorella pack a significant nutrient, mineral, and antioxidant punch.6 Golden algae — Euglena gracilis (sometimes referred to as golden algae) is special because it doesn’t need sunlight to grow, though it can still grow under sunlight. Furthermore, it’s an excellent source of dietary protein, vitamins A, C, and E, and dietary fiber.7 Not only that, but euglena gracilis contains beta-glucans (the same compound in mushrooms that’s good for your immune health).8
What You Should Know About Consuming Microalgae
You can find microalgae in several health products today. Often you’ll see algal products in your favorite health cafes and coffee shops. Two of the most popular are spirulina and chlorella powder. Algal powders such as these can be added to foods and beverages such as —
- Salad dressing
- Drinking water
But what are the health benefits of spirulina and chlorella, exactly?
Spirulina: Potential Health Benefits
Spirulina happens to be quite rich in nutrients. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration states that spirulina contains the following —
- B vitamins
- Essential amino acids9
Recent research shows that the nutrients in spirulina (a type of blue-green algae) might help support:
- Cardiovascular health. This is one of the olive leaf extract benefits too.
- Healthy cholesterol levels
- Immune function
- Joint health
- The fight against oxidative stress10
Chlorella: Potential Health Benefits
Now, chlorella contains a heap of unique macro- and micro-nutrients, as well. In fact, some of the nutrients found in chlorella are as follows:
- Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids
These nutrients provided by chlorella powder may support:
- Healthy cholesterol levels
- Healthy blood sugar levels
- The fight against oxidative stress12
Golden Algae (Euglena gracilis): Potential Health Benefits
Golden algae (otherwise known as Euglena gracilis) can be found in various supplements. A favorite, BetaVia algae, is dense with good-for-you nutrients. This dried whole-algae fermentate consists of over 50% beta-glucans.13 Due to the nutrients found in Euglena gracilis, consuming this algae may support immune health. Some of the immune-supporting nutrients are as follows:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
Green Smoothie With Algal Powder
This smoothie recipe is one of Dr. Gundry’s favorites. Here, you’ll add either your choice of spirulina or chlorella powder to the smoothie.
What You’ll Need:
- 1 tsp spirulina or chlorella powder
- 1 cup chopped romaine lettuce
- 1⁄2 cup baby spinach
- 1 mint spring, with stem
- 1⁄2 avocado
- 4 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1⁄4 cup ice cubes
- 1 cup tap or filtered water
- 3 to 6 drops stevia extract (optional)
What To Do:
- Place all of your ingredients in a high-powered blender.
- Blend on high until your drink looks smooth and fluffy.
- Add more ice cubes if desired.
That’s all there is to it. The only thing left is to drink and enjoy it. Sources 1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3576896/ 2 https://www.longdom.org/open-access/biomass-from-microalgae-an-overview-2332-2632-2-118.pdf 3 https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/earth-and-planetary-sciences/microalgae 4 https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/health-benefits-blue-green-algae-5022.html 5 https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/health-benefits-blue-green-algae-5022.html 6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26561078 7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6530250/ 8 https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/euglena-gracilis 9 https://www.livescience.com/48853-spirulina-supplement-facts.html#:~:text= 10 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5387034/ 11 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26561078 12 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26561078 13 https://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/article/algae-versatile-ingredient-food-beverages-and-supplements/page/0/1 14 https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/11/12/2926/htm#:~:text=