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7 Things You Didn't Know About...Spirulina

April 14, 2014

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Growing up, we had a small pond in the backyard. It was murky and bacteria-filled, and the thought of eating anything out of it was repulsive—which makes me wonder what younger me would think if she knew I pay a lot of money to eat pond scum now!

Spirulina, a single celled cyanobacteria (often mistakenly called a blue-green algae) that grows on the tops of ponds and is otherwise known as pond scum, is quite the superfood. While most people take it solely for detoxification purposes, more and more research is showing that its benefits reach much further than a detox.

Whether you've been using spirulina for years, or this is the first time you've heard of it, it's a truly fascinating superfood. Not only does it have unique and powerful health benefits, but it also has a long and interesting history, and has been used for a wide range of purpos—some of them pretty surprising!

 

Here are 7 things I bet you didn’t know about spirulina:

  1. The Most Ancient Food: You may have only recently heard of spirulina, but it is one of the oldest living organisms on the planet, believed to have been here for at least 3.6 billion years. Like a plant, it uses photosynthesis to make energy. As a single-celled organism, it reproduces quickly, making it a very sustainable food source that was used in both Central America and Africa for centuries.
  2. Warrior Fuel: In Mesoamerica, spirulina was made into cakes and consumed daily up until about the 16th century, when many of the lakes were drained for agricultural and urban development. It is believed that the Aztecs gave it to their warriors and runners daily for strength and endurance.
  3. Perfect Smoothie Addition: The concentrated, deep, dark hue of spirulina will turn your morning smoothie into a lean green detox machine, thanks to its high chlorophyll content. You only need ½-1 teaspoon, and when paired with sweet fruit, you can hardly taste it. I like it with pineapple or banana.
  4. Promotes Longevity: The Japanese grow and consume more spirulina than anywhere else in the world, and it looks like they may be onto something. They have the second highest life expectancy rate in the world, with an average lifespan of 82.6 years, compared to 79.8 in the US, which is ranked 35th.  
  5. The Solution to Malnutrition? Because spirulina is so nutrient-dense (it’s 60% protein,  and contains all the essential amino acids and nearly ever vitamin and mineral, including B vitamins, vitamins C and A, calcium, magnesium, and iron, just to name a few) and it grows abundantly in Africa, it’s being used as an effective treatment against malnutrition in developing nations.
  6. Perfect Protein: Spirulina is a complete protein, which means it contains all eight essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein in the body. Protein is the building block of our cells, and so it’s crucial for every organ and function. Since essential amino acids are needed for protein synthesis, and our body can’t make them on its own, they must be consumed through the diet (hence the name “essential”). Without all eight of them, protein synthesis breaks down. While most animal foods are complete proteins, only a few plant foods are, like quinoa, pumpkin seeds, and spirulina. So it’s a great, easy add-in for vegetarians and vegans looking for more complete plant proteins.
  7. Natural Anti-Viral: If you go to the doctor for the flu, she’ll likely send you home with doctor’s orders to rest and drink fluids. Since influenza is caused by a virus, it can’t be treated with an antibiotic. That’s why I think that the most exciting aspect of spirulina is its anti-viral capabilities. It has been found to be active against several enveloped viruses including herpes, influenza, and HIV, and it works on two levels: by halting the virus from replicating, and preventing it from invading your cells.

Plus, unlike many other superfoods, whose purported health benefits are based mostly on anecdotal evidence, there is quite a bit of hard research to back up spirulina’s status as an incredibly nutrient-dense and health-giving food.

You can find it in health food stores as a supplement, ether in powdered or tablet form.

Have you tried spirulina? What was your experience with it? Leave a comment below to let us know!