09/12/2018 Nutrition and Recipes
Some secrets of the Aztecs are meant to be shared. The value of the nutrient-dense spirulina deserves to be shouted from the rooftops. Caffeine (aka energy) lovers, this algae is for you.
Have you heard of spirulina? Don’t be surprised if you haven’t! It’s not a food that is commonly found in the standard American diet. However, it’s incredibly nutrient-dense, which means it provides a variety of different vitamins and minerals. Spirulina’s long history reaches back to the Aztec civilization, but the superfood became popular in modern times when NASA discovered that it can be grown in space and used as a dietary supplement for their astronauts. How cool is that!
What Is Spirulina?
Spirulina is a blue-green algae that is grown in Hawaii and other parts of the world, in both fresh water and salt water. It’s typically consumed as a dried powder—in capsule or tablet form. Spirulina goes unrecognized by most, but it should be on the forefront of the nutrition world as it’s packed with health benefits! Specifically, it provides energy. Having a natural way to increase energy is always something to get excited about. Peace out, caffeine—spirulina is the new energy booster.
Spirulina for Energy
Spirulina is nutrient-dense. In one tablespoon of spirulina, you get the following:
- Calories: 20
- Protein: 4.02 g
- Carbohydrates: 1.67 g
- Vitamin B1: 11% recommended daily allowance (RDA)
- Vitamin B2: 15% RDA
- Vitamin B3: 4% RDA
- Iron: 11% RDA
- Copper: 21% RDA
Let’s look at the protein in spirulina. As noted, one tablespoon contains 4.02 g of protein. What’s awesome about the protein in spirulina is that it’s considered a complete protein. A complete protein means that it contains all the essential amino acids that are required for protein assimilation in the body. How does this relate to energy? Certain amino acids, like glutamine and phenylalanine, are helpful for maintaining energy. If the body is deficient in amino acids, many of the functions, like energy production, won’t run effectively. Spirulina is a greater source of plant-based protein than many other plant-based sources becauase it is a complete protein Spirulina is a good addition to the diet for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet to boost protein intake, but it’s helpful for everyone—no matter what diet you follow.
The vitamin B1, or thiamin, contained in spirulina is also helpful for maintaining energy. When the body is deficient in thiamin, you will more commonly experience fatigue and weakness.
Spirulina contains small amounts of almost every nutrient, including vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. When you look at the nutrients in spirulina, it is gram-for-gram one of the most nutrient-dense foods available! It makes sense why the astronauts use it in space to supplement their diets. It’s an easy way to boost the nutritional content of your diet.
Green Is for Chlorophyll
Spirulina has a rich green color, which is due to the chlorophyll that it contains. Chlorophyll is helpful for increasing energy because of how it transfers energy inside the body. ATP (energy molecules in the body) are manufactured by mitochondria which exist inside your cells. Chlorophyll helps this process by transferring electrons which accelerates the production of ATP (energy) inside the body. It’s energy on a cellular level!
Not All Spirulina Is Created Equal
Quality is critical when it comes to spirulina. Because spirulina is an algae, it can be contaminated by toxins in the oceans, just like any seafood. Spirulina is most commonly grown in Hawaii where many brands source it from. Brands like Nutrex Hawaii grow their spirulina on the coast of Kona, Hawaii, where this specific brand doesn’t use any pesticides or herbicides.
How to Incorporate Spirulina into Your Diet
There are many ways you can successfully incorporate spirulina into your diet. The flavor of spirulina is “green” tasting—think grass and seaweed. That being said, when you pair it with the right foods, you can mask the flavor! Citrus fruits have a sweet and tart flavor that helps minimize the bitterness of the spriulina. You can also get used to the flavor quickly, so don’t worry if you hate the taste at first. Here are a few different ways you can consume spirulina:
- Spirulina + orange juice shot: Pour 2 oz. of orange juice and 2 teaspoons of spirulina powder into a glass. Mix up and drink! This is a great energy booster in the morning.
- Spirulina smoothie: 1 cup coconut water, handful of spinach, 2 stalks celery, ½ cup frozen mango, half a banana, and 1 tablespoon of spirulina powder. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth!
- Spirulina capsules or tablets: If you can’t stand the taste of spirulina, buy it in capsule form and take it as directed.
These are just a few ideas for incorporating spirulina into your daily life. Consuming it every day will help you reap the greatest benefits.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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