What Is Spirulina?
Arthrospira Plantensis, also known as spirulina is a distinctively greenish-blue microalgae that is one of the oldest life forms on the planet, and is considered to be a highly nutritious food.
Spirulina is named after the Latin word for “spiral”. It grows in freshwater lakes, ponds, and other bodies of water that are rich in minerals, typically found on every continent but particularly in regions that contain volcanoes.
Spirulina is often referred to as a “super-food” due to its remarkable nutritional benefits, containing high amounts of proteins, amino acids, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and other beneficial compounds unique to green-blue colored algae. (Source)
The History of Spirulina
Spirulina has a lengthy history, with records of it being consumed in the region of the Kanem Empire which would eventually become Chad, where it was dried to form cakes that were (and still are) used as supplementary broth to meals.
Spirulina was believed to have been consumed as a food source in the 12th century by the ancient Aztecs in the region that would eventually become Mexico. The Aztecs referred to the microalgae as “the stone’s excrement.
The spirulina harvesting process was recorded by a soldier of conquistador Hernan Cortes in the 16th century, as was descriptions of cakes and pastries containing spirulina. (Source)
There was little record of spirulina after this period until the 1940’s, when Pierre Dangeard, a French botanist, observed an interesting phenomenon while visiting Chad.
Dangeard observed that flamingoes that drank and ate from a lake containing spirulina had far longer life spans that the average flamingo.
Dangeard’s studies on spirulina and its properties remained relatively unnoticed until other scientists began researching spirulina found in Lake Texcoco, Mexico in the mid-1960s and other sources of spirulina within Africa.
By the 1970’s, the French had established the first farm to produce and harvest spirulina and the United Nations declared the microalgae a “super-food”. (Source)
Today, spirulina is grown and harvested across the world in over 20 countries for commercial consumption in nearly 80 countries. (Source)
Spirulina has often been referred to as one of the most nutrient packed untreated foods available on the planet today.
Once ounce of spirulina contains 39 grams of protein, 230 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids, 351 milligrams of omega-6 fatty acids, adding up to approximately 81 calories.
Spirulina is also rich in important minerals and vitamins. That same ounce of the microalgae will also provide you with 85 percent of your targeted daily value of copper, 44 percent of iron, 60 percent of riboflavin, and 44 percent of thiamin.
Spirulina also contains calcium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, sodium, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, and niacin in daily value amounts ranging from 3-20 percent. (Source)
As spirulina is a plant-based life form, it also contains chlorophyll, which may assist with the flushing of certain toxins from the blood as well as boost the immune system.
It also contains antioxidants in the form of beta carotenoids, which can be beneficial to the body both externally and internally. (Source)
Health Benefits of Spirulina
Due to its high nutrient content, spirulina has a wide range of benefits on health and wellness.
As spirulina contains a high amount of protein for a plant as well as a variety of essential minerals, vitamins, and micronutrients, many studies have explored how spirulina can improve health and even help combat certain diseases.
A study of malnourished children in Central Africa aimed to establish whether spirulina supplements would have any impact on reducing the symptoms and negative effects of malnutrition, such as vitamin deficiency, oedema, and overall nutritional status.
Half of the children in the study were given daily doses of spirulina, the other half were given a placebo. After a period of 30 days, the children who had been taking spirulina displayed 15 percent decreased anemia, 60 percent decreased edema, and significant increases of hemoglobin levels (a key protein found in red blood cells).
The study also observed that the children taking spirulina showed improved nutritional status overall in a relatively short period of time (30 days), concluding that spirulina was highly beneficial to children suffering from malnutrition. (Source)
Preventing cardiovascular and liver disease
Another study revealed that spirulina and other forms of blue-green algae (BGA) can contribute towards preventing cardiovascular and liver disease (specifically nonalcoholic fatty liver disease).
The study collected the results of studies monitoring the effects of spirulina and other BGA, concluding that tests on animals and humans alike revealed that daily doses of the nutrient-packed algae successfully improved blood lipid profiles and reduced the risk of oxidative stress and inflammation. (Source)
Effect on blood pressure and cholesterol
Spirulina’s anti-inflammatory properties are also beneficial for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. A pigment found in spirulina, phycocyanin, has been revealed by scientists to have anti-hypertensive benefits, meaning the ability to lower high blood pressure.
A study that monitored the effects of spirulina doses on rabbits being fed a diet high in cholesterol revealed that the rabbits who received higher doses of spirulina benefited from higher reductions in cholesterol levels, suggesting that the more spirulina is consumed, the more impactful the benefits.
Spirulina can also be helpful to individuals aiming to lose weight. As spirulina is so protein-dense and nutrient-rich, it takes more energy from the body to metabolize and can leave you feeling fuller for longer and less inclined to snack or over-eat. (Source)
Is Spirulina Paleo-Friendly?
The Paleolithic diet – or Paleo diet – follows one general rule: if a certain food or beverage was not available to our Paleolithic ancestors, don’t eat it. Only foods that were available to our hunter-gatherer predecessors are acceptable on the Paleo diet.
The diet is founded on the principle that all the foods that became available following the Agricultural Revolution (grain-based foods such as pasta, bread, pastries, etc.) and processed foods were never intended to be consumed by human beings in excess amounts.
Foods such as dairy, any and all grain products, legumes, and vegetable seed oils are not considered Paleo. The same goes for drinks that are alcoholic or contain sugar (i.e. sodas).
The diet is plentiful in foods that are natural and nutrient-dense. Vegetables can be consumed in abundance, as well as meat, seafood, fish, poultry, healthy fats such as olive and coconut oil, and eggs.
Whenever possible, it is ideal to purchase grass-fed meats, wild fish, and organic vegetables to obtain the best possible nutrient concentration from the foods you consume.
Certain nuts and seeds as well as fruit are also considered paleo, although should not be consumed to excess. Certain fruits can be high in fructose, a form of sugar, and nuts such as almonds and walnuts can contain high amounts of polyunsaturated fats. (Source)
Since spirulina is a microalgae (a form of plant) and rich in nutrients, it is an acceptable addition to a Paleo diet. (Source)
Is Spirulina Keto-Friendly?
The ketogenic diet – or keto diet – aims to induce your body into a state of ketosis to promote weight loss as well as increase general well-being through eliminating carbohydrates.
Ketosis is the fat-burning state the body enters into when it is in a state of starvation. The keto diet aims to promote ketosis by starving the body of carbohydrates rather than unhealthily restricting calories.
The body is designed to burn fat as fuel, but most individuals consume so many carbohydrates in the form of grain-based products and processed foods that the body burns glucose (sugar) instead, which results in the body storing fat.
Weight loss is not the only benefit of following the keto diet. The diet promotes higher energy levels, lowered blood pressure and cholesterol, and improved appetite control.
The keto diet eliminates grain-based products, starchy foods (beans, potatoes and legumes included), and sugary items including natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup, and fruits.
Rather than relying on portion control and calorie counting, the keto diet encourages eating nutrient-rich, healthy foods until satisfied. Acceptable foods include all forms of meat, poultry, and fish, green leafy vegetables, fatty dairy products, nuts and seeds, berries, avocados, and non-grain based oils (i.e. coconut oil, olive oil, etc). (Source)
As spirulina contains a wealth of essential vitamins and minerals – particularly protein – and is a part of the greater plant family, it is an ideal and acceptable supplement to take while following the keto diet. (Source)
Is Spirulina AIP-Friendly?
The AIP diet – or autoimmune protocol diet – is a diet that aims to reduce inflammation and subsequent disruptive symptoms from diseases affecting the immune system by avoiding foods that are considered inflammatory to intestinal mucosa, or beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Through eliminating a significant portion of food groups and types, the AIP diet aims to heal intestinal mucosa and encourage the body to remain in a state of reduced inflammation to avoid flare-ups of the autoimmune disorders’ detrimental symptoms.
Although restricted foods may eventually be re-introduced over time, it is important to gauge the body’s reaction and introduce new foods gradually and one at a time to ensure that no inflammatory reaction occurs.
Foods that are to be avoided on the AIP diet include any and all processed foods, grain-based products, eggs, seeds, nuts, legumes, herbs derived from seeds (i.e. mustard, cumin, etc), dairy products, alcohol, and sugary products (i.e. soda and candy).
Foods that are allowed on the AIP diet include all vegetables exempting nightshades such as tomatoes, coconut-based products, natural fats such as olive oil, avocadoes, lard and bacon fat, non-dairy fermented foods, vinegars, all non-seed fresh herbs, organic grass-fed meats, poultry and seafood, and fruits (in moderate quantities).
Although the list of acceptable foods are generally considered to be beneficial to gut health and non-inflammatory, certain food items – such as oils or some acidic fruits – may irritate certain individuals, and should be identified and phased out if inflammation continues after several weeks of following the diet. (Source)
Despite its many nutritional benefits, spirulina is not considered an acceptable supplement to the AIP diet. Although vegetables, including vegetables from the sea are encouraged on the AIP diet, it is recommended to avoid algae (such as spirulina) as they are considered immune-stimulators. (Source)
How To Use Spirulina
Spirulina is commercially available in two different forms: tablets and powders. It is also used in an ingredient in certain healthy snack foods and drinks.
In powder form, spirulina has a distinctive, seaweed-like flavor and may be used as an ingredient in anything from smoothies to cooked meals and desserts.
Spirulina powder has a relatively long shelf life, and may be preserved in the refrigerator for several months. However, many of the nutrients within the powder are sensitive to oxygen and may decrease in value the longer the powder is left exposed to open air.
Just as with any product, the quality of spirulina varies depending on where and how it is produced – it is best to ensure the spirulina you purchase is as fresh as possible and nutrient-rich, as some powders and tablets on the market may be of a lower quality than others.
Regardless of what you choose to add spirulina powder to, be aware that even a small amount of powder will change the color of the liquid or food it is added to into a vivid shade of blue-green.
As spirulina has a powerful flavor that may not be everyone’s preferred taste, it may be mixed – for smoothies or drinks – with fruits that are sweet for a balance of flavors, such as pineapple, mango, and banana. (Source)
Spirulina is versatile, and may be included in wide variety of recipes from appetizers such as spirulina spring rolls and spirulina soup, to snacks such as spirulina yogurt and kale chips.
Spirulina can be added to popular dishes such as ice-cream, trail mix bars and even pizza – depending on how much you add, it can be just enough for a mild flavor and burst of color or enough to give a simple dish a hit of unique flavor.
If spirulina’s flavor isn’t for you, you can enjoy its multitude of nutritional and health benefits by taking spirulina tablets, as you would any other flavorless vitamin supplement – either way, it’s worth the nutritional advantages! (Source)
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