Spirulina: What is this stuff?
There are over forty thousand–yes, someone has actually counted them–types of single-celled microalgae which need only a drop of water and a sunbeam to make them prosper. But among those forty thousand varieties of little water-loving organisms, one species is clearly making the largest nutritional splash.
Weighing in at an impressive 60% protein content, Spirulina is a fresh water alga–actually, a form of bacteria–which knocks both red meat, at 27%, and soy, at 34%, on the ropes in terms of muscle-building potential. And it brings to the ring, along with all that protein, a powerful combination of minerals, including iron, calcium, and magnesium, with a backup punch of all the vitamins to which the first five letters of the alphabet have been assigned. If only Spirulina were bigger; it might have been able to fit all the vitamins in. But a single Spirulina alga measures approximately .0196850394 inches in length.
If Spirulina wanted to get bigger, however, it probably could. How? By eating its relatives. The Chinese add Spirulina to the diets of commercially produced poultry and livestock to increase their growth rates.
Another growth rate which has definitely increased because of Spirulina is that of the Spirulina commercialization industry, which began with annual harvests of around one hundred tons in the 1970s. By the year 2020, according to BioNat.net, worldwide Spirulina production is expected to reach 220,000 tons.
The most avid believers in the health benefits of Spirulina are the Japanese, who both produce and consume more of it than anyone else. Some Japanese researchers claim that Spirulina, because of the high concentration of its nutrients, is useful in helping diabetics control their food cravings and decrease their insulin intake.
The only potential black marks against Spirulina are its expense and the possibility that its high protein, vitamin, and mineral, according to the Hong Kong Dietitian Association, could cause kidney and liver problems. Excessive protein intake can overload the kidneys; too many vitamins and minerals, the liver. Spirulina, if the Hong Kong experts are to be believed, can be too much of a good thing.
And, when France started its research on Spirulina in the 1970s, global scientists were looking at it as the inexpensive answer to the ages-old question of how to feed a protein-starved Third World.
Today commercially produced Spirulina powders and pills sell at health food stores for the equivalent of about $50 per pound, or some ten times what it costs to grow and harvest. The Third World is still waiting.
vitamin A, B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalamin), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, folate, vitamin K, biotin, pantothenic acid, beta carotene (source of vitamin A), inositol.
(It has been brought to my attention that some have questioned whether Spirulina contains vitamins B12 and D. I have cross checked my original source with this Ask Alice article at the Health Services at Colombia University website. I hope this clears up any confusion.)
calcium, manganese, iron, chromium, phosphorus, molybdenum, iodine, chloride, magnesium, sodium, zinc, potassium, selenium, germanium, copper, boron.
phycocyanin, chlorophyll, carotenoids.
myxoxanthophyll, zeaxanthin, cryptoxanthin, echinenone and other xanthophylls.
gamma linolenic acid, glycolipids, sulfolipids, polysaccharides.
isoleucine, phenylalanine, leucine, threonine, lysine, tryptophan, methionine, valine, alanine, glycine, arginine, histidine, aspartic acid, proline, cystine, serine, glutamic acid, tyrosine.