Algae: An Ancient Food source
Algae is a general term that describes a variety of different single and multi-cell organisms - from ocean kelp to the slimy stuff you have to get off your fishing line. It can be pretty annoying, especially if you have an aquarium or farm pond. But, I bet you didn’t know that algae has been a staple source of nutrition for humans for hundreds of years. For example, in the 9th century, many African city states cultivated algae, and the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican cultures routinely used algae as a food source.
The most common food source algae are Chlorella and Spirulina, which are both grown in freshwater ponds and are often referred to as pond scum.
Despite the unappetizing name, both Chlorella and Spirulina are a fascinating group of microorganisms. Much like plants use sunlight, algae uses carbon dioxide to engage in photosynthesis in order to survive and reproduce at incredible rates.
Chlorella is single cell freshwater algae that is composed primarily of chlorophyll, which allows it to photosynthesize like plants. As a food source, chlorella is an incredibly sustainable food and is considered to be a superfood. It’s super because it contains many important nutrients and antioxidants, like Beta Carotene. Antioxidants are important because they bind with free radicals and other toxic compounds, which helps eliminate them from our body. Chlorella has also been shown to help stimulate the growth of “good” gut bacteria which has a significant beneficial effect on overall gastrointestinal health.
Spirulina is another fresh water grown superfood that is packed with nutrition that's related to Chlorella and seaweeds, like kelp. Spirulina is a “blue-green algae." Unlike Chlorella, Spirulina is a cyanobacteria. It is not exactly like an algae, but it still contains chlorophyll which allows it to photosynthesize like algae. Spirulina is becoming more popular worldwide, especially in Asia, and you can find it in many popular organic juice drinks.
Since Spirulina is not a true algae (it doesn’t have a cellulose cell wall) it is easily digested and can be consumed with very little processing. Since Spirulina needs so little processing, it keeps all its natural nutrients. The protein in Spirulina is also very easy to digest because of its simple structure, which allows all of the amino acids to be absorbed and utilized. Spirulina contains 60% protein, 30% carbohydrate, and approximately 10% fatty acids, like gamma & alpha linolenic acids. It is also an excellent source of vitamins (vitamins A, C, D, E and B1-B3), micronutrients (calcium, zinc magnesium), and antioxidants and phytoproteins that protect cells from oxygen free radicals and oxidative damage and stress.
Spirulina also contains a high degree of prebiotic fiber, which is a form of fiber that humans cannot digest, but it is a superfood in its own right for our “good” gut bacteria. Research has shown that Spirulina can boost probiotic growth significantly more than commonly available prebiotic fiber in a more natural and organic way.
Although Chlorella and Spirulina are both available, in our opinion Spirulina is probably the better source of nutrition and health supplement. The health benefits of each are similar, but Spirulina is much more easily digested, making the nutrients more bioavailable and easily assimilated. Also, unlike Chlorella, Spirulina requires very little processing, making Spirulina a very natural and organic product which contains no additives.