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Spirulina: Nature's Superfood


In case you haven’t noticed, a very large and impressive category of “green foods” has established itself within the domain of the natural foods industry. The GREEN MACHINE has permeated every sector, providing nourishment and life’s missing ingredients to athletes, young children, busy executives and convalescing seniors.

Canadians want to be healthy. So many of us are adding these concentrated, freeze-dried superfoods to our dietary menu, hoping for more energy, improved detoxification and a reliable source of antioxidants, enzymes, vitamins and minerals.

Let’s be honest. Few of us consume the quantity of organic green vegetables we know are necessary to augment a good diet. Green plants, like spinach, kale, spirulina and chlorella, sustain our bodies with chlorophyll - that magnesium rich, alkaline green pigment responsible for converting the energy of the sun into living matter. In fact chlorophyll should really be classified as an essential nutrient. Its positive affects on wound healing, organ restoration and athletic performance are truly phenomenal.

Many excellent varieties and choices of green foods exist - powdered mixtures which combine a plethora of exotic and health-promoting substances, such as plant extracts, enzymes, lecithin, friendly bacteria (probiotics), alfalfa, barley, wheat grass, bee pollen, seaweed - all in a base of algae, the focus of this article.

Two distinct types of cells exist in nature. Prokaryotic cells, including blue-green algae and bacteria, and eukaryotic cells, which compose all other life forms including the higher plants and animals, fungi, protozoa and most algae. Our cells consist of an outer membrane, a cytoplasm or “soup-like fluid” containing organelles, and a membrane-bound nucleus which carries genetic material. Prokaryotic cells have a cell membrane and cytoplasm, but they lack organelles and a central nucleus. They are predominantly unicellular.

Spirulina is a blue-green algae. Its natural blue pigment is called phycocyanin, a compound known to protect the kidneys from the adverse effects of certain drugs. Spirulina has a filamentous structure with soft cell walls that are easily digested. Algae are believed to be the first plants to appear on earth and because they carry out 90 percent of photosynthesis on the planet, biologists have theorized that algae were crucial in creating our present oxygen-rich atmosphere. There are tens of thousands of species, from the extremely toxic to the incredibly nutritious. They are chiefly aquatic ranging in size from one micron (one millionth of a metre) to the giant sea kelp reaching a length of 60 m (200 feet).

Spirulina is about 60% protein, so in terms of protein density it stands alone in naturally occurring foods. To give you a practical perspective, 10 grams of spirulina provides 6 grams of protein, compared to the same weight of fresh whole egg (1.2g or 12%) goats milk (.4g or 4%) halibut (2.7g or 27%) soybeans (1.7g or 17%) or venison (3g or 30%). In terms of net protein utilization (NPU) however, spirulina takes a back seat to eggs (94%), milk (82%), fish (80%) chicken (67%) and soy (61%). Spirulina scores a modest 57%, but because it is so high in total protein content, it actually outscores every example mentioned in terms of total usable protein.

Besides its protein power, spirulina sports a milligram of iron per gram, thousands of bioactive enzymes, omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, trace elements, a 2:1 potassium to sodium ratio, 2 mcg of B-12 analogues, superoxide dismutase (SOD), 10 mg of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), mixed carotenoids and 3 mg of beta-carotene, making it the world’s most concentrated source of this provitamin.

Beta-carotene belongs to a family of about 600 carotenoids. These are fat-soluble nutrients with amazing antioxidant and immune protective properties, found in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. Most people are carotenoid deficient and taking spirulina as a supplement could immediately remedy this concern. Beta-carotene can be spilt into two vitamin A (retinol) molecules and/or serve as a potent free radical scavenger in the blood and lipid (fatty) region of the cell. Vitamin A (retinol) is called the anti-infection vitamin.

A final word on quality control, freeze drying and dosage. Quality control is a function of compliance to GMP standards (Good Manufacturing Practice) ethics and leadership integrity. Every effort must be made to ensure consumer safety through independent lab analysis, meaning each batch of imported raw materials should be quarantined and analyzed for any contaminants such as rancid fats, environmental toxins, pathogens, bacteria and heavy metals. The product’s rawness can also be confirmed through assessment of protein coagulability, vitamin C content, a variety of standard enzyme tests and total chlorophyll-magnesium content.

Heat, light and oxygen are enemies to many nutrients and enzymes in fresh, natural food. Thanks to high-tech freeze-drying methods and the development of ocean-chill drying, the potency of spirulina is preserved at the time of harvest along with many of its fragile phytochemicals. The trick is to remove moisture without destroying the effectiveness of nutrients which rely on physical structure for their activity. This is achieved by first freezing the algae, and then reducing atmospheric pressure in a special vacuum chamber. This allows the ice formed by freezing to convert to a vapor without first becoming a liquid. Ocean-chill drying is a closed cycle modified spray drying system which uses cold sea water to remove moisture and chill the air in a dryer. Both methods are excellent.

I have consumed spirulina for more than twenty years in powder, capsule and tablet form. My favourite method involves adding 10 grams of Hawaiian spirulina pacifica to my post-workout protein shake, where it is mixed into a slurry in a blender with fresh raw bee pollen and whey protein isolate (among other things such as organic fruit, The Sport Oil, creatine, etc…). I also use a green mix which includes spirulina and chlorella. First time users should start out with 500-1000mg and build up gradually. It’s one of Nature’s most potent super foods, so ease into it just like exercise. Spirulina can be taken before exercise, between meals or combined with other foods. Get creative.

References

Spirulina Nature’s Superfood, Kelly J. Moorhead, 1995

The Genesis Effect, Dr. John W. Apsley, II, 1995

Townsend Letter, May/1999, Freeze Drying, pg. 47

Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume I, 15th Edition, Algae, pg. 260