4 Spirulina Health Benefits—Plus, Recipes and When to Avoid It

This blue-green powder delivers on nutrition.

Spirulina, the blue-green algae you'll likely find in a powdered form that used to only be available in health food stores, is now proliferating supermarkets everywhere. Though it's been used as a food source for hundreds of years in cultures around the globe, it's only now becoming a health item du jour in the United States. Here's what you need to know about spirulina, its health benefits, and how you can incorporate it into your diet.

History of Spirulina

Spirulina, or Arthrospira, is an alga that's been used across cultures for centuries. According to WebMD, the Aztecs utilized spirulina to treat various diseases and perhaps used it as a supplement for the kingdom's messengers to sustain themselves on their marathon runs. Spirulina is used in much the same way today and has even made its way to space as a dietary supplement for astronauts on NASA missions.

Now, it appears everyone wants to get their hands on this stuff. According to KBV Research, the global spirulina market is expected to reach $651 million by 2025. Spirulina can bloom and grow naturally in alkaline lakes around the world. However, companies are now lab-growing these algae (which have an earthy, seaweed-like taste) in massive tubes to ensure enough supply for everyone.

Overhead view of glass with chlorella drink, spirulina and chlorella powder and tablets on a pink background
Getty Images

Spirulina Nutrition Benefits

Emmie Satrazemis, RD, a board-certified sports nutritionist, registered dietitian, and nutrition director at Trifecta, believes spirulina deserves a spot in many a diet. Satrazemis points out that the naturally vegan food is packed with nutrients. Here are some of the health benefits of spirulina.

Loaded With Protein and Vitamins

According to Satrazemis, spirulina "is a fairly protein-dense and low-calorie" food. Plus, "it contains notable amounts of calcium, niacin, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins, and iron." Satrazemis also notes that 1 tablespoon of spirulina contains just 25 calories, 0.5 grams of fat, 1 gram of carbs, and 4 grams of protein.

May Reduce Risk of Developing Macular Degeneration

"Spirulina is also a notable source of phytonutrients—plant-based compounds that are thought to provide protective health benefits," Satrazemis continues. More specifically, spirulina is rich in a certain group of phytonutrients called carotenoids.

Per a Harvard University study, carotenoids are beneficial for both eye and immune health. A pair of the most common carotenoids—lutein and zeaxanthin—are found in the retina and may decrease your risk of developing macular degeneration by up to 43 percent.

Packed With Brain-Healthy Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Josh Schlottman, a certified personal trainer and nutritionist, notes that spirulina is thought to be one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Spirulina boasts both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in an approximately 1.5–1.0 ratio.

According to numerous studies, omega-3 fatty acids can help fight depression and anxiety, ward off age-related mental decline and Alzheimer's disease, and promote brain health during pregnancy and early life. Aside from giving your brain a boost, omega-3 fatty acids can also improve risk factors for heart disease, fight inflammation, and improve bone and joint health.

Fights Cancer Cells and Inflammation

"There are also other nutrients present, such as chlorophyll and beta-carotene, which have been proven to fight cancer cells and protect vision from aging," Schlottman adds. "There are many benefits to spirulina, including the fact that it can help fight inflammation, boost your immune system, improve your gut health, and regulate blood sugar levels."

Should People Add More Spirulina to Their Diets?

Schlottman points out countless benefits to adding spirulina to your daily diet. "Some of the most notable and important benefits include antioxidant protection, improved vision health, increased energy levels, low blood sugar regulation, and immune system strengthening/boosting," Schlottman explains. "Spirulina is also a great source of protein for vegetarians and vegans."

And the list goes on. Spirulina could also play a significant role in staving off malnutrition. According to a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Pediatrics, malnourished children who received spirulina saw significantly more improvement in weight and height gain than children who received the regular local diet.

To get all these potential benefits, Satrazemis suggests the easiest route: "Add a scoop of spirulina to your morning smoothie or in other recipes for a small boost."

Reasons to Avoid Spirulina

Some people should avoid spirulina. According to Schlottman: "Those with anemia or low blood levels may want to stay away from it because of its high iron content. It can also cause nausea in those without a healthy stomach. People on certain medications might need to avoid spirulina as well, so be sure to talk with your doctor before adding spirulina to your daily diet."

Per Live Science, those with certain autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis may want to avoid spirulina, as it could worsen symptoms. Spirulina may also weaken the effect of immunosuppressants. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also avoid spirulina, as there is a lack of safety information regarding expecting and nursing moms ingesting it.

Where to Buy Spirulina and How to Store It

Spirulina is available in many forms, including capsules and powders. It's also baked into other items (such as bars), blended into smoothies, and can act as a topper to popcorn. Spirulina can be found in grocery stores around the world throughout the year.

It's best to store spirulina tablets and powder in the refrigerator. Though it doesn't technically go "bad," its nutritional qualities will degrade over time. Thus, it's best to consume spirulina within a few months of opening it.

3 Spirulina Recipes

As you may have guessed, if you wish to incorporate some spirulina into your diet, you can add the nutritious algae to just about anything. Keep reading for a few healthy recipes that could benefit from a bit of spirulina.

Overhead view of three raspberry smoothie bowls displayed on a floral tablecloth
Christopher Testani

Raspberry Smoothie Bowl

Blend a teaspoon of spirulina into this vibrant smoothie bowl made with a banana, frozen raspberries, almond milk, vanilla extract, and more. If you're not sure if you'll like the earthy taste of spirulina, this is a great way to give it a try as you get used to its bold flavor.

Chickpea "Cookie Dough" Bites on White Plate
Victor Protasio

Chickpea "Cookie Dough" Bites

These no-bake "cookie dough" bites are made with chickpeas (yes, those chickpeas) but taste eerily similar to oatmeal raisin cookie dough. To give your dough bites a bit of an earthy flavor—which will complement the chickpeas—add a dash of spirulina to the recipe.

Green Smoothie in a Glass
Caitlin Bensel

Good Morning Green Smoothie

This smoothie is already green and packed with healthy fruits and vegetables (think apples, spinach, and Persian cucumbers), so chances are you won't even notice if you add a teaspoon or two of spirulina to the mix.

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