Traditional recipes

What Is Spirulina—and How Do I Use It?

What Is Spirulina—and How Do I Use It?

Before you buy your own spirulina powder, let us explain why we love it, how you should try it, and why it's here to stay.

You probably never thought you would be adding algae powder from tropical lakes to your smoothies, but spirulina is becoming quite the popular addition for many health-focused eaters. Even though this superfood is in the spotlight right now because of its nutrients, bright green color, and bounty of healthy benefits, spirulina has been a superfood long before 21st-century nutritionists began adding it to their smoothie bowls.

Spirulina is quite possibly one of the oldest life forms on Earth. The first people to ever use this algae as a food source is unclear, but Aztecs and African natives may have consumed the algae in their daily diet many centuries ago.

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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Fast forward to today, we understand why spirulina is here to stay. Our assistant nutrition editor, Jamie Vespa, MS, RD, breaks down why this superfood clearly has staying power and is gaining momentum in superfood circles:

Dried spirulina contains about 60 to 70 percent protein. It’s actually considered one of the few plant-based sources of “complete protein,” meaning it contains all essential amino acids your body needs but can't produce on its own. It’s also a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamins A, E, and K. Spirulina may be more beneficial for vegans or vegetarians that lack adequate iron in their diet. Touted as a “superfood," health claims surrounding the blue-green algae include its ability to boost immunity, fight allergies, and reduce fatigue.

Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Prop Styling: Audrey Davis; Food Styling: Anna Hampton

With its high nutrient density, the benefits of spirulina reach far and wide. We love it in our smoothies in the morning because research suggestions the powder may boost energy, reduce fatigue, and naturally suppress appetite. Great benefits, right? That's why we say it's time to say goodbye to coffee and hello to spirulina smoothies.

Like other superfoods, spirulina may strengthen the immune system, help with digestion, balance the body's pH, and reduce inflammation. Small studies support these claims, but more research is needed to know if these claims are true.

Spirulina is available as tablets or powders. We prefer the algae in its powdered form because it's easy to add to recipes, such as our Best Green Smoothies. However, "spirulina can get a bit pricey, and it's always important to remember the lack of quality control in the supplement industry. As such, do your research to find a quality product that has been third-party tested and is certified free of contamination," Vespa explains.


Cooking With Spirulina: The Dos And Don’ts

Spirulina has been a culinary ingredient for centuries. Spanish colonists came across the Aztecs harvesting and using it while exploring Mexico. The Kanembou people in Chad are believed to have been using it all the way back in the 9th century. These days, spirulina is seen as more of a nutritional supplement in the United States but it is still viewed as a food in some parts of the world. Like any food item that has been around for a long time, there are rules regarding its use. Let’s break down the dos and don’ts of cooking with spirulina.


2-ingredient wellness shot recipe

The two ingredients we use in our wellness shot recipe are oranges and spirulina powder, these two ingredients are readily available to buy in most big supermarkets. Unless you can’t find organic spirulina powder in your local supermarket, you will definitely find it in health and wellbeing stores. Spirulina has lots of health benefits containing all of the amino acids that are crucial for our bodies to function well. It is also packed with vitamins, minerals, and active compounds with positive effects on our health and wellbeing.

This wellness shot has a sweet seaweedy flavour. It’s luscious with a minerally taste which is easily made to make a quick and healthy start your day. With only two ingredients to make this shot, it is very easy to make but try adding a little bit of lemon juice, lime juice, or a little bit of grated ginger you can put your own twist on it very easily.

Both spirulina and oranges are alkaline ingredients. Even though oranges are high in citric acid they are part of a food group that will alkalize our body. This is because when we metabolize or convert our food into energy there is a chemical reaction that leaves behind metabolic waste and this waste is either acidic, alkaline, or neutral. When the residue or ash is left behind whatever its Ph level is will affect our body’s acidity. The thought is that the more acidic you are the more susceptible you are to illness and disease. The more alkaline you are the more protected you are to potentially lower the risk of cancers and other acute illnesses.


Spirulina Face Mask with Avocado

This one is nourishing and moisturizing. The mask uses intense cleansing and oxygenating virtues of spirulina to its fullest. It also contains some of the most powerful antibacterial essential oils. Get the full mask recipe here.

Recipe from Miss Wish

Apply one of these face masks regularily to ensure younger-looking, healthy skin. Spirulina is especially known for its skin rejuvenating and skin brightening properties, so make use of it!

Opening Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice the content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


Source: 5-ingredient blueberry mousse

This simple dairy-free mousse from Christine DesRoches is made from just 5 ingredients. The blueberries give the mousse a natural sweetness and give the mousse such a beautiful purple color. This recipe is raw, vegan, gluten-free, fruit-sweetened, and paleo this one checks many allergy-friendly boxes! Most importantly, it’s delicious, light, and great as a dessert.


What’s not to love? Well, spirulina is a bit of an acquired taste. Your best bet is to combine it with other flavors by adding it to recipes. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite ways to use spirulina below. (And if you’re still not a fan? It comes in tablet form too!)

Spirulina is super energizing, so it’s great for adding to your breakfast. This chia pudding will keep you satisfied all morning long.

Like any other superfood that’s more nutritious than delicious, spirulina is excellent for blending into a smoothie—paired with apple juice and ginger, you won’t even feel it’s there.

These citrusy pops are perfect when you need to cool down after being outside in the hot sun—the coconut water will help balance your electrolytes too.

Blue Spirulina Popsicles from Green Smoothie Gourmet

The easiest way to work spirulina into your day? Drinking it! You could mix it with water and drink it like that, but trust us: this latte is much tastier.

Spirulina is a fantastic add-in for chocolate truffles, energy balls, and snack bars, but these meringues might be the prettiest use for it yet!


Spirulina Benefits and Side Effects

Spirulina becomes more and more popular among people who are interested in alternative solutions to maintain their health. That is why it is good to know the answer to questions, like:

What is spirulina about?

What is the nutritional value of spirulina?

What are spirulina benefits and side effects?

In just a few minutes time, at the end of this text, you will have all necessary info needed, so that you can decide whether and how to use spirulina!

What is spirulina about?

To put it simply: spirulina is actually a seaweed. Seaweed benefits are numerous, and it is worth start using them in one or another way!

But to get back to spirulina: it is cyanobacteria. Very often you will see it named “blue-green algae.” To be even more precise, spirulina is a common name of two species: Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima.

Being aware of the terms is good. But even more critical for you is the next chapter:

What is the nutritional value of spirulina?

And here comes one of the most fantastic spirulina properties: It is extremely rich in proteins, forming the whopping 60% of its composition!

And what about the other 40%?

It has vitamin B1, and B2 called thiamin and riboflavin. They both are essential nutrients, which means we cannot produce them naturally in our body, and we will have to obtain it from the food we take.

It also contains minerals, like calcium, iron, and manganese. The last mentioned element supports metabolism and development.

Last, but not least, spirulina is rich in fatty acids, like gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), alfa-linoleic acid (ALA), and linoleic acid. GLA is an essential omega-6 fatty acid, which supports the immune system of our body.

Another significant GLA source is borage oil. The last two mentioned acids are omega-3 and omega-6 essential ones which we have to acquire through external sources, like spirulina.

Learn more about the benefits of the seaweed soap!

I think this is enough for you to understand what a precious gem you may have, consuming spirulina!

Having in mind the above info, let’s see

What are spirulina benefits and side effects?

Benefits

1. It has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Spirulina successfully fights with free radicals, as the primary “weapon” is a substance, called phycocyanin.

2. Spirulina can decrease the bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. At the same time, it might increase the good HDL cholesterol.

3. It can reduce the blood pressure, thus prevent a heart attack and issues with kidneys. But the opposite is also exact. Higher intake levels of spirulina could potentially lead to dangerously low blood pressure.

Be careful, follow the consumption guidelines of the products used, and you will be fine.

4. Spirulina can oppose allergies and nasal congestion.

5. It can reduce anemia levels. The most common spread anemia forms lead to low levels of red blood cells. As a consequence, one might feel dizziness and fatigue. Spirulina intake increases hemoglobin and improves immunity.

6. Spirulina can enhance muscle strength and endurance. Its antioxidant properties help physically active people overcoming muscle fatigue.

7. Last, but not least, spirulina demonstrates anti-aging effect over your body. We have already mentioned its ability to attack free radicals, as one of the culprits in harming body cells and organs.

People, who cannot absorb large food quantities, might benefit from spirulina as a highly concentrated way to receive useful substances.

8. It can purify the body from heavy metals. Imagine: iron in spirulina is 50 times more than iron in spinach!

Side effects

If not overused, spirulina is not among the dangerous substances. Based on research, University of Maryland Medical Center suggests there could be a risk of heavy metal contamination, due to the property of spirulina in absorbing these solid substances in the water.

Other potential side effects could be dizziness, vomiting, headache, thirst, stomach pain, thirst, weakness. Avoid spirulina if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you have any doubts, regarding spirulina intake, you always have two safe options, that could eliminate the chance to make a wrong move:

1. Contact your doctor before taking spirulina

2. Buy high quality, trusted and certified products.

Thus, you will calmly and confidently take delight in this beautiful natural food supplement, which has so many benefits and so few side effects for your health!

WATCH this short video about spirulina benefits:

Conclusion

I hope, by reaching the end of this text, you already know the central terminology concerning spirulina, what are its main benefits and how to avoid any uncertainties, when using spirulina!


How to Take Spirulina Powder

This article was co-authored by Adrienne Youdim, MD. Dr. Adrienne Youdim is a Board Certified Internist specializing in medical weight loss and nutrition and founder and creator of Dehl Nutrition - a line of functional nutritional bars and supplements. With 10+ years of experience, Dr. Youdim uses a holistic approach to nutrition that blends lifestyle changes and evidence-based medicine. Dr. Youdim holds a BA from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and an MD from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). She completed her residency training and fellowship at Cedars-Sinai. Dr. Youdim holds multiple board certifications awarded by the American Board of Internal Medicine, the National Board of Physician Nutrition Specialists, and the American Board of Obesity Medicine. She is also a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. Dr. Youdim is an Associate Professor of Medicine at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She has been featured on CBS News, Fox News, Dr. Oz, National Public Radio, W Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times.

There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

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Spirulina is a type of algae rich with nutrients that serves as a great diet supplement, as it is very rich in protein, iron, B vitamins, and has antioxidant properties. It is especially good for vegetarian or vegan diets as it contains vitamin B12, which is usually only found in meat. [1] X Expert Source

Adrienne Youdim, MD
Board Certified Internist Expert Interview. 11 September 2020. Most find the savory sea flavors of spirulina powder off-putting, which is why it is often mixed into drinks and recipes to mask the taste. It is usually recommended to have no more than 2 tbsp (14 g) per day, as even just a little of this algae is packed with nutrients — 60 to 70 percent of its weight is pure protein!


Caution

Sprirulina and chlorella are powerful detoxifier so it is important to start with a small dose and work your way up so that you can see how your body responds, and then gradually increase your dosage. Some detoxification reactions that can possibly occur when consuming these algae are: a low-grade fever, dark green waste, excessive gas, restlessness, breaks out or itchy skin, and or sleepiness.

These symptoms are temporary and are evidence that your body is responding to it. If you are pregnant, nursing or have hyperthyroidism you should discuss supplements with your health care provider.

Some of the links I post on this site are affiliate links. If you go through them to make a purchase, I will earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you). However, note that I’m recommending these products because of their quality and that I have good experience using them, not because of the commission to be made.


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