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You have probably not heard of Spirulina, but it is about time you did.
Scientifically speaking Spirulina is a form of blue green algae (cyanobacteria) occurring naturally in tropical and subtropical lakes as a similar relative to the algaes Chlorella and Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (true Blue Green Algae). Cultivated worldwide the nutritional benefits of Spirulina are becoming more realised- far and above the stocking of algae powders and supplements in health food shops. Food security is becoming a pressing issue, even in the developed world, as economic recession and fluctuating global prices are being felt by the consumer. Further, as famines, desertification and the effects of climate change ripple throughout the third world, the poorest and most vulnerable of the world's population attempt to survive on limited resources. It has been posed by the United Nations WHO (World Health Organisation), through the creation of the Intergovernmental Institution for the use of Micro-Algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition that the remarkable health benefits of spirulina could offer a panacea to malnutrition and could have wide-reaching impacts for improving quality of life and development.
How is spirulina grown? In specifically designed farms, where it is grown in open ponds, constructed with paddle-wheels that agitate the water. It is produced in over 22 countries with the largest commercial producers being located in the United States, Thailand, India, Taiwan, China, Pakistan and Myanmar (Burma). Production costs around $10 to $20 per kilo in these commercial farms and where farms use lakes with natural alkaline content the production costs tend to be less (around $5 to $15 a kilo). As land based agriculture and meat/dairy farming has been largely expanded to meet growing food demands, spirulina has yet to be harnessed to its full potential. There are not big farm subsides for its production and hence the cost remains pretty high. Perhaps though these high prices reflect a true cost we should be paying for increased human health, lesser ecological destruction, reduced use of GMOs and the abandonment of pesticide use.
Hawaiian Spirulina is considered to be some of the best available, due to the location and design of Hawaiian production systems. They use deep ocean water drawn from a pipeline (some of the cleanest coastal waters in the US) which is then used as a naturally nutrient rich cultivation medium. It is dried and then sold, by Blue Green Planet for example as 100 x 500mg tablets, with a special online price of £6.50. You can also buy Blue Green algal supplements and spirulina powders in all good health food shops retailing anywhere from £5 up to around £15 for a large powder tub.
Why is it such a miracle food? What are the nutritional benefits?
If we look through the rose-tinted glass of the 'superfood' movement and all that hype, then spirulina could practically be touted as the bringer of eternal life. However, the difference between spirulina and other food supplements or 'super foods' is that research into the health and healing properties are extensive and are backed up by substantial evidence through clinical trials in humans.
Essentially though the properties are simple derivatives of its extensive nutrient display:
It is a complete protein, containing all essential amino acids and contains an unusually high protein content for a non-animal source: 55-77% of dry weight.
It contains B1, B2, B3, B6, B9 and possibly some B12 (though this is contestable), which play a vital role in cell metabolism, healthy skin, muscle tone, cell growth and nervous system function.
High levels of vitamin C, D and E
High iron content: a tablespoon a day can eliminate iron anaemia.
A rich source of potassium and also contains calcium, chromium, copper, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium and zinc.
Rich in beta carotene that can overcome eye problems caused by vitamin A deficiency
It is the only food source, except for breast milk, that contain substantial amounts of the essential fatty acid GLA that helps to regulate hormone levels.
It can be administered to children with no associated risks
Medical studies have been undertaken in potentially advocating its use in the treatment of HIV infection, fibromyalgia, hay fever, herpes, high cholesterol, arsenic poisoning, stroke severity, age-related memory and learning decline, liver protection and long term weight maintenance.
A human study over 6 weeks in which 36 volunteers took 4.5 grams a day, showed conclusively lower total cholesterol and lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Can be used to treat radioactive poisoning, such as in Belarus.
Spirulina requires less energy input per kilo than soy, corn or animal protein. As energy supplies become more threatened, the less energy needed, the lower the cost of production and the easier to produce regardless of global energy crises.
It doesn't need fertile land for cultivation, conserving land biodiversity, forests and soils. Much of global agribusiness focuses on intensive systems that maximise yield regardless of the effects on the environment.
As a coincidental carbon sequester: spirulina mops up carbon dioxide in order to grow and releases oxygen, just like trees or plants but even more efficiently.
Can be grown in salt water
How to take it
As supplements (tablet form) or as a powder (say mix it into smoothies, fruit juice or water). It does have a rather pond-like taste, but is easily masked in a smoothie or juice. It gives it that characteristically healthy green look!
I tend to buy mine from Holland and Barrett, as it is cheaper than the Hawaiian Blue Planet algae. In my personal experience, it seriously peps me up when I am feeling lethargic. If I know I am not going to be able to eat for quite a long time then I will make sure I have some as it works tremendously as an appetite suppressant: I guess because your body knows that it now has all the nutrients and minerals it needs for a while!
http://www.bluegreenplanet.co.uk/product_spirulina.html to buy some
http://www.iimsam.org/benefits.php to see how WHO are implementing the use of spirulina in food packages and development programmes.
From the dawn of civilisation through the ancient Aztecs to the modern day; Spirulina has been a precious 'Wholefood'. Being 60% protein, weight for weight, it is a beneficial store of highly digestible, plant protein, with all the essential amino acid: i