July 28, 2012
Regardless of whether you think that us land-dwelling creatures at some point evolved from ocean-dwelling life (a belief espoused by my previous podcast guest Jack Kruse to encourage people spend time in the cold and to eat more seafood), it can’t be denied that fish, turtles, and millions of other large and small inhabitants of water rely on one extremely dense nutrition source for sustenance of life…
Those fish are pretty darn smart, huh?
But algae isn’t just something that our ocean dwelling neighbors can eat and thrive upon.
Algae has been used by tens of millions of people in Asia for over 50 years – and even Olympic athletes and NASA astronauts have relied on algae for decades as a way to pack a lot of nutrients into a very small volume of food – since algae contains 1,000 times more nutrition than anything else in the world (or if you’d like to think about it this way, one gram of algae – about the equivalent in a tiny tablet – has the nutrition of 1,000 grams of fruits and vegetables).
Yet, for some strange reason, although it meets all FDA requirements and has been sold in the USA for four decades, algae remains virtually unknown to mainstream America.
Seriously – ask yourself – when was the last time you thought of extremely energy dense foods like steak, nut butter, blueberries, kale and pictured algae along in there with that stuff?
Fact is, you’re missing out if you’re not eating some form of algae. So today, I’m going to tell you exactly how to find and use algae in your diet – and it does not involve sticking your head into fish tank and gulping down slimy green plants.
OK here we go…
One of these algae tabs gives you the same nutrition as eating salads all day long.
What Is Algae And Why Is It Good For Me?
A quick word of warning: if you (like me), get bored and glossed over eyes from reading laundry lists of “beneficial vitamins, minerals and nutrients” in certain foods, feel free to skip this chlorella and spirulina stuff and jump down to “What Algae Is Best?” and “What Are Good Sources To Buy Algae?” sections of this article.
…there’s two basic forms of algae that you can easily get your hands on at health food stores, on the internet, or in supplements: the two forms are chlorella and spirulina.
Here’s the skinny on both:
Chlorella is a single-celled freshwater micro-algae that contains the highest known quality of chlorophyll found in a nature. Chlorophyll has a chemical structure very similar to hemoglobin, and because of these properties, it can carry oxygen around in the blood and increase your red blood cell count.
That means you can get bigger lungs when you’re eating algae.
Compared to other commercial sources of chlorophyll like wheat grass, barley, and alfalfa (all popular ingredients in “greens” supplements), chlorella has five times more chlorophyll than wheat grass, twelve times more than barley and nearly ten times more than alfalfa. Because of it’s extreme photosynthetic efficiency from the high levels of chlorophyll, chlorella is a very attractive potential food and energy source (it is also high in protein and other essential nutrients, and when dried, is about 45% protein, 20%fat, 20% carbohydrate, 5% fiber, and 10% minerals and vitamins).
In other words, chlorella is an energy powerhouse.
Interestingly, chlorella also seems to be programmed for ultimate survival and replication, and has a very unique ability to quadruple in quantity every 20 hours, which is something that no other plant or substance on earth can do. This unique ability exists because chlorella is 3% RNA and 0.3% DNA by weight (which means that it contains some of the highest RNA/DNA nucleic acid components of any other food on the planet).
What this means for you is that in your own body, these nucleic acids (RNA and DNA) are responsible for cellular renewal, growth and repair – and these same nucleic acids significantly decline with age – which means that not having enough nucleic acid on board leads to aging, a weakened immune system and an inability to recovery quickly.
Chlorella, by virtue of its superior RNA/DNA content, can assist in slowing this aging process and preventing the onset of many chronic, degenerative illnesses associated with getting older (and these same hyperspeed repair mechanisms help you to recovery from workouts with lightning speed).
And that’s not the whole story on chlorella.
The indigestible cellulose of chlorella’s cell wall can attract and bind with heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium and literally remove them from your body. These detoxification properties mean that chlorella is a good way to reverse the damage from environmental pollutants. In addition to leaching heavy metals, chlorella can assist with the removal of hydrocarbon pesticides, herbicides and insecticides, and can also have protective effect on the liver, your body’s valuable toxin filter.
Summary: You’ve heard me talk about anti-aging before. At this point, chorella’s potential is huge in that department, as well as in the area of oxygen capacity, muscle repair, detoxification and liver protection.
Now let’s look at chlorella’s close cousin: spirulina.
Spirulina is also a microalgae, but it’s actually higher than chlorella in protein content, at about 60% protein, with all the essential amino acids. Although spirulina’s slightly reduced amounts of methionine, cysteine and lysine make it (or chlorella) not quite as complete a protein source as meat, eggs or milk, algae is still highly superior to any other plant protein, like legumes or grains.
Spirulina is also about 7% lipid, and high in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), along with other essential fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). For a vegan or vegetarian who doesn’t eat fish, or has a hard time getting enough fats or proteins, this is really good news – an ocean chock full of what you need to keep your brain and nervous system from deteriorating.
And spirulina is a rich source of vitamins, including vitamin B (but not B12, so you’ll still need another source of that), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and minerals like like potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium and zinc (yes, this is the part where you get glossy-eyed reading laundry lists of nutrients, but I’m just sayin'…)
Compared to any other plant, spirulina also has the highest concentration of antioxidants in the world, the highest concentration of beta carotene in the world, is a great source of fuel for the good bacteria in your gut, and has the second highest concentration of omega 3 fatty acids (second only to mother’s milk). On top of that, it has over 40 vitamins and minerals despite having only one calorie per serving.
Summary: Even though chlorella is high in protein, spirulina is even higher in protein, and also an excellent dietary source for muscle recovery and repair, amino acids and fatty acids (especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan and don’t eat meats or have a hard time getting enough fats – which is why I think it’s crazy that algae isn’t discussed in articles like this: Can A Vegan Diet Fuel A High Performance Athlete?).
So What Algae Is Best?
Now wait a minute.
Even if you’re drooling over the benefits of algae, you can’t just go rushing to your local bargain supplements outlet or bulk foods website to grab just any old algae source.
When it comes to algae, if you’re serious about what you put into your body, the source matters.
So here are 8 very important considerations for you if you don’t want to waste money on a bunch of completely ineffective algae – you should read and follow these 8 tips if you don't want to do more harm than good to your body in the process of introducing algae into your diet.
1. Get certified, organic non-genetically modified (non GMO) algae. Purity is important with this stuff, and you don’t want to be eating genetic mutants that have been dosed repeatedly in herbicides and pesticides.
2. Don’t get algae from spirulina and chlorella companies that put “fillers” in their algae. This means you would need 10-20 times the algae necessary to actually get a positive effect – and that amount with completely flip your stomach. Just get 100% pure spirulina and chlorella. Similarly, do not get chlorella or spirulina in any kind of gel cap, especially if you are vegetarian or vegan, since most of those gel caps are made from fish oil. In most cases, you have no idea what other fillers are in those gelatin capsules.
3. Just like beef, there are different grades of spirulina and chlorella. The lower quality grades have fewer nutrients, lower concentration of protein and less potency, and once again, you would need 10-20 times the normal amount of an inferior grade of algae to get any good effect.
4. The country of origin where spirulina and chlorella are grown is very important. For example, many suppliers of spirulina in China have been found to falsify their paper work and claims about being organic (in fact, there are a lot of products that come out of China that are falsely certified). Yet a company that just wants to make sales will usually go with the cheapest suppliers – and often that means they are buying the algae from China. This is very dangerous because you really don’t know what you are getting, and you could be harming your health more than helping your health if you buy cheaper spirulina or chlorella that was grown in China – and may in fact contain not only a high concentration of contaminants, but also a lower grade of algae.
5. Similarly, due to the ongoing radiation problems from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, be careful with any spirulina or chlorella that was grown in Japan. Spirulina and chlorella are grown hydroponically (in water), so any radiation could potentially be in the Japanese water in small amounts.
6. Be careful with your source, because extraction techniques vary when it comes to algae. One technique that can be used to “crack” the exterior shell of chlorella (so that the nutrients can be absorbed by your body) is via passing the chlorella through a sound chamber and using sound wave vibrations for extraction. This is a relatively new technique and preserves all the nutrition in the chlorella. This is in contrast to all the Japanese and most other growers of chlorella in Asia, who use a 50 year old technique in which they tumble the chlorella with glass beads to crack it. This method is dangerous – primarily because the chlorella can be contaminated by the lead in the glass and also because the process produces high amounts of heat, which damages the nutritional quality of the chlorella.
7. Do not use spirulina or chlorella that has been exposed to heat drying. This is very important because heat damages the active enzymes in the algae, and prevents it from being a truly “raw” food. A process called air drying involves shooting the algae into the air and allowing it to fall into piles of powder, which are then packed into the small “pellets” or “bits”, and this process is considered low heat and much safer.
8. Pay attention to the algae preservation methods. For example, algae can easily and safely be stored in vacuum packed, non-transparent bags or containers, which have a stable shelf life of over two years. These type of containers can also be specially coated to protect the algae from UV rays. This is important because algae has the highest concentration of chlorophyll on the planet (which is what makes it green) but chlorophyll is very light sensitive. As soon as light starts to hit the algae, the nutrients in the chlorophyll start to lose their potency. So if your spirulina or chlorella is coming in a transparent container or bag, that is not a good thing.
When we’re traveling, she eats a handful of these each day to give her all her nutrition and protein needs, and this will also keep her appetite satiated and limit mindless snacking while sitting on the plane (remember, algae tablets are just one calorie per serving).
Jessa can also use these pre-workout for a ridiculously high source of energy and focus, without the same crash-and-burn effect of caffeine or energy drinks.
It’s pretty amazing what a tiny handful of little green tablets can do.
A word of warning: no matter which source of algae you choose, if you get chewable spirulina or chlorella tablets like my wife uses, they will turn your mouth temporarily green. But you can easily rinse with water if you want to get your adorable, kissable face back.
Anyways, as you can probably tell, I like EnergyBits, because they fulfill all 8 criteria I listed above. But I’ve personally tried a few other very potent and safe sources of chlorella and spirulina, and below are the other brands I trust to contain good forms of algae without being laced with heavy metals or contaminants:
- LivingFuel SuperGreens: this is a “meal replacement powder” that contains algae sources, along with digestive enzymes, probiotics and a bunch of other antioxidant and anti-inflammatory ingredients. But Supergreens is an actual meal – so if you’re looking for something low calorie to munch on, this wouldn’t necessarily be the best option.
- Enerprime: Like Supergreens, Enerprime contains a huge cocktail of adaptogenic herbs, anti-inflammatories and antioxidants – but without the higher calorie count. It comes in capsule or powder form, so there’s a “swallow and don’t taste it capsule option” for you if you don't enjoy the ground-up-salad-like flavor of the powder. But pricewise, Enerprime is bottled gold, and definitely not the least expensive option out there. I’ll vouch for it’s quality and extreme efficacy, however.
- Mt. Capra Capagreens– this is a powder blend of minerals, organic broccoli, acerola cherries, organic spinach, garlic, cinnamon – and of course, broken cell wall chlorella and spirulina. At 80 calories per serving, it falls between Supergreens meal replacement and lower calorie options such as Enerprime or EnergyBits. I personally keep a canister of this around for post-hot workouts because of the combination of minerals, algae, and potent antioxidants.
In summary, when it comes to good sources to buy algae, I’d look at things this way:
- If you want calories and meal replacement along with your algae, use Supergreens.
- If you want something fun to eat that you can pop into your mouth like popcorn, use EnergyBits.
- If you don’t mind paying more, and want an option for either capsules or powder, use Enerprime.
- If you want a good-priced powder that packs a punch of other veggies too, use Capragreens
I personally use Supergreens for workout fueling and meal replacement, Enerprime capsules as a daily go-to supplement, and Capragreens after hot workouts where I need the minerals too (yeah, I’m an algae addict and like having multiple options around). Jessa uses EnergyBits because A) she thinks she’s cooler than me with her fun little algae tins and B) she doesn’t like powders and large amounts capsules.
Are There Any Algae Discounts?
So now that you’re an expert of algae and brands of algae, here are some discount codes for you:
- EnergyBits Discount: Use 10% discount code “BEN” at http://www.EnergyBits.com
- Supergreens Discount: Use 10% discount code “BENGREENS” at http://pacificfit.net/items/living-fuel-supergreens/
- Enerprime Discount: Get it on monthly autoship and get a 10% discount at http://bengreenfield.impaxworld.com
- Capragreens Discount: Use 10% discount code “BENGREENS” at http://pacificfit.net/items/capragreens
I hope that helps you in your algae quest.
Is Algae Safe To Eat?
By the way, I’ve been asked before if any of this stuff can be toxic.
Fact is, toxicological studies of the effects of algae (primarily spirulina) consumption on humans and animals, including feeding as much as 800mg/kg, and replacing up to 60% of protein intake with algae sources, have shown no toxic effects, and in contrast, algae intake has actually been found to prevent damage caused by toxins that affect the heart, liver, kidneys, neurons, eyes, ovaries, DNA, and testicles. Dozens of human clinical studies have shown no harmful effects of algae supplementation.
What Do You Think About Algae?
Do you have questions, comments or feedback on algae, spirulina, chlorella, EnergyBits, Supergreens, Capragreens, Enerprime, or any other seaweed, greens or anything else algae related? Leave your thoughts below, and I’ll be happy to answer.