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Updated on: Sunday, September 12, 2021, 08:45 AM IST

Spirulina: From health benefits to dosage and side-effects, here's all you need to know about the algae food

Spirulina is nature’s gift of proteins and other beneficial nutrients for health-conscious eaters. Loaded with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, the saviour algae is a daily dose for many
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Do you lead an active life?

But are you a picky eater?

Spirulina is often understood to be the euphemistic name for ‘pond scum’ but it’s a blue-green algae found in warm regions across the globe acts as an energy-booster, a superfood for health-freaks and nutrient-deficient folks.

A superfood

If spirulina is considered a superfood, then rightly so. Known to grow naturally in alkaline water, protein, iron and high levels of phytonutrients can be found in it as also micro-nutrients such as potassium and sodium which provide a backing to control fluid balance, muscular contraction and nerve impulse. Spirulina’s excellent nutritional profile balances the body’s needs for all age groups and lifestyles.

Along with all essential amino acids your body needs but can’t produce on its own, it is also loaded with protein, beta carotene, iron and essential fatty acids. It is a great option for vegans who require that supplementary kick to their diet. Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties help fortify yourself from heart disease, virus, common cold and also maintain a youthful skin. To be aware that it holds more calcium than whole milk makes it the best option for milk-haters. An immunity supporter in toto, especially during pandemic times, spirulina is a saviour algae.

Spirulina is available in powder or capsule form. “Its powder is generally used as topping on food and consumed daily by vegans for its nutritive value since it is a plant-based source of complete protein. Added in major meals like lunch and dinner for kids and families (around 1 gm per family member), this nutrition-dense powder helps maintain good health,” says Dr Pooja Thacker, head of department dietetic, Bhatia Hospital, Mumbai.

Edibility test of spirulina

“Spirulina has a distinct taste and flavour that would not classify as palatable or popular. Being an acquired taste, there is a degree of masking needed to make it more acceptable to the common man,” says Sonali Kocharekar, co-founder, Appetite Food.

“It was a challenge infusing it into traditional foods without unpleasantly impacting the overall taste quotient or adversely affecting the nutritional value. Adding spirulina flavours into Appetite Food’s nutrition dense and healthy version of traditional food offerings while maintaining or enhancing its taste was a task,” she adds.

However, for those who do not mind the unique taste and flavour of this emerald green wonder powder, it can be added to various foods in negligible quantities. Sprinkle it on salads, soups, curries, sauces, and hummus.

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“Some of our athletes add it to their post-workout juices as it helps to build muscle mass and improves recovery. You can also eat spirulina laddu as a healthy snacks option,” says celebrity and sports nutritionist Ryan Fernando, founder of QUA Nutrition.

Harsh Pherwani of Seeds of Life café in Pali Hill, which boasts of celeb patronage like fitness freak Mandira Bedi, has come up with an eye-catching healthful dish called ocean smoothie bowl comprising pineapple, banana and mint in spirulina-infused almond milk.

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Health coach and yoga instructor Palak Ahuja says, “It’s my regular dose of fitness. The crazy burst of flavours derives its colour from superfood blue spirulina. It has a perfect blend of Hawaiian zing and is delightfully invigorating.”

“It is important to note that processing or supplementation of spirulina for food preparations require heat exposure which adversely affects its nutritional values,” says Kocharekar. Hence, it has to be added only at the end of the cooking process with zero heat exposure.

Side-effects

Although a few adverse effects are associated with the use of spirulina, it’s important to consult your healthcare provider to discuss whether it can be consumed in combination with other medications you may be taking.

“Its negative effects include altering bowel movement in young and adults. Those with pre-existing medical conditions like thyroid, kidney stone, autoimmune disorder, gout, phenylketonuria, should not self-prescribe but consult a nutritionist for better health and results,” says Fernando. It may cause headaches and insomnia in some cases. People allergic to seafood, seaweed, and other sea vegetables should avoid spirulina.

Dr Thacker advises people to buy spirulina powder or capsule only from reputed brands, as otherwise it can be contaminated.

Dosage

Nutrition is bio-individual, says Fernando. Before determining any dosage, it is important to understand blood chemistry, genetics, existing nutrition deficiencies and lifestyle.

“In general, if you take it in powder form, have 1-8gm a day. If consumed in a capsule form, take 2-4 capsules a day,” he suggests. Give a break after four to six weeks.

Shalu Rajan, a regular consumer of spirulina capsules, says, “I happened to read about its benefits and have been taking it off and on for the past five years. It has improved my immunity, hair growth and energy levels.”

Sonali Kocharekar of Appetite Food shares useful facts. “Considered to be an all-in-one source of nutrients, it’s protein content has the potential to make it the best available protein sources (even compared to meat and eggs) as illustrated in the table below.”

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PROTEIN SOURCE % PROTEIN

Spirulina powder – 60 – 70

Whole dried egg – 47

Beer yeast – 45

Skimmed milk powder – 36

Whole soyabean flour – 36

Parmesan cheese – 36

Wheat germ – 27

Peanuts – 26

Chicken – 19 – 24

Fish – 19 – 20

Beef – 17

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Published on: Sunday, September 12, 2021, 08:45 AM IST
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