As the hot summer proceeds, you might expect to see algae floating in a lake or river, but in your food? Yep! Food producers have started to use the stuff to make new foods, including cooking oil and even natural food dyes.
Some more common types of algae you may have heard of are spirulina (blue-green algae) and chlorella (microalgae). Spirulina’s a classic smoothie-booster with its biggest claim to fame being its protein content, especially as an option for vegans. It contains 8 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons, plus iron and antioxidants like beta-carotene. Aside from spirulina’s nutritional benefits, people also eat to improve cardiovascular health—in particular, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and its anti-inflammatory properties.
Research suggests another green variety, chlorella, is a concentrated source of chlorophyll, shown to have antioxidant properties. Chlorella may also improve immune function and is high in lutein, an antioxidant prized for its role in supporting eye health.
Another reason to love microalgae is its unique sustainability potential. Unlike most crops or livestock that take months or years to grow, this ingredient can be farmed in a matter of days without large swaths of land. However, some experts say microalgae’s eco-friendly potential hasn’t been met yet because its production, particularly at the drying stage, still requires too much electricity.
The good thing is, you don't have to collect any pond scum yourself! There are lots of companies who collect it and turn it into tablets and powdered greens!
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Live Superfoods