We are big proponents of hitting our local greenmarket and frequenting the farm stand over the pharmacy. But, if you’re looking to diversify your plant-based diet further, let’s dive a little deeper, into the depth of freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds, home to one of the planet’s most nutrient-dense foods: blue-green algae.
Wondering why your existing, vegetable-forward meal plan is not already checking all of the nutritional boxes? Put simply, our food is only as good as its environment. While we recommend making an effort to “know thy farmer” (and his land, his fertilizers of choice, his harvesting practices) to the best of your ability, the unfortunate reality is that, too often, land has been over-planted and over-farmed, and, in turn, depleted of nutrients. So, coming full circle, our veggies are only as nutrient-rich as that soil in which they are grown.
Enter blue-green algae! Gram for gram, blue-green algae is more nutrient dense than spinach, kale and broccoli, the land-grown triumvirate. This aqua-plant, or in true nomenclature, cyanobacteria, is the species responsible for half of the planet’s oxygen creation, and nature’s most basic food. Blue-green algae is teeming with a high, unexhausted concentration of proteins, vitamins (A, B, C, E, K), minerals (magnesium, iron, copper, potassium, the list goes on), carotenoids, and antioxidants (the most potent being a little molecule used for the energy-producing process of photosynthesis: chlorophyll).
Blue-green algae have also been lauded for its anti-inflammatory and disease-preventing properties, with research ongoing as to the breadth of this superfood’s power.
Rarely will you see the term “BLUE-GREEN ALGAE” spelled out on the menu board of your favorite smoothie shop, or listed as an ingredient in your favorite superfood energy bites. So, here are the forms of blue-green algae that you’re most likely to encounter, and, hopefully, incorporate into your routine:
Spirulina: Consumed by the Aztecs as early as the 16th century, Spirulina has long since been appreciated as a (nearly) perfect, whole food. Protein content varies from strain to strain of Spirulina (there are 35 of them!), but often pushes 50%+, with some strains cited to contain north of 70% protein, and enough iron to satisfy your recommended daily value. Athletes, astronauts, and health enthusiasts covet the superfood for its macronutrient and overall health-boosting profile (think: skin, microbiome, immune system).
Chlorella: Chlorella heralds from Eastern societies, boasting a vitamin and mineral profile comparable to Spirulina, with an even higher chlorophyll concentration (while Spirulina is a bit richer in protein). This antioxidant edge endows the food with serious detoxifying abilities, with studies showing various benefits to regular consumption, from weight loss to stress regulation.
AFA: AFA is short for Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (aren’t you glad we abbreviated?!), best known these days under the brand E3 Live. While it doesn’t boast the long-tenured history of Spirulina and Chlorella, AFA is an increasingly popular blue-green algae specific to the Klamath Lake in Oregon, lauded as a nutritional powerhouse containing 65+ vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
Though it’s long been a celebrated staple in Japanese culture, matcha tea has only recently become a mainstay in the U.S., and with all of the benefits packed into a tiny teaspoon of the finely-concentrated green powder, it’s no wonder matcha has become one the biggest wellness trends—here to stay.