Spirulina is one of the most powerful superfoods you can incorporate into your diet, having been used as a wellness aid for centuries across the globe. Comprised of bacteria found in warm alkaline lakes in Africa and Central and South America, spirulina is nutritionally rich, cleansing and detoxifying, and helps promote cellular health. Whether you’ve never heard of it before, or you incorporate it into your diet several times a week, I thought it would be helpful for holistic nutritionist, and frequent Rip & Tan contributor, Elissa Goodman, to give us a master class on the superfood—and even share a recipe utilizing spirulina. Check out what she had to say below. XXJKE
Rip & Tan: How long has spirulina been around? What is the origin?
Elissa Goodman: It’s a trending superfood today, but spirulina has been harvested for nutritional use for thousands of years. There is evidence that spirulina dates back to the 9th century, specifically the Kanem Empire, where it was harvested from lakes and ponds and still grows organically to this day (that area is now Chad). In the 16th century, the Mayans and Aztecs harvested it from lakes in South and Central America. The first large-scale Spirulina production plant for nutritional supplementation was created in the ‘70s and it is now consumed by people all over the world seeking to benefit from its nutritional value.
Rip & Tan: What are the benefits of spirulina?
EG: It’s loaded with phytonutrients and antioxidants and is an anti-inflammatory. It protects the liver, body, kidneys (against renal damage), and brain. It promotes cellular health and reduces the risk of infections, cancer, and auto-immune diseases. It also encourages and supports the growth of healthy bacterial flora in the gut.
Rip & Tan: Is spirulina something everyone should eat or is it especially good for people with certain nutritional issues?
EG: High quality spirulina does contain iodine, so if you’re allergic or sensitive or have been advised to limit iodine you should avoid spirulina. Those who are allergic to seafood and/or seaweed should be cautious. If you are nursing or pregnant, always check with your doctor first before taking. It is also advised not to take spirulina if you’re running a fever.
Otherwise spirulina is an incredible nutrient support. In particular, for individuals who have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease (including Crohn’s, lupus, chronic fatigue), have gut health/digestive concerns, high blood pressure, or suffer from allergies (seasonal or otherwise). Athletes and people who are training, or those have poor diets for one reason or another, would benefit greatly from spirulina. I would also recommend it to anyone recovering from illness, surgery, or injury, including those who are going through chemotherapy or are HIV positive.
Rip & Tan: What are some easy ways to incorporate it into our diets?
EG: You can add a spoonful of the powder into smoothies, green juices, or salad dressings. You can mix it into almond, peanut, or the nut butter of your choice. You can also use it in protein balls, bites, or bars* (recipe below!). Or simply add the spirulina to your water with a fresh squeezed lemon and a few drops of stevia to make spirulina lemonade. If you’re not into the powder version, you can also take tablets.
Rip & Tan: Are there any negative effects?
EG: Spirulina takes in minerals from its environment, so it can be susceptible to toxins, depending on where it grows and can be easily contaminated by bacteria and heavy metals. Depending on the individual there may be reactions to spirulina intake. You should ALWAYS listen to your body; it will tell you what’s good for it. The current state of your health will also make a difference in how your body will react to spirulina. Usually the reaction of the body is associated with a reason:
Fever – The concentrated protein content in spirulina increases metabolism which can elevate body temperature (which is also why you should avoid consumption if you do have a fever).
Gas or Bloating – Can indicate that your digestive system is not functioning at optimal levels (or could just be gas).
Breakouts – Spirulina is a powerful detoxifier, cleaning out the colon can induce breakouts, but this is a sign of cleansing and is temporary
Dark Green Stool – Spirulina being the powerful cleanser it is, cleans out accumulated waste in the colon which can darken stool. It is also high in chlorophyll that adds to the green tone.
Restlessness/Sleepiness – The detox process can cause these symptoms, but also the conversion of protein into energy can add to the feelings of restlessness.
Remember, your body may go through an adjustment period with spirulina. Start with a minimal dose and gradually to see how your body will react before you increase intake. In addition, increase your water intake, reduce your stress levels, eat according to your nutritional type, and get plenty of rest.
Rip & Tan: Is it possible to ingest too much?
EG: Yes! With anything, moderation is key. Overdosing can result in upset stomach and diarrhea and other unpleasant side effects. Stick with the recommended dosage on the bottle and gradually work your way to that point.
Rip & Tan: Is there “bad” spirulina out there?
EG: Quality and a reputable source is of the upmost importance when it comes to spirulina. Because it is grown in an uncontrolled environment, it can become easily contaminated. Always know the source of your spirulina and know that being organic is not enough (there are organic supplements that reveal unacceptable contaminant levels, even when certified organic). Organic certification does not include testing for heavy metals or bacterial contamination. Both of these can make you very sick. For this reason, choose a spirulina that is tested by a 3rd party lab. I personally recommend Nutrex Hawaiian Spirulina. It goes through 23 different tests to ensure quality.
Photo: Esther Lee
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