Although algae may not sound particularly appealing, it’s popularity in the natural health world is ever-increasing. Yes, you may already be eating your seaweed, thanks to nori-wrapped sushi, but the world of edible algae goes much further than your favourite sushi roll and includes a wide range of other edible types of algae.
There are many types of algae, including the most commonly known, kelp, spirulina, and seaweed, but experts believe there are more than 800,000 different species of algae. However, all types of algae generally fall into two main categories: Microalgae and Macroalgae. Microalgae are commonly known as phytoplankton and are only visible under a microscope. Whereas macroalgae is commonly referred to as seaweeds and are visible to the naked eye. Both types of algae pack major benefits when it comes to our health.
The four main types of edible algae include; blue green, which you’ll find in green powders such as chlorella or spirulina; brown algae, such as kelp, kombu wakame and kombu; green algae, which includes sea lettuce; and red algae, like nori, sea moss and dulse flakes.
Algae is an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. It’s also one of the best sources of iodine — a chemical element found in soil and oceans that many people in the modern world are lacking in their diets, leading to iodine deficiency and various health problems such as thyroid disease.
Algae is incredibly rich in minerals, so it’s no real surprise that it is found in our favourite skincare products. Topically, algae is a powerful source of hydration, working to revitalise and tone the skin to help reduce or fully eliminate issues with acne, cellulite, and even fine lines and wrinkles.
Research as confirmed that blue-green algae can protect against cardiovascular disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which are two of the most common chronic health conditions today. Studies have found that that dietary intake of blue-green algae can be “an effective natural product for improving blood lipid profiles and for preventing inflammation and oxidative stress,” which are all well-known contributing factors to the development of heart disease.
Some forms of algae including chlorella can remove heavy metals from the body. Heavy metals are a group of 23 elements which, even in low concentrations, can be dangerous. This group includes arsenic, lead, and mercury, just to name a few. A build-up of heavy metals in the body can be toxic and lead to poisoning. Studies have shown that some forms of algae including chlorella can counteract heavy metal poisoning and decrease tissue damage by decreasing heavy metal absorption.
Algae has been shown to aid in weight loss, particularly the brown type that contains fucoxanthin. Fucoxanthin is a naturally occurring carotenoid (pigment) found in brown algae. It has been shown to promote fat burning by increasing the expression of thermogenin. One study conducted in human suggested the effects of fucoxanthin on weight loss. The combination of 300 mg pomegranate seed oil and 300 mg brown seaweed extract containing 2.4 mg fucoxanthin significantly resulted in the reduction of body weight and liver fat content in obese women who were treated for 16 days
Algae are a rich source of phytosterols, which are similar in structure to cholesterol, and have been demonstrated to have the ability to reduce blood cholesterol levels. It is particularly effective at reducing LDL (“bad”) cholesterol when given in supplements form. This is because Phytosterols help lower intestinal cholesterol absorption.
Chlorella is the real superstar of the algae family. Grown in freshwater and jam-packed with nutrients that support a healthy body. It contains nature’s highest source of chlorophyll, which is why it is known as a powerful detoxifier. Chlorella has the ability to bind with heavy metals and other harmful chemicals and remove them from the body. Chlorella also contains high levels of protein, essential fatty acids, fibre, iron, and B vitamins. Research has found chlorella may provide some protection against chronic disease.
Spirulina is a blue-green algae, found in both fresh and salt water. Thanks to its high concentration of nutrients, Spirulina can help boost your daily intake of protein, vitamins and minerals including Iron, Omega 3, Calcium, Magnesium, B Vitamins and Amino Acids. Spirulina has a slightly higher protein content than chlorella content, which makes it a popular choice among plant-based eaters. Some of the most significant health benefits include detoxing heavy metals, eliminating candida, fighting cancer and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Irish sea moss (Chondrus crispus) is a red seaweed and has gained popularity in the health space recently. However, it has been used for centuries as it is so nutrient dense that it was used as “poverty food” during the famous Irish potato famine in 1846. Amazingly, it contains 92 of the 102 minerals in the body. It’s especially rich in a highly bioavailable form of iodine, which plays a big role in thyroid health. Sea moss is also high in B vitamins, calcium, vitamin C, beta-carotene, magnesium, iron, fibre, and protein. Irish sea moss can aid in digestive health by forming mucilaginous substance when combined with liquid. This gives it very soothing properties for the tissues in your digestive tract. It can help with indigestion and upset stomach, inflammation, and even occasional constipation.
Nori is a red algae used to accompany sushi dishes. It is also a delicious, convenient snack that can be enjoyed on the go. Nori is an excellent source of micronutrients and minerals including folate, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, selenium, vitamin B12, vitamin A and vitamin K. It is particularly rich in iodine, helping to maintain a healthy thyroid which assists in producing and regulating hormones.
Dulse is a red seaweed that grows wild in the cold waters of the Northwest Pacific Ocean and the North Atlantic Ocean. It is another easy way to naturally increase your iodine consumption, benefiting thyroid function. Dulse contains a minimum of 35% fibre, with 10% soluble and the rest insoluble, both of which improve digestion and cleansing. Seaweed fibres are different to those in land-based plant foods. This is because they contain fibrous polysaccharide substances such as alginic acid, which helps to detoxify heavy metals and radioactive isotopes from the body.
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