Algae Protein: 6 Surprising Benefits You May Not Have Known

Algae Protein: 6 Surprising Benefits You May Not Have Known


Protein is crucial for building and maintaining muscle mass, regulating hormones and enzymes in the body, and even producing immune cells to keep you healthy. 

In today's marketplace, there are many types of protein in the form of snacks, meals, shakes, and bars. From whey to pea protein, they each have advantages and disadvantages, so how do you choose? 

One newcomer to the protein scene is algae. Read on to learn some surprising benefits; you may find yourself seeking out this impressive protein source.

What Is Algae?

Algae Protein

Algae is an aquatic plant that uniquely lacks the typical structure of a conventional plant. When looking at algae, you'll quickly notice that it’s completely without roots, stems, and leaves, the common components we usually associate with plants. Algae is remarkably versatile as it can grow in both salt and freshwater on its own. It’s also impressively self-sustaining, as it requires little to no human intervention to thrive. 

The world of algae is extremely vast and diverse, with scientists estimating that there are likely hundreds of thousands of different microalgae species on the planet, possibly even more. This wide array of species means that algae can be found in a multitude of shapes, sizes, and colors, each with its unique nutritional profile and health benefits.

The most common types of algae are divided into categories, including:

  • Red algae: Rhodophyta, or red algae, is famous for its striking red pigment and its high calcium content. Red algae are often used in various food applications, inside the culinary world, particularly in making agar-agar, a plant-based gelatin substitute.
  • Brown algae: Phaeophyceae, or brown algae, are instantly recognized by their distinctive brown or olive-green color. They’re a rich source of iodine and are commonly used in cuisine throughout Asia, with kelp and wakame being popular examples.
  • Green algae: Chlorophyta, or green algae get their vibrant color from their high chlorophyll content, which provides the photosynthetic abilities of this algae. They’re considered a high-quality alternative protein source and are often consumed in the form of chlorella or ulva.
  • Blue-green algae: Also known as cyanobacteria, blue-green algae aren’t true algae but are often grouped with them due to similarities in appearance and functionality. Species like Spirulina and Aphanizomenon flos-aquae are popular superfoods, recognized for their high protein content and a range of health benefits.

Algae can also be found in several forms that are common within the food industry. For example, green and brown seaweed snacks are technically a type of algae, and they're not just tasty but also packed with vitamins and minerals. Different types of red and brown algae are often used as functional food ingredients in soups for their nutritional value and unique umami flavor. 

Blue-green algae, like Spirulina, are commonly found on shelves in health food stores, often in powder form that can be easily added to smoothies or juices for a nutrient boost. Nannochloropsis algae also has a strong reputation as a nutrient-rich strain of algae, thanks to its high concentrations of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidant activity. 

What Are the Benefits of Algae Protein?

Algae Protein

Among the several types of algae, they all have one thing in common — they are impressive sources of protein. In addition to their protein content, many types of algae feature several other nutrients as well. You can expect several surprising benefits when you obtain your protein through algae.

1. High Protein Content

When it comes to protein-dense foods, the usual suspects of animal protein products are probably the first to come to mind: chicken, beef, and eggs. Or maybe your first thoughts are of plant-based options like lentils or tofu. However, algae might just surprise you with its impressive protein content. This aquatic plant not only holds its own when compared to other sources of protein, but in some cases, it even surpasses them.

Take, for example, Nannochloropsis algae, which can be made up of anywhere from 25% to 55% total protein. To put this in perspective, that's comparable to the protein content of chicken breast, a well-known high-protein food. Meanwhile, Chlorella, a type of green algae, usually boasts about 51-58% protein. This puts it on par with eggs, another highly regarded source of protein.

The real star of the show is Spirulina, a type of blue-green algae. Spirulina is so protein-dense that it has 670% more protein than tofu, a food featuring soy protein often hailed as the crown jewel of plant-based protein sources. With these figures in mind, it becomes clear that algae isn't just a simple source of protein. In fact, it may be one of the best.

2. Large Amino Acid Profile

Our bodies use a total of 20 amino acids to synthesize proteins, which are essential for building muscle, creating energy, and repairing cells. Of these 20, the body can produce 11 on its own, but the remaining nine, known as essential amino acids, must be obtained from dietary sources. 

Complete proteins, or foods that contain all nine of these essential amino acids, include animal-based sources like beef, poultry, eggs, and dairy, as well as some plant-based sources like soy and quinoa. However, complete plant-based proteins are relatively rare, which is where algae comes in.

Algae, specifically Nannochloropsis, Spirulina, and Chlorella, deliver complete amino acid profiles, making them comparable to eggs and beef in terms of protein quality. Even types of algae that are not considered complete proteins still offer a significant array of amino acids, making them a worthwhile addition to any diet.

3. Great for Plant-Based Lifestyles

While the benefits of algae are extensive, they may not be as widely recognized, especially when it comes to plant-based diets. Traditionally, plant-based proteins are associated with foods like peas, soy, and a variety of legumes and grains. However, algae, being completely vegan, is an excellent source of plant-based protein and deserves a spot on the list of potential protein sources for those following a plant-based lifestyle.

If you're adhering to a plant-based diet and are careful about sourcing your protein from foods like soy, legumes, grains, and various vegetables, algae is a fantastic addition to consider. As discussed earlier, the protein density of Spirulina significantly outmatches tofu, a popular plant-based protein source. Considering this, algae not only fits seamlessly into a plant-based diet but also enhances its nutritional quality.

4. Rich in Antioxidants

One of the great benefits of algae protein is all of the additional nutrients and bioactive compounds that accompany it. For instance, the high antioxidant content of algae is one of the most notable nutritional benefits. Algae contains carotenoids, which boast impressive antioxidant properties.

Antioxidants play an important role in supporting the immune system by working to maintain cell health against damage from free radicals. These molecules damage your cells through a process called oxidative stress which can result in early aging. Few forms of protein come with such an impressive accompaniment of antioxidants, easily setting algae apart from other protein sources. In fact, whey protein is the only protein source that comes close to providing such a high protein density and antioxidant level.

Sugary, high-carb, fatty, and processed foods can all contribute to oxidative stress. As a result, you may want to be mindful about obtaining your protein from foods high in fat or sugar. Algae can provide a valuable source of protein that also pushes back against early cell aging.

5. Features a Strong Combination of Omega-3s

Among the nutrients that accompany protein in algae, one of the most significant is omega-3. Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids that provide energy and make up a significant building block of cell membranes throughout the body. The two most beneficial types of omega-3 lipids are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Algae is the only plant-based source of DHA and EPA omega-3s. These two omega-3s provide significant benefits on their own, from supporting your heart health to maintaining healthy joints. These nutrients are particularly important because the body can only produce them in small amounts on its own.

However, these omega-3s provide even more benefits when combined with protein. Omega-3 fatty acids help you make the most of your protein intake by supporting muscle protein synthesis and supporting muscle health. By influencing these two processes, omega-3s can help support muscle growth and maximize your body’s protein usage.

6. It May Be the Future

Despite algae currently living under the radar as an excellent addition to our diets, it may just be the future of food production. This unique plant is protein-dense enough to be able to provide sufficient amounts of protein in small volumes. If we don't change the ways we eat and farm, in 35 years we will need three planet Earths to sustain our habits. As the population increases and the demand for food follows, algae may be the source of nutrition to rise to the occasion.

Not only is algae high in protein, but it is also remarkably sustainable to produce. For example, iwi life is able to produce Nannochloropsis algae with just CO2, sunlight, and salty water, with some added nutrients. This means that this excellent protein source can be grown without using precious freshwater or soil.

As a result, the operation is easily scalable and can be expanded upon to meet high demand. Don’t be surprised if algae is not just renowned as a great source of protein, but a primary one in a matter of a few decades.

Experience the Powers of Algae for Yourself

Algae Protein

To learn more about all the potential benefits of algae, explore our entire family of algae-based supplements. Whether you are hoping to support your joints, eyes, or even your growing baby, there is an option for you. Shop our complete collection today.


Algal Proteins: Extraction, Application, and Challenges Concerning Production | PMC

Production of Fatty Acids and Protein by Nannochloropsis in Flat-Plate Photobioreactors | PMC

Amino Acids & Food Sources | Cleveland Clinic

Omega-3 fatty acids and human skeletal muscle

About | One Planet Network


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