This source of vitamins and nutrients is highly underrated as its nutritional content is not widely known. However, there are a wide variety of species of algae, and each offers its own specific health benefits. If algae are not yet on your radar, then you just may be missing out on all that they have to offer.
At iwi life, we are proud to embrace the many powers of algae and share the benefits that it can provide as part of our daily nutrition.
What Is Algae?
Algae is an aquatic plant that performs photosynthesis and contains chlorophyll and chloroplasts but does not have stems, true roots, or leaves like land plants. Algae can grow in both saltwater and freshwater.
The term “algae” is often used very generally as many different protists can be grouped under the name.
Forms of algae can be either single-celled organisms or multicellular, like seaweeds. Scientists estimate that there may be anywhere between 30,000 and one million species of algae. These widespread organisms produce around half of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. Between its oxygen production and the ability to harness sunlight to photosynthesize, algae is an eco-friendly powerhouse. Altogether, this super plant has tons of potential.
What Are the Health Benefits of Algae?
These photosynthetic organisms are packed with nutrients and offer many great health benefits. Regular consumption of different groups of algae can help support various systems in the body, especially since algae has such a high nutrient density.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a form of polyunsaturated fats that exist in cells throughout the body. The three main types of omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). ALA exists in a wide variety of foods, making it easy to receive enough of the nutrient on a daily basis. However, DHA and EPA are harder to obtain, meaning that many individuals benefit from supplementing these two fatty acids in their diet.
The most abundant dietary source of omega-3s is fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, and tuna. Until recently, the only available supplements for omega-3 were based on fish or krill oil, but with the rise in the availability of algae, this has all started to change.
Algae is the only plant-based source of DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids, providing valuable nutrition for those on a plant-based diet or people who do not like fish.
Not only is algae the only plant-based source of the nutrient, but it also produces the most bioavailable form. This means that the omega-3 fatty acids available in algae are more easily absorbed by the body than any other source, even more so than the most common omega-3 supplements. The omega-3s in one type of algae, Nannochloropsis, are absorbed at least 1.7X better than those in krill or fish oil.
Algae is extremely protein-rich, and as a result, it also contains an impressive amino acid profile. Amino acids are most present in the cell walls of algae, and almost all edible algae contain the same forms of amino acids but in different amounts. Algal species contain over a dozen amino acids, including alanine, glutamic, and aspartic acids.
Amino acids are largely present in macroalgae, like seaweeds. Around 50% of the amino acids in seaweed are essential amino acids, meaning they cannot be produced by the body and must be consumed through diet or supplementation. Therefore, algae consumption is a great way to supplement amino acid intake and support the function of many important bodily systems.
Amino acids serve many important roles in the body, such as regulating food intake, supporting cell-to-cell communication through hormone production, and promoting the growth of bodily tissue. Other benefits of amino acids include supporting a healthy immune system, building muscle, and aiding digestion.
Antioxidants are crucial for their ability to target free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules in the body that can form as a result of cell waste or factors like inflammation, UV exposure, and pollution. Free radicals in the body cause oxidative stress, which can harm cells and speed aging.
Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals in the body, which prevents cell damage and promotes overall health and wellness. Great sources of antioxidants are fruits, vegetables, plant-based foods, and algae.
Although algae are not natural producers of B12, they absorb a considerable amount of the nutrient from their environment. As a result, algae are a great source of the essential vitamin for individuals on a plant-based diet.
Vitamin B12 is important for supporting healthy brain and nervous system function, boosting energy, and even helping to regulate the number of red blood cells in your bloodstream. Many people are deficient in this crucial vitamin, especially when approaching old age or on a plant-based diet, so algae can be very beneficial to help supplement the necessary intake of B12.
What Are the Most Common Types of Algae?
Despite the thousands of species of algae, a few types are most well-known to humans, as they provide many great health benefits. Some have even been used by humans for centuries. The following are the five most common, most nutritious types of algae.
Porphyra is a type of red algae that forms an edible seaweed. This form of algae also makes nori, which is most known for wrapping sushi. Nori is a dark green sheet that is made by taking edible seaweed and pressing it into very thin sheets.
Although originally from Japan, Nori has become very popular worldwide and can be found in many stores as an enjoyable snack. Nori is not only great for holding together your sushi roll, but it is also packed with proteins, carbohydrates, and micronutrients. Porphyra’s combination of nutrients gives it antioxidant properties as well as the potential to support immune health and maintain healthy blood pressure.
Porphyra is also rich in iron, containing about 88% of the recommended daily intake per 100 grams. This iron is also more easily absorbed by the body than other sources.
Laminaria is a kelp part of the brown algae family found along the coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This brown alga contains a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Laminaria is used as food in many countries, especially in Japan, making a great addition to soups.
This type of kelp is highly nutritious, containing iodine, potassium, calcium, zinc, and iron. Laminaria has antioxidant properties and has also been used for centuries as a way to soothe intestinal discomfort. There is some science to back up this tradition as laminaria can help promote gut health by supporting gut barrier function.
Since it is so rich in iodine, Laminaria also helps to support healthy thyroid function. The kelp may also support immune function and act as a prebiotic.
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae, or a form of cyanobacteria. Spirulina has been used for centuries because of its health benefits, and it is still a common ingredient in many nutritious foods today.
Just one tablespoon of spirulina can provide four grams of protein, making it a worthy addition to your diet. This edible cyanobacteria also includes vitamin A, vitamin B, minerals like calcium and iron, carotenoids, antioxidants, and more. Spirulina is also the most abundant source of omega-6 fatty acids compared to all other algae forms.
Spirulina can be added to smoothies, energy bars, juices, and more, but it is often taken as a supplement in tablet, capsule, or powder form.
The health benefits of spirulina are plentiful, which is why many refer to this green stuff as a superfood. Research shows that spirulina's antioxidants and zinc content can help support your immune system. Regular intake of spirulina has the potential to support healthy cholesterol. Spirulina may also help boost your energy levels and potentially boost your mood.
Chlorella, another type of cyanobacteria, is also part of the blue-green algae family and grows in freshwater. This blue-green alga is produced on a large scale and used as a nutritional supplement.
Like spirulina, chlorella is also a great source of nutrients. Chlorella is packed with proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Chlorella can contain 70% dry weight protein and even has an amino acid content comparable to eggs, demonstrating just how highly nutritious this type of freshwater algae is.
Chlorella is rich in vitamin B12 and iron, making it a great supplement for anyone on a plant-based diet. Chlorella may just be one food of the future, providing such a high concentration of nutrients in such small amounts, but for now, this cyanobacterium makes for a great supplement. It is often found in liquid, powder, or tablet form and can be added to salad dressings, smoothies, baked goods, and more.
The nutrient density of chlorella means that it produces many health benefits. One of chlorella's most notable possible health benefits is its ability to support cognitive function during aging, including memory and motor skills. This is likely due to the large number of antioxidants that exist in chlorella. Since it is rich in a range of vitamins and nutrients, this futuristic superfood can also support a healthy immune system.
Nannochloropsis is a microalga that is related to brown algae. This microalga can be found in both freshwater and marine ecosystems. Nannochloropsis has been used for decades, in research into alternative energy. Today, the benefits of Nannochloropsis for human supplementation are more widely embraced.
Like other algae products, Nannochloropsis contains considerable amounts of amino acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Nannochloropsis is also the most abundant source of carotenoids amongst other forms of microalgae, providing it with strong antioxidant capabilities.
This species of algae contains some of the highest amounts of omega-3 out of any of the other species and is particularly rich in EPA. Nannochloropsis contains 100 times more EPA than other microalgae, making it a great supplement for this important fatty acid. With such high amounts of EPA omega-3 fatty acids, Nannochloropsis is highly beneficial in supporting heart health by helping to maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. EPA is also beneficial for supporting emotional wellness and an overall positive mood.
Nannochloropsis is the foundation for iwi life’s omega-3 supplements. We produce this alga in desert habitats using sunlight, saltwater, and CO2. iwi life produces this species of algae using highly sustainable methods, making it a great alternative to other less-sustainable forms of omega-3s like fish or krill.
See the Health Benefits of Algae for Yourself
Ultimately, with its high nutrient density, algae has a long list of health benefits. Containing large amounts of protein, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids, it is great for supporting multiple systems in your body. Discover just how much the different types of algae can benefit you and your overall health by including an algae supplement as part of your daily routine. iwi life’s algae-based omega-3 supplement is a great place to start.
At iwi life, we produce all-natural supplements that are specially formulated to provide you with the nutrients you need. Our omega-3 supplement harnesses the power of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6, -7, and -9 fatty acids to support healthy function in your brain, eyes, muscles, and heart. Explore our whole family of products to see how omega-3 can support your health.
Amino Acid Profile and Protein Quality Assessment of Macroalgae Produced in an Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture System | PubMed Central
HOW MANY SPECIES OF ALGAE ARE THERE? | PubMed Central
Algae as nutritional and functional food sources: revisiting our understanding | PubMed Central
Chlorella: Nutrition and possible health benefits | Medical News Today
(PDF) Health Benefits and Pharmacological Effects of Porphyra Species | Research Gate