This Superfood Has the Most Plant Protein Per Ounce: 5 Reasons to Add It to Your Diet
You may have heard of chlorophyll or spirulina as daily health ingredients to boost your morning routine, but in fact, there's an alga called chlorella that experts are touting as even more powerful when it comes to health benefits–and its oversized protein content–to add to your daily ritual. Read this before you make your next green drink.
In Asiatic countries, chlorella has been harvested and used for food and as a health booster for hundreds of years. Today, chlorella in the form of dietary supplements is widespread throughout the world, says Uma Naidoo, M.D., director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, professional chef, nutrition specialist and author of This is Your Brain on Food, and with good reason, as research shows it carries an oversized amount of antioxidants, nutrients, and protein.
Chlorella has more protein per ounce than any other plant food
For starters, “It has more protein than any other type of non-animal food by weight,” explains Mark Drucker, MD, integrative medicine physician, and co-founder and medical director of the Center for Advanced Medicine in Encinitas, California. All plants have protein in varying amounts, but chlorella is over 50 percent protein by weight. Bonus? It’s also a complete protein, meaning that it has all of the essential amino acids you need.
Plus, by adding chlorella to your morning smoothie, you'll get iron, vitamin C, vitamin D, copper, potassium, calcium, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin K, magnesium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, and other B vitamins. In fact, chlorella is the highest plant source of B12, Drucker says, which makes this an especially beneficial plant for vegans.
The other reason to eat chlorella? Like all plants, chlorella is packed with fiber. Just note that you have to eat large quantities to get the fiber benefits, which most individuals aren’t doing, Naidoo adds.
The 5 Health Benefits of Chlorella
While you know these nutrients are beneficial to your health, what exactly will chlorella do for you? Start with the benefits you’ll experience immediately.
1. Chlorella helps improve digestion and works to detox the body
The first thing you may notice is how cleansing and balancing chlorella is to your digestive health. “Because you’re cleaning out toxins from your digestive system, you’ll have less bloating and constipation,” Drucker says. In one study, subjects with heavy metals in their bloodstream took chlorella supplements for 90 days and it helped lower their baseline levels. These toxins can seep into the body through titanium implants, amalgam fillings, and other pollutants, so taking chlorella appears to minimize the potential damage that these toxins can cause over time.
2. Add chlorella for energy and focus
Chlorella is known to improve energy and mental performance, thanks in part to chlorella’s B12. “B12 is key to mental sharpness and clarity,” Drucker says. You might even notice that you have less brain fog. More than one study shows it benefits brain health and memory.
3. Chlorella supports a strong immune system.
What about long-term health? Not only will you reduce your risk of various diseases, you’ll also support your immune system by consuming chlorella. “You’ll be less likely to get infections, but if you do get them, you’ll get over them more quickly,” Drucker says. In one study, subjects who consumed chlorella tablets for 8 weeks had a significant increase in immune cells compared to those who were given a placebo, which indicates that chlorella supplementation may induce the production of your body's immune response.
4. Chlorella may help lower cholesterol and control blood lipids
Taking 5 to 10 mg of chlorella a day has been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol and keep blood lipids under control, in individuals with an elevated risk of heart disease according to one study. The effect was nearly immediate since the study subjects' cholesterol and triglyceride levels dropped in just four weeks.
5. Chlorella may help reduce symptoms of depression
Studies show that chlorella may aid in lowering cholesterol levels and blood pressure and giving mental health a boost, says Naidoo. One study from Nutritional Psychiatry found that individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder showed a greater reduction in their symptoms of depression and anxiety when receiving chlorella supplementation in tandem with standard antidepressant therapy versus taking standard antidepressant therapy without chlorella. “Incorporating food and nutrients into traditional mental health care is a powerful method of holistically improving symptoms of poor mental wellbeing in individuals,” she says.
How to Add Chlorella to Your Diet
You can take chlorella in various forms, namely as tablets, powders, and liquids. The biggest difference? If you take the liquid form, you won’t get the fiber or protein, says Drucker, who prefers to take it in tablet or powder form.
Outside of that, personal preference should drive what form you choose. One buying tip? “Chlorella’s exterior cell walls are noted to be quite tough and difficult to digest so it’s good to look for ‘cracked cell wall chlorella’ to increase the supplement’s absorbability,” Naidoo says.
When searching for a product, you should also know that there are two types of chlorella: Chlorella vulgaris and chlorella pyrenoidosa. While both are healthy, Drucker prefers the pyrenoidosa version because its nutritional benefits have been more researched than the other.
If you’re taking chlorella in powder form, you can add it to almost any food, especially smoothies and oatmeal. You can also cook with it, adding it to dishes like muffins, dressings, and cookies. (If you want recipes with chlorella, check out these) It does have a strong taste, Naidoo warns, so start off in small quantities, but don’t overdo it. “Studies have shown that consuming too much chlorella can cause gastrointestinal problems and general stomach upset,” she says.
Of course, even with all of its nutrients and health-promoting properties, chlorella is still only a supplement. “You shouldn’t rely on superfood supplements like chlorella to act in place of food as your main source of nutrients,” Naidoo says. “While supplements like chlorella can act as a complement to a diet of healthy whole foods, eating a diet high in colorful, fiber-rich plant foods and healthy sources of fat and protein is the best practice to follow for optimal nutrition and good health.”
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