I was sitting in my kitchen two weeks ago with my feet propped up on the chair next to me, post-overspending on snacks at the grocery store and drinking juice. In honor of procrastination, I decided to read the label and see what was in the dark green juice (I assumed it was healthy form the color, obviously): mango, banana, apple, pineapple, spinach, broccoli, spirulina.

Wait, WTF is spirulina? To Google I went.

It turns out spirulina is actually a rarely known superfood (yay! I was being healthy after all). It is a form of algae that is easily digested by humans and contains loads of health benefits. Not only that, but its sustainable production means that it could be used to help feed the world.

Nutritional Benefits

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First and foremost, people have fallen in love with spirulina because of its high protein content. For vegetarians and vegans, it provides more protein—including all amino acids—than other vegetables and legumes.

The amount of protein in spirulina is greater than meat, eggs, soybeans and grains. Over 240,000 kilograms of pure protein is produced each year by only 40 hectares of spirulina; this is much more than other protein-heavy crops such as soybeans.

In addition to helping you get your daily amount of protein, spirulina can reduce blood sugar and blood pressure, increase endurance and has many beneficial antioxidants.

Health and Pharmaceutical Uses

According to the University of Maryland, studies show the many potential pharmaceutical uses for spirulina. It can be used to treat chronic illness and infection through immune support. It also can help protect people from allergic reactions and antibiotic-related illnesses—similar to probiotics.

More specifically, it can help treat oral cancer because it can reduce lesions caused by things like chewing tobacco. Some say it can protect from liver damage and hepatitis, but that is yet to be 100% confirmed.

The list of uses for spirulina goes on thanks to its high concentration and variety of beneficial nutrients. 

Combat Malnutrition

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Spirulina could be the answer to ending malnutrition in developing nations. In a study done on combating malnutrition in Togo—a country in West Africa—babies were seen to grow to a healthy weight when 10 to 15 grams of spirulina was fed to them daily for three months. 

Even as little as one gram everyday is enough to help malnutrition for weeks on end. And it doesn’t stop with just helping kids physically overcome malnutrition, studies also found that it can help cognitive skills. 

Many countries that struggle with malnutrition are receiving aid from larger, more developed countries. However, for these countries, the real solution lies within producing their own foods and having that success without assistance.

Sustainable Harvesting

Unlike a lot of crops and meats that require a lot of water, have a huge environmental impact and take up a lot of land to produce, spirulina has a pretty simple production process.

It only costs $500 per tank to produce 150 grams per day, whereas farmland costs an average of $3,000 per acre and it is harvested much less frequently. If used to feed children in India, it would only cost around $6 to $12 per year. The affordability and ease of production shows the potential it has to combat malnutrition in areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa and India.

These countries are also ideal because of their warm temperatures and excess sunlight in which spirulina thrives. Thus, farms are being set up by these developing countries that suffer from malnutrition because harvesting spirulina is easier than trying to make their less-than-farmable land harvest some sort of crop. 

You can even grow it at home if you choose to do so—making it a potential source of income as well.

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Spirulina can be consumed in many forms. There are tablets and powder, you can add it to recipes, and you can even find it in some juices—like I did.

Even for those not struggling with malnutrition or allergic reactions, it is beneficial to health in many ways.

Although spirulina can be expensive—often referred to as a “luxury” food in the United States—the growing popularity of it may make it more affordable and more common in helping others both in terms of developing nations’ malnourished populations and in modern-medicine.