The blue-green single-celled microalgae known as chlorella is gaining popularity in holistic health communities and finding its way into plant-based food. Chlorella is jam-packed with beneficial vitamins and minerals — and, as a bonus, it’s known for imparting a “fishy” flavor to faux-seafood dishes. Here’s what you need to know about adding this new superfood to your diet.
What Is Chlorella and What Are the Health Claims?
Chlorella is a freshwater blue-green algae. It has higher levels of zinc, iron, magnesium, vitamin B2, calories, and omega-3 fatty acids than spirulina and is considered a good source of plant-based protein. It’s also packed with other beneficial nutrients including vitamin C and other B vitamins such as B6. Minerals in chlorella include zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Studies indicate chlorella can prevent cardiovascular disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease due to its carotenoid content and plant sterols. People with an elevated risk of heart disease benefit from taking 5 to 10 mg of chlorella daily to help lower LDL cholesterol and keep blood lipids under control.
“It improves cardiovascular risk factors by managing total cholesterol levels, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, systolic blood pressure, and diastolic blood pressure,” says Dr. Rashmi Byakodi, a writer covering medicine and health, and the editor of bestfornutrition.com, a site focused on what it terms “evidence based” nutrition information.
She explains that supplements may help protect against oxidative stress, cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “Chlorella contains larger amounts of folate and iron than other plant-derived foods. It contains numerous nutrients and vitamins, including D, that are absent in plant-derived food sources,” Dr. Byakodi says.
If you’re looking for chlorophyll, you’ve come to the right plant. Chlorella has more chlorophyll (credited with reversing radiation damage) than kale, spirulina, or wheatgrass. More vitamin K and lutein than kale, too. And it doesn’t stop there. A serving of chlorella boasts more calcium than milk, more beta-carotene than carrots, and more iron than cow liver.
“Chlorella contains B12 which is generally absent in plant-derived food sources,” Dr. Byakodi says, pointing out yet another reason this sea-superfood is especially great for plant-based eaters.
According to Dr. Byakodi, the plant may even help diabetics control their blood sugar levels. “Chlorella supplementation improves glycemic control in obesity and diabetes because it decreases insulin resistance caused by increased expression of glucose in skeletal muscle,” she says, adding that intake combined with aerobic exercise training had the most pronounced effects.
How Should I Incorporate It Into My Diet?
According to Dr. Byakodi, the right amount to get all those nutritional benefits will depend on the individual. “Chlorella is generally taken by adults in doses of three to 10 grams a day for two to three months. Discuss with your healthcare provider for the dosage,” she suggests. “There are no severe side effects seen with chlorella. However, breastfeeding mothers and people with weak immune systems are advised to use it with caution.”
Once you’ve figured out if chlorella is appropriate for you and in what amount, the easiest way to incorporate chlorella is probably by adding a bit of chlorella powder to your morning green smoothie. Add a small amount and taste; if you go overboard your juice could taste more like a fish soup.
That sea-like quality can, however, also be a culinary asset. Adding a sprinkle to vegan ceviche or ‘tuna’ salads gives a hint of seafood flavor. It can also be used to make an excellent vegan pesto dressing. (Using a food processor combine your preferred amount of garlic cloves, a cup of soaked cashews or sunflower seeds, ½ a cup of extra virgin olive oil, a teaspoon of chlorella powder, two handfuls of basil, two tablespoons of lemon juice, a tablespoon of nutritional yeast, and a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. Blend until smooth and season with black pepper and sea salt to taste.)
Chlorella Udon Noodles from Sun Chlorella have a neutral, non-fishy flavor and can be subbed into any pasta or noodle dish you prefer. The chlorella-infused udon has five grams of protein per serving and 150 percent of your daily vitamin D requirement. The Japanese manufacturer has been producing high-quality chlorella products for over 50 years.
Alternately, adding chlorella to your diet can be as easy as taking it as a supplement. Naturya recently released a chlorella and spirulina tablet format. The Naturya chlorella is grown and harvested on an island in the South China Sea in secluded freshwater ponds. Look for “cracked cell wall chlorella” when buying a supplement.Brands like Naturya mill the algae to break down the insoluble cell walls that the human gut cannot naturally break down. That makes it easier for your body to absorb all those health benefits.