Welcome to this new series of articles on superfoods. These natural foods of exceptional nutritional value that contain all or almost all of the essential nutrients for the body. Today, Coup d'barre went to the intertropical region to discover spirulina. Described as a superfood by nutritionists andmany health professionals, spirulina became famous in 1970 in industrialized countries and its popularity has continued to grow. Coup d'barre will enlighten you on this substance, which has been present on earth for a very long time, we will look at its use and interest in sport.
What is spirulina?
The spirulina (scientific name: Arthrospira platensis), also known as a blue-green microalga, is a cyanobacteria. A cyanobacteria is a photosynthetic microorganism, it’s a bacterium which uses solar energy to synthetize its molecules. It is in the shape of a spiral and its green color is due to the presence of pigments: chlorophyll and phycocyanin.
History point: The spirulina appeared on earth 3,5 billion years ago, it’s naturally present in the tropical region like Africa, Latin America, and southern Asia. It grows in fresh, hot, alkaline water (about 25° and pH about 8-11,5) and rich in elements like nitrates, phosphate, irons but also carbonates and bicarbonates from lakes.
It was already an integral part of the diet of different people like Aztecs. Indeed, the Aztecs collected it using a fine mesh net in lake Texcoco, near Mexico. Then the spirulina was dried to consume it later in the form of a pancake.
In the 1970s, it became famous in industrialized countries and todays its culture has spread across the world.
It’s for that, you can find wild spirulina and cultivated spirulina in aquaculture. To be reduce in a fine green powder, the spirulina is filtered, drained, dried, and crushed. It can then be compressed into tablets or enclosed in capsules.
More and more known for its nutritional qualities, spirulina would be the most complete food on the planet.
Composition of the spirulina:
The spirulina is a mine of nutrients in a small volume.
The spirulina has an important quantity of protein (60 to 70%) with a high proportion of essential amino acids (about 47%). Moreover, these proteins have a good bioavailable. That is to say, they are more easily assimilable to the body, the proportion of the substance that will be used by the body will be greater than the amount ingested.
The carbohydrate content of spirulina varies from 14 to 19%.
It also contains lipid with essential fatty acids, generally about 5 to 6%, vitamin (B1, B2, B3, B6, B9, B12, A, D,E, K) and minerals (potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron,magnesium, phosphor, sodium, zinc). The rate of minerals depends on the production method and the harvesting area for spirulina.
It too incorporates enzymes and pigments including chlorophyll A, carotenoids with 50 to 80% of beta-carotene (precursorof vitamin A) and phycocyanin C.
How do you consume spirulina?
The spirulina is used for food purposes but also as natural dye.
They are different way to consume it like in powder, in food complement under forms of capsules or tablets or in sequins. We can find it also already integrate in food product such as pasta.
Spirulina powder and as a food supplement are obtained by industrial methods. The powder is perfect to be incorporated into different drinks or various foods during your meals. The capsules and tablets make it possible to dose the amount of intake and facilitate its daily intake. They also help prevent the special taste of spirulina.
To get the most benefit from all these nutrients, it's recommended to consume spirulina as a treatment of 2 to 3 months and increase the dose during it. It's possible to do 2 to 3 cures per year. Becareful to take a break between each treatment so that the body does not get used to supplementing it self with nutrients and vitamins.
In general, the quantity recommended per day is between 3 and 5g. This quantity can be adapted according to the individuals and their needs. For instance, in athletes, the dose can be gradually increased up to 10g per day.
It is advisable to spread the taking of spirulina throughout the day while avoiding all times in the evening when it could have an energizing effect that would disrupt your sleep.
Note: in order for spirulina to retain all of its proprieties, it’s recommended not to heat the spirulina, but to consume it as is.
Benefits of spirulina and for who?
Thanks to the richness of its composition, spirulina has interesting properties for all categories of people (vegans, vegetarians, athletes, the elderly, postmenopausal women…).
Spirulina boosts the immune system, improves cardiovascular health, reduces the risk of anemia and deficiencies. It decreases bad cholesterol thanks to its richness in omega 3 and 6. It alsoaffects the blood sugar level and fatigue. It improves performance and muscle recovery. Spirulina also has a strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic power thanks to the presence of zinc, vitamin E, beta-carotene and phycocyanin.
Vegans and vegetarians can find a very great interestin this substance, in particular for its level of proteins, iron and the presence of certain vitamins which are normally present in large quantities inanimal products and often lacking in these types of diets.
Note: You will be able to read many articles promoting the vitamin B12 intake of this food. This vitamin is highly sought after in vegan and vegetarian diets because its main source is found in animal fats. However, according to some studies, spirulina would include 2 analogues ofvitamin B12: 1 active form and a majority inactive form (80%).
A little nod to athletes:
The composition of spirulina is very interesting for athletes. Varied and rich in nutrients, it helps to compensate for the nutritional losses associated with exertion.
Thanks in particular to the presence of vitamins B1, B2, B3, zinc, iron and other minerals, spirulina is involved in the production of energy which makes it easier to with stand exertion.
It helps to develop physical endurance. This is because endurance is determined by the body's ability to distribute oxygen to muscles and organs. Its unique iron content and the presence of B vitamins, copper and beta carotene, promote the formation of hemoglobin, the oxygenationof muscles, organs and the volume of oxygen used by the muscles.
This good oxygenation of the muscles as well as the presence of phycocyanin and certain minerals help limit the appearance andaccumulation of lactic acid. An accumulation of this acid in the muscles causes pain during exertion, cramps and aches.
By its content of vegetable proteins and essential amino acids, spirulina is a good supplement to develop or maintain muscle mass, as well as promote recovery.
For more information on the benefits of consuming protein in sport I invite you to click on the following link.
During intense exertion, excessive formation of free radicals and trauma resulting in an inflammatory state are obstructed. By the presence of antioxidant such as phycocyanin (active ingredient of spirulina with a very strong antioxidant power), spirulina helps prevent or limitinjuries, cramps, stiffness...
Spirulina can be taken before and/or after sport and during long outings.
Dangers of spirulina:
We speak a lot about benefits of spirulina, but we don’t many hear about risks. Because yes, there are some risks. Firstly, the spirulina is not recommended to certain people, and secondly studies shows that some spirulina can be contaminated by cyanotoxins, bacteria or heavy metals.
For limited these risks, l’Anses recommends that consumers favor the best-controlled supply circuits. It is advisable to buy spirulina in pharmacies, para-pharmacies, where we are sure that the food supplement comes from a controlled manufacturing process.
Moreover, it’s not recommended to consume spirulina at people with hemochromatosis because the quantity of iron can make the situation worse and can cause side effects. It’s contraindicated for people with phenylketonuria because spirulina contain phenylalanine and overconsumption ofthis amino acids can become toxic. It is also recommended to consume spirulina with caution in the event of allergic conditions, autoimmune diseases and hepatic and/or muscular vulnerability.
Apart from the risk of contamination and certain diseases for which the consumption of spirulina is not recommended, spirulina does not seem to present a health risk at low doses.
In high doses, it can cause gastrointestinal upset and headaches. If spirulina is taken in the recommended doses there is no risk of having side effects, it is normally well tolerated by the body. However, in rare cases, intestinal discomfort and headaches may be noticed. To avoid this, it isrecommended to start with low doses and increase gradually.
You now know all that famous superfood is Spirulina. Like any food, it should be consumed without excess and does not replace a healthy and balanced diet. It is an excellent natural food supplement with multiple benefits that can allow athletes to optimize their performance.
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