Spirulina a "superfood" due to its high nutritional content and various potential health benefits. One of the major health claims about spirulina is its ability to aid in weight loss. In this blog post, we will explore how spirulina may help with weight loss, review the evidence, discuss its other health benefits, and provide tips on how to take it.
The Nutritional Content of Spirulina
Spirulina is packed with nutrients that can benefit health and support weight loss goals. Per 100 grams, spirulina contains:
- Protein (60-70%): Spirulina is one of the richest plant-based protein sources.
- Iron (11% DV): Important for energy production and oxygen transportation.
- Vitamin B1 (15% DV): Needed for energy metabolism and nervous system health.
- Vitamin B2 (25% DV): Important for energy release from foods.
- Vitamin B3 (25% DV): Required for energy metabolism and cell function.
- Calcium (8% DV): Important for bone and teeth health.
- Magnesium (18% DV): Needed for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body.
- Phosphorus (8% DV): Needed for energy production and cell growth.
- Copper (45% DV): Needed for red blood cell formation and production of melanin and collagen.
In addition to being nutrient dense, spirulina is low in calories - just 31 calories per 10 grams. Its high protein and nutrient content combined with low calorie amount make it a perfect addition to any weight loss plan.
How Spirulina May Help with Weight Loss
There are a few ways that spirulina supplementation may promote weight loss or aid in weight management:
Fills You Up and Reduces Appetite
The high protein content of spirulina makes it very satiating. Studies have shown that protein intake helps reduce appetite and feelings of hunger. By keeping you fuller for longer, spirulina can help decrease calorie intake and prevent overeating.
Some research suggests spirulina may boost metabolic rate. Several nutrients in spirulina like B vitamins, iron, and magnesium are needed to fuel various metabolic processes in the body. When the metabolic rate is higher, the body has the ability to burn more calories even when at rest.
May Inhibit Fat Cell Formation
Lab studies found compounds in spirulina suppressed pre-adipocyte differentiation into fat cells. Fewer new fat cells forming could help prevent weight gain over time.
Regulates Blood Sugar Levels
Spirulina helps stabilize blood sugar levels, preventing the spikes and crashes that come from eating sugary foods. Stable blood sugar levels eliminate sugar cravings that can derail a diet.
Research on Spirulina for Weight Loss
While preliminary research is promising, more extensive human studies on spirulina for weight loss are still needed. Here is a review of what research has found so far:
Increases Weight Loss in Overweight Adults
A 2016 study gave 75 overweight adults either 1.5 grams of spirulina or a placebo daily for 8 weeks alongside their regular diet. The spirulina group lost significantly more weight (average 4.5 lbs) than the placebo group.
Aids Abdominal Fat Loss
Another 2016 study found obese adults who took 500mg of spirulina daily for 12 weeks lost more abdominal fat than a control group, even without dieting or exercise changes.
May Enhance Fat Loss from Exercise
One small study found cyclists who took 500mg spirulina powder before exercise burned more fat and lost more weight over 8 weeks than cyclists not taking spirulina.
More Research Still Needed
While initial evidence is promising, more rigorous human trials with larger sample sizes are still needed to confirm spirulina's effects on weight loss. Research so far also did not evaluate long term outcomes beyond 3 months.
Additional Health Benefits of Spirulina
Beyond potential to aid in weight loss, spirulina offers various other health benefits due to its nutrient density and active compounds:
Improves Muscle Growth and Athletic Performance
Spirulina supplementation has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis and strength gains in athletes. Its high protein content and vitamins/minerals aid in muscle recovery and endurance.
Supports Diabetes Management
Studies show spirulina may help regulate blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, helping to prevent and manage diabetes.
Acts as a Detoxifying Agent
Spirulina contains antioxidants like phycocyanin and carotenoids that protect cells from free radical damage. It may help flush toxins and heavy metals from the body.
Strengthens the Immune System
Its antioxidants and vitamins support immune cell function and production of antibodies needed to fight infection and disease.
Promotes Skin and Hair Health
Spirulina moisturizes and protects skin from UV damage due to its antioxidants. It also promotes hair growth when taken orally or applied topically.
Boosts Energy Levels
The B vitamins in spirulina help break down macronutrients for energy production. Taking spirulina supplements may increase stamina and mental alertness.
Supports Brain and Cognitive Function
Antioxidants in spirulina ward off age-related cognitive decline. Vitamins and minerals like iron and B12 aid neurotransmitter and brain cell health overall.
How to Take Spirulina Supplements
Here are some tips on supplementing with spirulina powder or tablets for the best results:
- Start with 500mg-1000mg per day for adults. Children should take lower doses based on body weight.
- Take with or right after a meal to avoid potential digestive upset on an empty stomach.
- Mix powder into smoothies, yogurt, or oatmeal to disguise the taste which some find fishy or hay-like.
- Look for certified organic spirulina grown in controlled ponds to avoid contamination risk.
- If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is advisable to consult a healthcare provider before using this product.
- Don't exceed 3000mg daily unless under medical supervision.
Potential Side Effects of Spirulina
While generally well tolerated in recommended doses, spirulina may cause occasional side effects in some individuals including:
- Mild digestive issues like nausea, gas or diarrhea - can be avoided by starting with a low dose.
- Headache, dizziness or fatigue - usually from newly starting supplementation.
- Allergic reactions such as sneezing, rash or itching in those sensitive or allergic to seafood or iodine.
- Hypokalemia (low potassium) if taken long term in very high amounts without diet sources of potassium.
As with any supplement, consult a healthcare provider first if you have a medical condition or take any medications that could interact.
Nutrient Density Compared to Other Foods
Spirulina is extremely nutrient dense compared to other foods. Just 10 grams of spirulina contains as much:
- Protein as one cup of cooked chicken breast
- Iron as one cup of cooked spinach
- Vitamin A as one large carrot
- Thiamin (Vitamin B1) as one serving of oatmeal
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) as one cup of milk
- Niacin (Vitamin B3) as one ounce of peanuts
Considering its tiny volume, one tablespoon of spirulina provides significantly more nutrition than much larger amounts of other natural foods.
How it May Promote Fat Loss
While the exact mechanism is still under study, spirulina is thought to aid fat loss specifically through a few pathways:
- Increasing fatty acid oxidation in the body to burn fat stores for energy
- Reducing abdominal fat accumulation by downregulating fat storage genes
- Improving glucose and insulin sensitivity to prevent fat gain
- Enhancing calorie and fat burning both at rest and during exercise
By stimulating fat breakdown and inhibiting fat cell development, spirulina creates an environment ideal for shedding excess pounds.
Tips for Adding to Recipes
Here are some creative ways to incorporate the nutrient-dense superfood spirulina into everyday recipes:
- Blend powder into smoothies, shakes, yogurt or oatmeal
- Mix a spoonful into hummus or guacamole
- Sprinkle onto salads, soups or grain bowls
- Roll protein balls or energy bites with spirulina for portable snacks
- Whisk into pancake or waffle batter
- Add a dash to sauces, dips or spreads like pesto