You may have heard your favorite health and lifestyle influencers talk about spirulina and its benefits a lot – but what is it really? Spirulina is essentially a form of algae that is a bright blue-green in color – but tastes quite mild or, to be exact, slightly bitter. To know more about blue spirulina and it benefits you can go through this article.
It is extremely healthy and has recently been renowned as a superfood due to its nutritional benefits for vegans and non-vegans alike. While spirulina primarily contains proteins as its top constituent, it is also replete with other beneficial substances such as iron, calcium, potassium, vitamins B1 and B2, and more.
As mentioned, it has recently risen to popularity due to its all-rounder nature in terms of nutrition and has been popularized as the new vegan superfood. As you’ll see later, spirulina is a complete source of protein that can be consumed in various ways and rivals even quinoa and whey in terms of protein content.
Understanding Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids
There are mainly two forms of amino acids that are necessary for your body’s biological sustenance, and they’re essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids. Unlike what the names might suggest to you, both these types of amino acids are absolutely imperative for your body to function properly. All of these amino acids perform different functions, such as healing and repairing tissues and creating energy for the body to use.
So what’s the difference between them, and why are they called so? Essential amino acids are named that because your body cannot produce these acids – or even store them. It is thus necessary for you to include these amino acids in your diet externally – such as valine, threonine, and others. Non-essential amino acids, on the other hand, don’t require to be consumed externally since a healthy body can produce them.
What is a ‘Complete Source of Protein’?
Quite simply, a complete source of protein for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike is referred to foods that are replete with all the essential amino acids that your body requires for sustenance.
For vegetarians and vegans, looking for a complete protein source with all essential amino acids including lysine, leucine, histidine, valine, threonine, and others can be a challenge. However, foods like quinoa are considered complete sources of protein for vegans since it has all the essential amino acids that your body needs but cannot produce.
Spirulina Amino Acid Profile: Is Spirulina a Complete Source of Protein?
If you’re wondering, “is spirulina a complete protein,” the short answer is yes, spirulina is indeed a complete source of protein. As you can see here in this table, spirulina is replete with all the necessary essential amino acids that are necessary for a food to be called a complete protein.
For some amino acids such as phenylalanine, tyrosine, and valine, spirulina exceeds the minimum recommended daily intake by far – even with a small amount of spirulina (10 grams), it is possible to get a sizeable amount of the recommended daily intake of all these essential amino acids. Let’s see the complete breakdown of how many of these essential amino acids spirulina has.
|Essential Amino Acid||Minimum Required Amount in Percentage||Presence of Amino Acid in Spirluna in Percentage|
|Methionine and Cysteine||1.6%||3.2%|
|Phenylalanine and Tyrosine||3%||9.4%|
What can be inferred about Spirulina’s Amino Acid Profile?
As you have seen, some very interesting observations can be made about the spirulina amino acid profile. Firstly, all essential amino acids are present in spirulina – making this a complete source of protein in itself. This in in contrast to rather incomplete amino acid profiles of touted high-protein vegan foods including chickpeas, vital wheat gluten and other pulses and legumes.
It can be considered to be up there with quinoa (check this article to learn about quinoa rice amino acid profile) in terms of being a complete source of protein for vegans. And while it possesses all the eight amino acids making it a complete source of protein, it also has them in sizeable amounts.
As you might notice, the levels of glycine and arginine are quite high in spirulina – even when it is compared to whey, which is by far the complete source of protein for non-vegans. However, lysine and threonine are slightly on the lower side in spirulina – as well as glutamic acid. So while spirulina is extremely good as a complete source of protein, it falls short of being as good as whey.
Consuming Enough of Spirulina – The Real Concern
So far, you have seen that spirulina is a healthy, nutritious, antioxidizing complete source of protein that has numerous other benefits. However, there still remain concerns about how you should include it in your diet and how much.
By now, it must be pretty apparent that you cannot depend on amino acids in spirulina solely to get all your amino acid requirements – especially not lysine. Even 10 grams of spirulina has a host of nutritional values to it, yet having it in large amounts is slightly unrealistic for the average person.
Whole foods, on the other hand, can be considered complete meals, unlike spirulina. The consumption of spirulina is usually seen as garnish or sides to the main dish, so if you want to increase your spirulina consumption, then let’s get into some food ideas that you can implement in your diet.
Check Amino Acid Profiles of other Popular Vegan Foods below:
- Seitan Amino Acid Profile
- Pea Protein Amino Acid Profile
- Hemp Protein Amino Acid Profile
- Brown Rice Amino Acid Profile
How to Include more Spirulina in your diet?
As you have seen, spirulina may be a complete source of protein, but it is not recommended for you to consume only spirulina in order to fulfill your essential amino acid needs throughout the day. There are, however, ways to include more spirulina in your diet.
Using it as a powder means that you can add it to any form of liquid or salad so as to enhance the nutritional value of the same. In some cases, you can be making your food even more delicious.
You can make your regular fruit smoothies by adding bananas, spinach, avocados, orange juice, mangos, and soy milk – and then sprinkle in some spirulina supplement powder to give it that extra boost without compromising on the flavor.
Yet another idea is to make some good old hummus (check vegan status) and add in a tablespoon of spirulina to enhance the flavor while getting all the benefits that spirulina brings with itself. And of course, there’s always that option to make the easiest salads and dressings by adding a tablespoon of spirulina along with some avocados and olive oil.