I love popping into my neighborhood juice shop because they always seem to be adding something buzzy to their blender. Collagen, moringa, lion’s mane…they know what’s up. Recently, I started seeing a new add-in option on the menu: chlorella. It’s an ingredient I’ve started seeing in new bottled beverages, too.
Chlorella is a deep emerald green-colored freshwater algae. Though they look similar, chlorella is not the same as spirulina, which is another type of algae. (Think of them as cousins with overlapping traits.) Because my chlorella knowledge pretty much stopped there, I decided to call up registered dietitian Toby Amidor, RD, to learn more about it—and if chlorella benefits were worth paying extra to add to my smoothie or even buying in supplement form.
Amidor says chlorella is something she’s seeing pop up more and more too. “Similar to the buzz surrounding spirulina, people seem to be interested in [chlorella] more now,” she says. “But you need to be careful of where you buy it from,” she says. This, Amidor, explains is because supplements are widely unregulated by the U.S. government so it can be difficult to know if what you’re spending your money on is actually what you think it is. Here, Amidor gives some tips for what to keep in mind when buying chlorella and also touches on its many benefits.
7 chlorella benefits
1. Chlorella is a complete plant-based protein
“Chlorella is mostly comprised of protein, although the exact percentage differs, depending on the source,” Amidor explains. Chlorella is known as a complete protein, which means it has all nine essential amino acids. Essential amino acids must be consumed through food because we can’t make them on our own.
Despite mostly consisting of protein, Amidor says chlorella still shouldn’t be thought of as a go-to protein source. Two tablespoons of chlorella has three grams; not nothing, but not a whole lot either. (You want to aim to get about 75 grams of protein a day, depending on how active you are.) “Think of it as an extra benefit to whatever you’re adding the chlorella to, not a primary source [of protein],” Amidor says.
2. Chlorella has brain-boosting vitamin B-12
One two-teaspoon serving of chlorella has 15 microunits of vitamin B-12, a whopping 250 percent of the daily recommended total. Since vitamin B12 is most commonly found in meat, fish, and eggs, this is especially beneficial for vegans and vegetarians. Vitamin B-12 is important for brain health and could even help improve your mood.
3. It has some vitamin C
One of the more minor chlorella benefits includes its small vitamin C content. While one serving of chlorella only has one milligram of vitamin C (2 percent of what’s recommended for the day), every little bit counts—especially during the winter months. Amidor says this is another one of chlorella’s perks you can think of as a fringe benefit, but not a primary reason to seek it out specifically.
4. Chlorella is a good source of vitamin A
One serving of chlorella has almost 3,000 microunits of vitamin A, 60 percent of the recommended daily value. Like vitamin C, vitamin A is also an immunity booster. It also supports healthy vision, heart health, and kidney function.
5. It has antioxidants
Like virtually all plants, chlorella has antioxidants, which are important for protecting the body from inflammation by fighting free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can harm cellular structures. If free radicals aren’t kept in check, they can contribute to all sorts of health issues, from benign (premature skin aging) to life-threatening (cancer, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s…and many more).
6. Chlorella is a good source of iron
“Another nutrient chlorella is high in is iron,” Amidor says. In fact, one serving has 12 milligrams of the nutrient, which is 70 percent of the recommended daily total. Iron plays an important role in energy production and the body needs it to function. If you feel sluggish on a regular basis, it’s worth it to get your iron levels checked, and if you’re low, chlorella can help you get more into your diet—especially if you don’t eat meat or like beans, two primary sources of iron.
7. It has calcium
Chlorella has trace amounts of calcium, which is an important nutrient for bone health and heart health. It only contains a small amount, but it’s another added perk packed inside the green algae.
Tips for buying chlorella
Especially if you are considering buying chlorella in supplement form, Amidor says that it’s extra important to do your homework and make sure the company is testing their chlorella for toxins that could cause more harm than good. “Go to the website of the company you’re considering buying from and see what information they have about how their ingredients are tested,” she says. If there’s no information available, she says that’s a red flag. If a supplement company is going through the effort (and expense) to test their chlorella, they will want their customers to know.
Chlorella can also pop up in bottled beverages and while these drinks are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, Amidor still suggests doing some digging. She suggests looking on the company’s website to see if they have information about where they source their ingredients from and if they are tested for authenticity. If not, it’s worth it to send the brand a message on Facebook or Instagram.
Watch the video below for more tips for safely buying supplements:
Are there any side effects to be aware of?
While Amidor says she isn’t aware of any problematic side effects to chlorella, she does say that it isn’t for everyone. “If you’re pregnant or nursing, it’s best not to consume it because there aren’t any scientific studies that indicate if that’s safe or not,” she says. “Also, because of chlorella’s iron content, if you are on any blood medications it may not be good to mix them,” she says.
As a rule of thumb, anytime you are thinking about taking a new supplement, like chlorella, it’s a good idea to get your doctor’s okay—and a must if you have any underlying medical conditions or take any medications.
How to use chlorella
1. Use it as a powder
One of the most popular ways to buy chlorella is as a powder, which can then be added to smoothies, oatmeal, or tea. As Amidor previously emphasized, it’s important to research the brand selling the powder to ensure it’s been tested for authenticity and toxicity levels. Once you find a powder you like, an average serving size is two tablespoons.
2. Take it as a supplement
Even though chlorella is an algae, it doesn’t taste fishy; the taste is similar to salad greens. If you’re not into the taste but still want to reap the chlorella benefits, you can find it in supplement form and take it as a capsule.
3. Look for it in juices and other bottled beverages
As chlorella becomes more popular, it’s getting easier to find in juices and other drinks. “Just know that the amount used in these [products] is probably not very much,” Amidor says, indicating that it may be less than the average chlorella serving of two tablespoons. If you want to know how much is in a beverage and it’s not listed on the label, contact the company and ask; they should be open to answering your questions.
In general and as long as it’s sourced from a reputable company, chlorella is safe to take and can benefit the body in many ways. While Amidor says it’s important to know that everything chlorella offers can be found in foods, she says the algae can be considered the cherry on top of the nutritious foods you’re already consuming for your health. And what a nutrient-rich cherry it is.
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