By Miranda Brown, MS, RDN/LD, licensed esthetician
Chlorella might not be available in the produce section of your favorite grocery store, but this green sea plant rivals and even surpasses the nutrient content of other more familiar leafy greens. A unicellular algae, chlorella has been harvested for human consumption from the oceans and lakes for hundreds of years. However, chlorella must be dried and crushed in order for humans to absorb its nutritional bounty.
How does the nutrient bounty of chlorella benefit our bodies?
For starters, chlorella is a plant-based source of protein. Vegans and vegetarians, listen up! Rare for a plant, chlorella is a complete protein, providing all the essential amino acids your body can’t produce on its own. Its protein profile is similar to that of an egg, one of nature’s most biologically available proteins.
Chlorella also provides other nutrients our bodies require: essential fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Scientific studies show that EPA and DHA, popularly known as omega-3s, support heart, brain and eye health. Omega-3s are well known to function in the body as mediators of the inflammation process.
Its deep green color means chlorella is rich in chlorophyll, a biologically active pigment. Chlorophyll acts as an antioxidant in the body that helps protect cells from metabolic damage. This green pigment also has been shown to be protective against colon and liver cancers. Chlorella is also a significant source of B vitamins (including B12) and vitamins A and E. Just as it’s rare for plants to be high in protein, it’s also rare for them to be a significant source vitamin B12 (cobalamin).
Potential Side Effects
Though chlorella no doubt provides a nutrient power punch, some people might experience side effects after consuming this green microalgae. Gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, diarrhea, gas, stomach discomfort and green discoloration of stools are most common. Consumption of chlorella can also induce allergic reactions and skin sensitivity to sunlight. Further, since sea plants can be high in heavy metals due to water contamination, chlorella consumers should look for a source that is free of toxic metals.
As a registered dietitian AND licensed esthetician, Miranda Brown witnesses daily how food can make the body heal, thrive and glow. Brown lives, laughs and loves in Tulsa, OK.