By Naini Setalvad
A water weed that has taken the world by storm, spirulina is a powerful source of vitamin B-12, protein and other nutrients
Ten years ago, when I started studying nutrition, many people in Mumbai were talking about vitamin B12 deficiency. I had it, and so did a number of my colleagues and friends. We all started on vitamin B12 supplements or took injections. I started intensely studying about and researching the natural sources of B12. A couple of naturopaths mentioned that spirulina is a natural source of the vitamin. I had never heard of it. I did not know how to spell it, forget pronouncing it. Where do you get it? How did it look? Is it vegetarian? I had so many questions in mind.
Soon, I discovered that spirulina hails from the algae family. This means it is a weed or a moss-like substance that grows on water, green in colour like an emerald or a chlorophyll-rich leaf. It has no roots or stems, is found in fresh bodies of water, and contains chlorophyll, which is gaining wide acclaim for prevention of numerous diseases ranging from diabetes, low iron, open wounds, to ulcers, and body odour. Since it belongs to the plant kingdom, it is vegetarian.
There are 40,000 forms of algae but spirulina alone has created huge waves because of its high nutrient value. A traditional part of the Japanese diet, it contains a high amount of protein and is low in calories, fats, sugar, and starch. The fats are in the form of essential fatty acids that are known to lower cholesterol and are essential for the body. The amazing fact is that it is also a source of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid found only in mother’s milk and helps to develop healthy babies. Spirulina contains complex carbohydrates, providing a healthy boost to a tired and stressed-out body.
It is a potent combination of minerals, iron, magnesium and calcium. Its vitamin A content revitalises the eye, while its vitamin C content boosts immunity, and vitamin D content strengthens bones. The beta-carotene and zeaxanthin content of spirulina helps to decrease the activity of free radicals that cause degenerative diseases including elevated cholesterol and cancer. To top it all, this algae releases chemicals that attack and destroy tumour cells. It increases the production of anti-inflammatory chemicals, reducing the effect of allergic reactions.
Experiments show that spirulina boosts immunity levels. It has been mixed in ladoos and chikkis. There has been positive feedback regarding anaemia, and immunity. Culinary use: Spirulina powder can be mixed with water and consumed. It works best when taken on an empty stomach. Can also be mixed with breakfast cereals. Tablets can be taken at breakfast.
Spirulina farms are seen in Madurai. Auroville grows organic spirulina. It is available in powder form, tablets, and capsules in most health stores.
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