Posted on Mar 06, 2020, 3 p.m.
According to Spanish chroniclers humans have been consuming microalgae for centuries, even the Aztecs collected Spirulina from lakes and used them for food. In China N. commune and N. flagelliform have long been consumed as traditional foods. Filamentous green algae has been consumed in other Asian countries for centuries, and suizenji nori is considered to be a special delicacy in Japanese culture.
Microalgae may be useful for the production of heath foods according to some researchers, but these microorganisms are largely underexploited despite the advantages that they off over traditional crops. Edible microalgae are sources of protein and bioactive compounds that may offer a wide range of health benefits according to some research.
A study published in the journal Food Science and Human Wellness explored various microalgal sources of protein and their beneficial components, the report describes potential application of microalgal components, particularly as dietary and nutraceutical supplements. The researchers listed several advantages that microalgae have over traditional food and nutrient sources such as being found to contain similar amounts of protein to milk, eggs, meat, and soybeans. Comparisons of their protein shows that crops such as wheat, legumes and soybeans produce an average of 1.4 tons per hectare annually while microalgae produces 4-15 tons/ha annually.
In addition to the protein difference, traditional crops and animal sources consume large amounts of water while marine microalgae can be grown without freshwater or arable land, allowing for resources required for various agricultural purposes to be further maximized.
Microalgae are accustomed to living in extreme conditions where they are exposed to free radicals and high levels of oxidative stress constantly in harsh environments that have allowed them to develop natural protective systems which may be of benefit to human health. Components of these self defense mechanisms involve potent antioxidants and pigments not produced in the human body and may be useful for supplementation according to some studies.
Aside from being a source of protein numerous microalgae species are also rich sources of carbohydrates, lipids, phytonutrients, essential vitamins and minerals. Due to their low nutritional value they are marketed as health and food supplements that are available in many forms.
There are about 200,000-800,000 species of microalgae, which are unicellular organisms that can be found in freshwater and other aquatic environments capable of photosynthesis and only requiring light, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to grow. Some microalgae can provide vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, C and E as well as minerals such as iron, iodine, calcium, magnesium, and potassium; some species also contain natural sources of pigments, amino acids, and antioxidants such as chlorophyll, phycobiliproteins, carotenoids, and astaxanthin.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.