Best food forward: Are algae the future of sustainable nutrition?

Because the world’s population continues to extend, the necessity for meals additionally will increase. Nevertheless, analysis exhibits we’re shortly operating out of farmable land.

In accordance with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the world can lose as much as 250 million crop manufacturing acres by 2050 as a consequence of urbanization, soil degradation, and local weather change.

And elements like climate change, upkeep prices, and entry to water are inflicting issues with raising livestock.

As folks have to eat to outlive, researchers are actually on the lookout for different meals choices which might be extra sustainable, but nonetheless present the nutrition folks require to thrive.

For these causes, some scientists imagine algaeTrusted Source would be the reply.

What are algae?

Algae are naturally occurring water-based, easy photosynthetic organisms. They develop in all sorts of pure our bodies of water, each recent and saltwater.

Like all vegetation, algae reside by utilizing photosynthesis to create their very own vitamins and add oxygen to the air and water round them. In contrast to different aquatic vegetation, algae shouldn’t have any leaves, roots, or stems.

Algae can vary in dimension from extraordinarily small microalgaeTrusted Source to massive colonies of seaweedTrusted Source. It’s a numerous group that features blue-green, green, redTrusted Source, and brownTrusted Source algae.

Earlier research have proven that various kinds of algae have potential medicinal advantages. For instance, one study discovered that crimson marine algae may assist deal with fatty liver disease.

And other research discovered that taking spirulina — a kind of blue-green algae — could assist decrease blood pressure.

What makes algae nutritious?

In accordance with Dr. Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology on the College of California, San Diego, director of the California Middle for Algae Biotechnology, and senior writer of the research “Developing Algae as a Sustainable Food Source,” algae are, biochemically talking, a superfood.

That’s due to their excessive content material of protein, essential fatty acids, minerals and vitamins.

“A part of that’s as a result of algae [don’t] should have stems, roots, or branches to carry [themselves] up, so [they] dedicate all of [their] power to creating extra protein, fatty acids, and so on., fairly than cellulose,” Dr. Mayfield defined.

“It is among the oldest plant meals on the earth,” Dr. William Sears, pediatric and household drugs practitioner and writer of The Healthy Brain Book informed Medical Information In the present day.

“There are literally thousands of species of algae and each produces numerous wholesome vitamins all of us want, however most of us don’t eat sufficient of [them],” he famous. “[They are] a wealthy supply of B vitamins, vitamin K, iron, magnesium, calcium, iodine, and extra.”

“The foundation explanation for many sicknesses is oxidation — put on and tear on the physique,” mentioned Dr. Sears. “Algae [are] wealthy in antioxidants. Many alternative microalgae species are wealthy sources of various antioxidants.”

“Solely a small fraction of algae species have been consumed by people, however these are well-known for his or her nutrient density and high quality,” added Aletta Mayorga, head of analysis and improvement on the being pregnant diet firm Wanted.

“The microalgae chlorella and spirulina, for instance, contain 50-70% proteinTrusted Source by dry weight, together with all 9 important amino acids, and edible macroalgae like seaweeds are a great sourceTrusted Source of gut-friendly soluble fiber.”

– Aletta Mayorga

Moreover, Mayorga mentioned, algae present a supply of vegetarian-friendly omega-3 fatty acids, comparable to docosahexaenoic acidTrusted Source (DHA).

“Though we primarily consider fish as being a key omega-3 supply within the human food regimen, fish don’t produce omega-3s on their very own however fairly devour them from algae and plankton,” she defined. “And in keeping with this studyTrusted Source, DHA from algae oil is as bioavailable as DHA from cooked salmon.”

What makes algae sustainable?

In accordance with Dr. Mayfield, we have to search for different protein sources because the world wants extra protein proper now.

“And we shouldn’t have further cropland to develop extra soybeans or different legumes, that are vegetation wealthy in protein,” he informed us. “We will develop algae on non-arable land utilizing non-potable water and it produces protein at as much as 20 [times] the quantity as soybean, our present protein-producing champion.”

“Our present agricultural system faces excessive stress from the forces of local weather change, mixed with a rising inhabitants,” added Erin Stokes, medical director of MegaFood, a well being and wellness firm that focuses on vitamin dietary dietary supplements.

“Algae has the flexibility to sequester CO2, which drastically will increase its long-term sustainability within the meals sector,” she defined. “So long as the algae are grown in clear waters, it’s a extremely nutritious meals with a minimal impression on the atmosphere.”

Monique Richard, nationwide spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and proprietor of Vitamin-In-Sight in Johnson Metropolis, TN additionally famous that:

“Algae [have] chelating advantages, that means the algae’s minerals can bind to metallic ions and pull them out of the water, which may clear wastewater and runoff. [They] may be helpful in cleansing water, selling sustainability and safety in aquaculture programs, and growing assets for agricultural practices.”

“A further profit consists of that the atmosphere wherein algae develop may be managed with out herbicides and pesticides, or some other poisonous substances, which is essential for human well being and meals manufacturing,” she added.

We additionally spoke to Dr. Charles H. Greene about how algae may enhance meals sustainability. Dr. Greene is an affiliate director for analysis and strategic planning on the College of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL) in Friday Harbor, WA.

He’s additionally co-author of the papers “Algal solutions: Transforming marine aquaculture from the bottom up for a sustainable future” in PLOS Biology, and “Transforming the Future of Marine Aquaculture: A Circular Economy Approach” in Oceanography.

Dr. Greene argued that microalgae have potential mainly as a result of they are often cultivated in smaller areas and nonetheless produce a big quantity of meals.

Within the latter paper, Dr. Greene and his colleagues spotlight:

“Meals manufacturing from marine microalgae cultivated in onshore aquaculture amenities provides a number of environmental sustainability benefits relative to terrestrial agriculture. […] Microalgae exhibit main manufacturing charges which might be usually greater than an order of magnitude larger than the most efficient terrestrial crops. […] Thus, with regard to land use, the cultivation of marine microalgae in onshore aquaculture amenities has the potential to supply an equal quantity of meals from lower than one-tenth the land space.”


Whereas it seems like rising algae as a meals supply is a no brainer, this method nonetheless faces some challenges. Dr. Mayfield informed MNT the primary one is scalability.

“The principle problem is getting it to world scale, and with that scale ought to come economies of scale, that may deliver the worth down — which is the primary problem proper now,” he emphasised.

Dr. Greene and his colleagues agree of their Oceanography paper: “Though there are massive areas of appropriate land with correct topography and insolation out there within the tropics and subtropics, cultivation amenities have to be shut sufficient to sources of seawater or brackish water to keep away from extreme transport prices.”

And “[a]lthough the dietary worth of algae would make [them] a extremely versatile meals supply, [they] are likely to have a attribute odor, and style and general sensory acceptance is usually a limiting issue,” Mayorga admitted.

Stokes added that, as with every meals and dietary supplements, the supply the place algae are grown must be verified for high quality.

“That is of explicit significance with algae as [algae] can take in substances from the water medium [they] develop in, together with heavy metals and different contaminants,” she defined.

“There are actually some distinctive manufacturing processes being utilized — comparable to closed glass tube programs — which might be designed for optimum situations for algae progress,” Stokes added.

Getting algae into your food regimen

Prepared to begin including algae to your food regimen? The excellent news is you already can.

Richard mentioned algae may be discovered commercially in choices like seaweed, dried seaweed snacks, and nori sheets, and may be present in dietary supplements, powders, or meat alternative merchandise.

“[They] could [even] be present in fermented merchandise or dairy [products] comparable to yogurts, milk, or cheeses,” she added.

Furthermore, Richard famous, algae may additionally produce other makes use of when it comes to cooking and the meals business:

“Algae can [have] qualities comparable to thickening, gelling, and emulsifying [properties] — comparable to algae-extracted components carrageenan, alginateTrusted Source, and agar [for example] — presumably changing components like palm oilTrusted Source, that are related to devastating environmental contributions and adversarial well being situations. The vary of colours in algae may also present a pure method to supply blue and inexperienced coloring for confections and drinks.”

“EPA [eicosapentaenoic acid] and DHA are important omega-3 fatty acids which might be generally under-consumed however carry super advantages for mind well being, eye well being, and cardiovascular well being to call just a few,” Mayorga added, talking of the well being advantages.

“Algal oil dietary supplements have come a really great distance to assist customers optimize their omega-3 consumption whereas additionally minimizing off-putting sensory qualities. Furthermore, algal oil dietary supplements […] are an effective way to make sure a complement with a really low heavy metallic content material, which is usually a concern with some fish oils, significantly these sourced from bigger fish,” she mentioned.

And Dr. Sears mentioned that folks can simply add algae to their food regimen by consuming algae-based dietary supplements. His prime three suggestions are algae-based DHA/ EPA, Hawaiian astaxanthinTrusted Source, and Hawaiian spirulina.

In his opinion, “[b]ecause algae comprise numerous vitamins per calorie, are grown in nature, and are good for our well being and the well being of our planet, they really benefit the label as ‘nature’s superfood’.”

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