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From adaptogens to healing spices to superherbs, it isn't always easy to stay current with what's hot right now in the health world. It was only a year ago that I was introduced to ashwagandha and maca, and even more recently, I finally learned how to pronounce them. Now, I add them to my morning smoothies regularly and laud their effects to my friends.
One of the latest superfood supplements to make a splash on the health scene is chlorella. We reached out to dietitians Lisa Moskovitz and Amy Shapiro to answer all our questions about what it is and how to incorporate it into a diet best. Ahead, learn everything you need to know before taking chlorella, from benefits to potential side effects.
Meet the Expert
- Lisa Moskowitz, RD, CDN, is the founder and CEO of the NY Nutrition Group in New York City. She graduated with honors from Syracuse University with a BS in Nutritional Sciences.
- Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and director of Real Nutrition NYC in New York City. She is a member of the American Dietetic Association and the Greater New York Dietetic Association, and the Weight Management, Women’s Health, Nutrition Entrepreneurs, and Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Groups.
What is Chlorella?
Chlorella is a green algae plant grown in fresh water as opposed to sea water. You may have heard of its cousin, spirulina, which has a bigger presence in the United States; most of the chlorella and spirulina in the U.S. is grown in Japan or Taiwan.
"[Chlorella] is very nutrient-dense and is rich in protein, iron, B12, calcium, omega-3s, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals," says Shapiro. All the benefits packed into this unassuming water plant means it more than earns its superfood designation.
Chlorella isn't the only way to give your body a boost. Eating a varied, plant-rich diet will offer everything your body needs to function at its peak, says Moskowitz. There are many superfoods besides chlorella to help get you there.
Benefits of Chlorella
- Delivers a high amount of nutrients to the body: In case you missed the list above, chlorella is packed with good-for-you stuff like vitamins B12 and C, iron, fiber, protein, antioxidants, and fatty acids.
- Helps the body process heavy metals and detox: One of chlorella's best-known benefits is that it's a great ingredient for helping rid your body of all the ickiness that comes from processed foods, the environment, and life in general: "It is very helpful in removing heavy metals from the body (binds with them) and assists with detoxifying the body from harmful toxins found in food and the environment that can disrupt our hormonal balance," says Shapiro.
- Provides protective benefits to the body: "Chlorella earns its superior reputation from its additional protective or health-enhancing benefits," says Moskowitz. "While studies are mixed, this edible algae may also help strengthen the immune system, as well as possibly lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and manage blood sugars."
- Promotes weight loss:A 2008 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food discovered that regular chlorella intake over a 16-week period resulted in a lower body fat percentage for the participants, along with lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels.
How to Take Chlorella
Chlorella in its unadulterated form is too tough for the human body to digest: "Since we do not break down the cell walls of the whole plant, we need to enjoy them as supplements: either capsule, tablet, powder, or tincture," says Shapiro. "I enjoy the tablets and chew them as a quick snack with water; they have a nutty flavor."
Capsules and powder supplements are the most common ways to introduce your new green best friend into your diet. "If you're up for a challenge, you can also find creative ways to add chlorella powder to smoothies, sauces, soups, muffins, or bread," says Moskowitz. She warns that heating may diminish some of the nutritional benefits, but definitely not all.
Possible Side Effects
Even with all the upsides to chlorella, there can always be too much of a good thing. Some people may experience abdominal discomfort when starting to integrate chlorella, notes Shapiro, so it is best to start slowly; introduce a small amount and gradually work up to larger doses. She also recommends researching supplements to find one without a lot of additives.Other potential side effects to look out for are nausea, diarrhea, green stools, and skin sensitivity.
Always consult your doctor before starting any sort of supplement, especially if you are taking prescription medications, cautions Moskowitz. "Supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and, therefore, it's best to always take the highest safety precautions," she says. People who are immuno-compromised or taking immunosuppressant drugs need to be mindful of the possible effects chlorella could have on them.
The Difference Between Chlorella and Spirulina
Since they're both parts of the green algae family, chlorella and spirulina have many similar benefits. According to our experts, chlorella is a more powerful detoxifier, removing unwanted metal buildup and other possibly toxic waste from the body. Spirulina, on the other hand, is higher in protein than its cousin. "I like to recommend spirulina for energy and chlorella for detoxing, cholesterol, etc.," says Shapiro.
The Final Takeaway
Chlorella will protect your body and up your nutrient-intake game in a major way, all while cleaning out the ick in your system from living life. Get the go-ahead from your doctor before introducing it into your diet, and start slowly to ensure minimal side effects. After that, all there is left to do is kick back and watch this green giant work its magic.
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Mizoguchi T, Takehara I, Masuzawa T, Saito T, Naoki Y. Nutrigenomic studies of effects of chlorella on subjects with high-risk factors for lifestyle-related disease. J Med Food. 2008;11(3):395-404. doi:10.1089/jmf.2006.0180
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