Spirulina, seaweed, nori, kimchi—whatever tasty form it takes, algae is pegged as the hot new protein source for a reason
While the green stuff floating around in a lake might fall pretty low on the list of ingredients you want on your dinner plate, algae deserves a second glance. Certain types of algae (think seaweed) could be an alternative source of protein, and pack quite a nutritional punch by providing a number of vitamins and minerals like iron and vitamin A.
According to a recent presentation by the Institute of Food Technologists in Chicago, certain types of algae contain 63 percent protein and 15 percent fiber, while all types are easily digested and good for your heart. And while eating algae may sound a little strange, you're probably unknowingly tasted several types of this plant—and each comes with its own nutritional perks.
The most common form? Seaweed. Whether it's wrapped around a sushi roll or floating in your miso soup, seaweed is a powerhouse of nutrients, including high levels of calcium, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins. "I particularly like that it has iodine, which is a mineral that's great for healthy thyroid function," says Dawn Jackson Blatner, R.D.N. Seaweed also has antibacterial properties and, according to a study from Newcastle University, can help prevent fat from being digested and therefore reduce obesity rates. It's even great for your skin!
Algae also comes in a powerful little powder. Blue-green algae strains such as chlorella and spirulina are quick and easy to use. "What is interesting about chlorella is that it contains B12, a vitamin that is usually found only in animal-based food sources. Because of that, this is a vitamin many vegetarians and vegans are deficient in," says Manuel Villacorta, R.D., author of Whole Body Reboot and the Peruvian Superfood Diet. Meanwhile, spirulina contains the compound zeaxanthin, a carotenoid that has been shown to reduce chronic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, says Villacorta.
Enough said—now you know algae is great for you. But how the heck do you eat it? Check out these 10 tasty ways to work algae into your diet. (No Top Chef skills required!)
1. Wrap sandwiches in nori sheets. Liven up your lunchbox with a different kind of wrap. Nori sheets, which you can find at your local Whole Foods Market or online, are a great swap for bread or tortillas, says Blatner. Think outside of the sushi roll, baby!
2. Add spirulina to your favorite smoothie. Just like how you sneak greens into your morning blend to score more nutrients, reap all the benefits of spirulina by adding one teaspoon of powder to your regular fruit-and-vegetable smoothie. We like Pure Hawaiian Spirulina Pacifica by Nutrex ($53; nutrex-hawaii.com). (In fact, it's one of our 14 Super Smoothie Boosters.)
3. Bake seaweed chips. Forget kale chips—try this recipe for homemade seaweed snacks from Nourishing Meals. They're crunchy and, with a dash of sea salt, they'll satisfy your salty cravings while secretly stocking your body with nutrients.
4. Add spirulina to homemade sweets. Next time you're craving something sweet but don't want to fall too far off the wagon, try adding spirulina to a baking recipe—like these Spirulina Power Bites from Worth Every Bite. Not only are they raw and Paleo-friendly, but they're vegan and gluten-free!
5. Garnish your Bloody Mary with toasted seaweed. Move over celery, Bloodys have a new best friend. With a crunchy texture and slightly salty taste, toasted seaweed (which you can buy in packs from stores like Whole Foods) is the perfect snack garnish to your favorite brunch drink, like Candice Kumai's DIY Bloody Mary Bar. Want to get really fancy? Try this Kimchi Bloody Mary recipe from Beautiful Booze.
6. Swap kelp noodles in pasta dishes. They really don't taste anything like traditional noodles, but kelp (a type of seaweed) noodles have the same look as pasta—without the carbs and with a lot more nutrients. Since they have a pretty neutral flavor, pair them with delicious sauces like pesto or marinara, and sprinkle with your favorite cheesy toppings (just like spaghetti!). (Other great pasta alternatives? These 12 Sensational Spiralized Veggie Recipes.)
7. Make a seaweed salad. Switch up your mundane bowl of mixed greens by using seaweed as the salad base. To prep, put dry seaweed in a bowl and pour in cold water. Depending on how much crunch you're looking for, let it soak for five to 10 minutes (the longer it soaks, the more tender it'll become). Drain the seaweed, squeeze out excess water, and add your regular toppings.
8. Make miso soup. Stop leaving miso to the restaurants. This recipe by Minimalist Baker only takes 15 minutes to make and is chock full of nutrients—in addition to dried seaweed, the recipe calls for fermented miso, leafy greens, and tofu.
9. Roll your own sushi. Sushi is the healthy girl's go-to for take out, but it's time to set the take-out menu aside and learn to roll on your own. Makemysushi.com is a great place to start, with recipes and how-tos for a variety of different types of sushi. (Or watch our video on How to Make Homemade Sushi Maki Rolls.)
10. Top salad with wakame shreds. Goodbye croutons, hello wakame! This type of seaweed (often found in miso soup) offers a somewhat sweet and slightly salty taste, making it a great topping for any regular ol' salad. Plus, it's crunchy, so it's a healthy replacement for croutons.