By Ariane Resnick
There are two main types of nutritional algae that you'll find in greens supplements: chlorella and spirulina. Both are microalgae that are dried into a dark green powder and "provide a variety of key nutrients, such as healthy fats and vegan protein," says LADDER Senior Scientist Paul Falcone.
While they both contain high levels of antioxidant-like compounds and are taken as health-promoting supplements, is one better than the other?
Falcone helped us take a closer look at chlorella vs. spirulina. So read on to see which green reigns supreme as the best high-quality, plant-based source of vitamins, protein, and antioxidants.
There are two main differences between these microalgae: how they're processed and their nutritional profiles.
Spirulina is harvested and dried, a straightforward commercial process used for millennia by native cultures in Africa and Mexico.
Chlorella, on the other hand, has a cell wall that must be cracked to make it digestible and to prevent rare instances of photosensitivity among consumers. But this adds a step to the packaging process, which explains why spirulina was initially more popular. Chlorella was only discovered in the 1800s and packaged with the needed cell wall penetration starting in the 1970s.
2. Nutritional Profiles
Even though spirulina has been around longer, chlorella can be more nutritious. "Chlorella edges out the win here due to having higher amounts of important nutrients," says Falcone.
While chlorella has the nutritional edge, spirulina still has many health benefits. Here are its top properties.
1. Vitamins and Minerals
Spirulina contains more copper than chlorella, containing nearly twice the Daily Value (DV) per ounce. It is also slightly higher in vitamin B1, AKA thiamin.
Spirulina contains 16 grams per ounce, making it very high in protein for plant-based food. Not only is the protein content high, but it also consists of a wide variety of amino acids (the building blocks of protein), which is key to protein quality.
Spirulina outperforms chlorella in a couple of ways, but chlorella outdoes spirulina in many more. Here are some examples of its health benefits.
1. Vitamins and Minerals
Compared to spirulina, chlorella contains more than seven times the phosphorous, which is a key mineral and a structural component of DNA, RNA, and ATP (the energy molecule).
Like spirulina, chlorella is about 50% protein by weight, making it a good way to get protein from a plant source.
Both microalgae are effective at helping the body rid itself of heavy metals. However, when you chelate with chlorella, you will also reap the many additional benefits of chlorella over spirulina.
Falcone notes that while it was more complex to produce chlorella than spirulina in the past, things have changed. "Presently, the cracking of the cell wall is part of chlorella's harvesting process, so chlorella can now be produced as quickly and effectively as spirulina. Because of chlorella's superior nutritional profile, I expect it to become more prevalent in the market."
4. Healthy fats
In a study comparing multiple samples of spirulina and chlorella, both microalgae types contained a variety of important fatty acids. But while the nine total samples showed wide variability in fatty acid composition due to differences in growing conditions and processing, the chlorella seemed to provide higher amounts of certain healthy fats.
Chlorella and spirulina have been studied as useful for cardiovascular fitness. They've been shown to support normal heart health.
Spirulina has many health benefits and is a great addition to any diet, but chlorella is the better choice for your overall health and wellness. As Falcone says, many of the benefits of chlorella will come from the evidence-based actions of key nutrients: Protein is an essential building block of life, phosphorous is a necessary structural component of DNA and ATP, and healthy fats help support normal brain and cell function. Whatever your health goals, chlorella is an excellent tool to have in your kit.*
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.