Algae might not be new, but it’s definitely on trend. You see it showing up in vibrant pinterest-worthy recipes and lining the supplement shelves. It might look the same on the surface, but break down chlorella vs spirulina (two of the most popular algaes) have some key differences when it comes to their health benefits and uses.
We’re comparing chlorella and spirulina so that you can decide which one is the perfect addition to your health routine.
What are chlorella and spirulina anyway?
Both chlorella and spirulina are single celled algaes that grow in lakes or other freshwater sources all over the world. They take carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen for us to breathe. Spirulina is a rich blue-green while chlorella has a solid deep green hue.
If you’re wondering why we would want to eat blue green algae, I get it, it sounds a bit odd at first. But, chlorella and spirulina are packed full of nutrients and potential health benefits. They are more nutrient dense than some other supplements out there.
Chlorella vs Spirulina: Structure and Absorption of Nutrients
The structure of chlorella and spirulina is different. Their structure is important when we consider how we can absorb the nutrients from each type of algae.
Chlorella (aka chlorella vulgaris to the scientists) has a rigid wall which is indigestible in its natural form. Luckily, the potent nutrients can be released by processing the plant and breaking down the cell wall. To absorb the nutrients from chlorella, we have to consume it as a powder, liquid, or tablet.
The cell walls of Spirulina are easily digestible, which makes its nutrients readily available in any form.
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Chlorella vs Spirulina: Nutrient Breakdown
While both chlorella and spirulina are aglae, there are some considerable differences in their nutritional profile.
|Calories||115 kcal||81 kcal|
|Vitamin A||287% DV||3% DV|
|Vitamin C||5% DV||5% DV|
|Vitamin K||24% DV||9% DV|
|Thiamin||32% DV||44% DV|
|Riboflavin||71% DV||60% DV|
|Niacin||33% DV||18% DV|
|Vitamin B6||20% DV||5% DV|
|Iron||202% DV||44% DV|
|Zinc||133% DV||4% DV|
Reference: Nutrient information in table are from nutritiondata.self.com.
It’s important to note that the nutrient profile of these algae can differ depending on the supplement you are using as well as the season and the region it was harvested in.
Both chlorella and spirulina are high in nutrients and antioxidants. But chlorella contains a significantly higher amount of iron, zinc, and vitamin A when compared to spirulina.
Chlorella May Help Prevent Iron Deficiency Anemia.
Chlorella is a great source of plant based iron with approximately 202% of your daily value in only 1oz. In a small study of pregnant women, supplementing with only 6g per day of chlorella supplements decreased markers of anemia. Pair chlorella with a food high in vitamin C, such as strawberries or oranges, to help increase absorption of its iron.
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Spirulina vs Chlorella: Both May Help Lower Blood Cholesterol
A few small studies have demonstrated the possibility that spirulina supplements can help lower blood cholesterol. In one study, 30 participants with high blood cholesterol levels were split into three groups.
Those receiving 2 or 4g of spirulina daily had significant reductions in blood cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and triglycerides as well as an increase in HDL-cholesterol (the kind we want to be high) after 3 months. Those receiving 4g had better results than the 2g group.
Chlorella also has promising cholesterol lowering abilities. In a study of 63 participants with mildly elevated cholesterol levels, daily supplementation of chlorella for only 4 weeks showed change. Those receiving 5g of chlorella per day had significant reductions in cholesterol and triglycerides when compared to the control group.
More studies are needed to validate using chlorella or spirulina as lipid lowering supplements. But, the evidence so far is promising.
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Spirulina may protect eye health
Spirulina contains concentrated amounts of an antioxidant called zeaxanthin. In an animal study, spirulina supplementation was found to prevent vision loss when the eyes were exposed to excess stress from light.
This could be helpful in slowing the progression of cataracts which is known to advance from increased ultraviolet light exposure.
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A Word of Caution About Spirulina
Spirulina has a tendency to accumulate heavy metals. Which can then be passed onto you (and can be toxic at higher levels.) A study found that the vast majority of spirulina were safe for human consumption. But just make sure that you read the labels and buy from trusted brands from respected outlets.
Chlorella vs Spirulina: Which is Healthier?
Both chlorella and spirulina are nutrient packed antioxidant powerhouses, sources of vitamins and essential amino acids. Both are low in fat, high in complete proteins, and contain many essential nutrients we can only obtain from food. Depending on your individual nutrient needs, either one could be a great addition to your diet. But chlorella packs a bigger punch when it comes to vitamins, minerals in its overall nutritional profile.
Before adding any supplement into your daily routine, it’s important to be aware of any adverse effects that could occur. If you take anticoagulants, immunosuppressants, or have any current medical conditions, be sure to check with your doctor as spirulina and chlorella can interact with these.
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While comparing spirulina vs chlorella we see they do have differences in color, micronutrients, and structure. But most importantly they both have many potential health benefits. To try for yourself, add a teaspoon or two to your next smoothie bowl for a beautiful treat and powerful nutrient boost!
Kelsey is a Registered Dietitian, freelance writer, and plant focused food blogger. She’s passionate about making plant focused eating accessible, fun, and delicious. In addition to geeking out over nutrition science, Kelsey is an herbal enthusiast and loves to experiment with homemade and natural alternatives in the home and spending time with her two small kiddos and husband.