Why Is Algae Being Called the Sustainable Food of the Future?

published Feb 28, 2024
3 min read

Could the answer to a healthier, more eco-friendly dining future be at your local sushi bar? It might. Algae is a sustainable food source with some impressive benefits for people and the planet alike.

However, you don’t have to dig fish to get in on the trend. Algae is much more than a wrap and offers new opportunities to get creative in the kitchen.

What makes this stuff so magical? Why is algae being called the sustainable food of the future? Here’s what makes it so great and how you can delight your palate.

What Are Sustainable Food Sources?

Sustainable food sources tread lightly on the planet. Did you know that the food industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change? Meat production alone accounts for nearly 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Then, you must consider the fossil fuels used and smog created when transporting foods from one place to another and the plethora of packaging — is it truly necessary to wrap an apple in plastic?

What Makes Algae Sustainable?

Algae is a sustainable food source for several reasons. One, adding it to various foods improves their nutritional content, increasing protein in particular. Although diets low in meat are more sustainable, getting enough protein on a plant-based diet can be problematic for some.

Furthermore, one reason the meat industry contributes so heavily to climate change is that cows produce methane when they poop. This greenhouse gas is heavier than carbon, but adding red algae to cattle feed nearly cuts such emissions in half.

Algae also thrive in polluted waters, and placing algae farms near large CO2 emitters can transform greenhouse gasses from pollutants to resources for growing this superfood. Furthermore, manufacturers can use algae to make dozens of products more sustainably, from shoes to skincare products and even bioethanol, a cleaner fuel than gasoline.

How Do You Eat Algae?

There are multiple ways to enjoy eating algae. Sushi lovers have long enjoyed nori, a type of red algae, as a staple for rolls. Pairing it with seafood increases the health benefits of your meal. For example, tuna and other fish contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids that nurture heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes.

However, vegans and vegetarians who eschew fish and those who simply dislike it need not develop a taste for sushi. You can add algae powder to pancake batter, blend it into a smoothie, soup, salad dressing or hummus or sprinkle it over nearly any dish. Although many people dislike the taste and texture of raw algae, you can find baked algae in snack chip form for a healthy alternative to those made with potatoes and oil.

Health Benefits of Eating Algae

Why should you add more algae to your diet? Check out these eight potential health benefits that will get you heading to the store or adding it to your next shopping list.

1. A High-Protein Nutraceutical Food

Despite modern technological advances, millions of people around the world still struggle to meet one of life’s most basic requirements — adequate healthy food. Algae is a powerhouse nutraceutical food, thus called because it has the potential to address nutritional deficiencies and halt disease.

Although getting abundant calories is often manageable for people in wealthy nations, the reality of food apartheid means the quality of their meals may still leave them unsatisfied. Cravings lead to overeating in a desperate attempt to get enough of the desired substance.

Reformulating popular convenience foods by adding algae could help, as it’s rich in bioactive substances that lower the risk of multiple diseases. These include the metabolic varieties that often affect those whose incomes don’t support a healthy diet, like Type 2 diabetes and hyperglycemia.

2. Rich Source of Antioxidants

Antioxidants prevent disease by whisking harmful free radicals out of your system before they can cause cell damage and death. Algae is rich in multiple antioxidants, particularly carotenoids and chlorophyll associated with lower disease risk.

For example, the chlorophyll and chlorophyll derivatives from algae demonstrate substantial antioxidant activity. Another prominent group of antioxidants in algae are the carotenoids, including lutein, zeaxanthin and beta carotene, among several others.

3. May Prevent Metabolic Diseases 

One of the additional carotenoids in algae, fucoxanthin, shows considerable promise in the battle against metabolic diseases like Type 2 diabetes. Fucoxanthin, found in brown algae, inhibits the white adipose tissue associated with this disease’s formation. Furthermore, it downregulates the inflammatory adipokines involved in insulin resistance and normalizes blood glucose — but only in those with an existing diabetic condition.

4. May Reduce Cancer Risk

According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 3.5% of marine plants, including algae, exhibit anti-cancer properties and may modulate immune function to make your body better able to recover from the disease.

Microalgae may help deliver anti-cancer drugs to patients. Furthermore, it can also synthesize and produce oxygen for treatments dependent on high oxygen levels. Additionally, the antioxidants increase the activity in natural killer cells, which your body uses to combat disease.

5. May Lower Heart Disease Risk

Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that may help reduce your cardiovascular disease risk. This superfood is 60% to 70% protein and packed with other vitamins and phytonutrients. Adding spirulina to foods like salad dressing can lower your blood pressure and improve the elasticity of arterial walls, lowering your heart attack and stroke chances.

6. May Help You Control Your Weight

If you’re one of the millions who struggle with your weight, algae may help. Brown algae extract reduced the body weight gain and fat mass in rodents fed a high-fat diet in a recent study. The algae-fed mice also appeared leaner and developed lower levels of abdominal fat, often considered the most dangerous due to its closeness to major organs.

7. May Reduce Systemic Inflammation

Systemic inflammation worsens the symptoms of nearly every chronic disease. It’s the culprit behind arthritis flares and can lower your immune response when you encounter a bug. It also increases the chances of developing a new disease. Algae’s high level of antioxidants combats this inflammation, bringing symptom relief and lowering risks.

8. May Remove Heavy Metal Poisoning

Finally, industrialization has increased the amount and number of pollutants in waterways, with adverse effects on human health. Substances like arsenic and cadmium may contribute to the onset of various diseases by generating reactive oxygen — free radicals. They’re also classified as carcinogens, meaning they can spur cancer.

Expanding algae’s use in industrial operations could reduce water contamination. Furthermore, consuming it could protect against some of the cancer-causing effects of exposure to these toxins.

Algae, a Sustainable Superfood

What makes a food sustainable is its overall light impact on the environment. Some foods, like meat, take a huge ecological toll because of the emissions associated with their production. Algae flourish on many of the pollutants caused by human activity and absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

Furthermore, algae have multiple health benefits that make it a welcome addition to nearly any diet. It can address nutritional deficiencies and prevent disease, as well as wrapping your favorite sushi.