Microalgae may be the next protein on your plate

[Global] The sustainable alternative to red meat may be tiny, green and slimy. As one of the most nutritious foods on the planet, microalgae could create opportunity for humans on several levels.

Algae are organisms that are aquatic and photosynthetic but lack stems, root and leaves. The two broad categories of algae are macroalgae and microalgae.

Seaweed is an example of macroalgae because they are large and multicellular. Microalgae are single-celled organisms, such as Spirulina or Chlorella, and show promise to researchers as a natural superfood. These tiny plants, most commonly Chlorella, have been making their way into baby formulas, juices, protein powders and supplements worldwide.

According to Andrew A. Dahl, president and CEO of Zivo Bioscience, Michigan, microalgae could change the way protein production is addressed.

To start, Mr. Dahl said, in the next two decades there will be shortfalls in protein production, which is causing governments and big food companies to find new ways to increase proteins without increasing the use of fossil fuels. Microalgae can be grown sustainably, making them ideal, Mr. Dahl said.

The organisms require minimal water and do not need fertile land to grow, Mr. Dahl said.

He added they pose no competition to agriculture because they can grow in places like the desert under extreme temperatures and ultraviolet conditions.

Additionally, microalgae are a complete protein because they have all 21 strands of amino acids — a rarity, according to Mr. Dahl.

While they seem like a superfood, there are problems with making microalgae mainstream.

For one, it isn’t economically viable for large-scale production. So while the biology and technology are available, the right price point doesn’t exist yet.

Also, the supplements and powders currently on the shelves are fairly unregulated, according to Catherine M. Moore, registered dietitian at the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County.

She added there is also concern about using supplements for a person’s primary nutrients.

“Taking something as a supplement is an artificial way to get your nutrition,” Ms. Moore said. “The nutrients are helpful, but because it isn’t regulated, you don’t know what else you are taking with it.”

For those searching for similar nutrients, Ms. Moore said to consume real seafood, such as sushi, that contain both fish and macroalgae.

She added that while the amount of protein in microalgae definitely can’t be ignored, seeing them on the average American’s dinner plate soon is a long shot.


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