Why you might want to add this algae to your diet

It is high in protein and other essential nutrients, including vitamin B12, which is often lacking in plant-based diets

Richard D, who reads this column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, writes: “I’m age 82 and in good health compared to most men of my age that I know. Spirulina — I recently started adding 1/2 teaspoon of it to my breakfast. What are your ideas about it? Green tea — I started drinking it because it is supposedly beneficial. How does an individual ever know whether it is helpful?

Since I have osteopenia, my endocrinologist wants me to eat more protein and reduce the quantity of leafy green veggies. Have you written an article about the nutritional value of beans?”

Answer: Sounds like you’re taking good care of yourself, Richard. Let’s whittle away at your questions. Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae — organisms that live in the water and produce energy from the sun. A recent review in the journal Molecules gives a nutritional thumbs-up to spirulina. It is high in protein and other essential nutrients, including vitamin B12, which is often lacking in plant-based diets.

Spirulina also contains a host of compounds that helps the body fight inflammation and boost the immune system. Extracts of its blue-green pigments have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as natural color additives for a variety of foods and confections. And get this, NASA has used spirulina as a dietary supplement for astronauts.

Some cautions do remain, however. People with autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis or those on immune suppression drugs should avoid spirulina supplements because of their immune-stimulating effect. And because some unregulated products may contain unwanted contaminants, pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as young children should avoid it.

How does one know if green tea is beneficial? It’s kind of like how we know seat belts save lives. Studies have shown that green tea (and other types of tea from the Camellia sinensis plant) can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol and may even protect against cancer and other chronic diseases. By the way, green, black and oolong teas are from the same plant; they are just processed differently.

Yes, I did write a recent column on the value of beans. If your paper did not run it, you can access it at www.montereyherald.com.

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Barbara Intermill is a registered dietitian nutritionist and syndicated columnist. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating.”