What's the Deal with Chlorella?

I've already discussed a certain blue-green algae called spirulina in a previous post – now I think it's time to talk about her cousin, chlorella. The two are sometimes confused and if you look in any health food store, you can often buy supplements containing both of them. So what is chlorella?

Chlorella is a single-celled, green freshwater algae which grows in lakes and ponds (please don't confuse it with the disease, cholera!). As I mentioned in What's the Deal with Spirulina? the main difference between the two is the fact that chlorella possesses a hard cell wall which, scientifically, makes it closer to being a plant than an algae and also makes it harder to digest. When buying chlorella, make sure it's labelled as 'cracked cell wall' as this makes it more accessible to the human body.

Chlorella is so-called because of the high amount of chlorophyll it contains – almost ten times that of similar greens such as barley, alfalfa and wheatgrass. When dried, chlorella contains almost 58% protein, 23% carbohydrate, 9% fat (omega-3 and -6 essential fatty acids) and 10% vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Like spirulina, chlorella is a wonderful source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. It's a 'complete' protein as it contains all the essential amino acids (and other non-essential) and has a very high protein content – more than most foods. Beef, for example, is approximately 22% protein while chlorella contains 58%. Chlorella also contains vitamins A, B1, (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B7 (biotin), B9 (folic acid), B12 (cobalamin), C, E and K, and the minerals calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, iodine, phosphorus and zinc.

Chlorella has a strengthening effect on the immune system - it's known to increase production of antibodies which fight infection. It also promotes a good balance of beneficial bacteria in the intestines, which may help soothe ulcers, constipation and other intestinal issues. Chlorophyll, which is abundant in chlorella, is an important nutrient for detoxifying your body. It helps you process more oxygen, cleanses your blood and promotes growth and repair of tissues.

Fans of chlorella claim it gives them increased energy, improved mood and digestion and can aid in reversing a number of health conditions including cancers, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, depression, liver disorders, asthma, high blood pressure, inflammation and degenerative diseases like dementia. None of this has been conclusively proved by science, although chlorella has been shown in some studies to help tumour shrinkage and reduce hypertension and cholesterol.

You can buy chlorella from any health food shop as a powder or in tablet or capsule form. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should consult their doctor before beginning to take any supplements, and people with a seafood allergy should steer clear.

Chlorella is a great addition to any smoothie, such as the green smoothie in my spirulina blog post. If you Google chlorella recipes most of them will be for smoothies. However, I wanted to offer you something a bit different so I scoured the web and eventually found a few recipes for chlorella pesto, which I thought was a great idea. Here's my version; I've left out the parmesan which is traditional in pesto for any vegetarians/vegans.

Vegan Chlorella Pesto

You will need:
1 tablespoon chlorella powder
¼ cup pine nuts
2 cups fresh basil
½ garlic clove
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon lemon juice
1 pinch sea salt

Lightly toast the pine nuts then put all the ingredients into a blender or food processor and blitz until you achieve your desired consistency. Simple as that!

Have you ever tried chlorella? Let me know in the comments!

Also in this series:
What's the Deal with Spirulina?