What is algae?
Algae has been part of the human diet for thousands of years and in recent years there has been a resurgence in its popularity as a nutraceutical due to its high nutrient content and the rise in the number of vegans and vegetarians worldwide looking for a plant-based source of omega-3. Also, as humanity becomes more aware of environmental issues, people are looking for more sustainable, ethical, and safe sources of food. Marine Algae fits this description perfectly, it is highly nutritious, can be sustainably farmed and is free from ocean pollutants like heavy metals. There are also many varieties that give rise to different benefits for example ‘marine algae’ is high in DHA and freshwater algae ‘chlorella’ is high in protein.
Algae is an organism that contains chlorophyll and can photosynthesise. Ranging from giant brown kelp in the oceans to the blue-green colour of spirulina used by Aztecs as a protein source. Algae can be found mainly in salt & freshwater bodies of water but sometimes in mountainous regions & in ice. An example of saltwater algae is marine algae, and an example of freshwater algae is chlorella both of which can be consumed in the human diet. Marine algae, namely phytoplankton, are hugely important to the marine ecosystem and are the main source of food for most marine food chains. Phytoplankton is too small to be seen by the eye, but this is the main food group fish feed on and accounts for the high omega-3 density present in fish. This also means that humans have the option to go straight to the marine algae source of omega-3 DHA, marine algae, which is much more ethical and sustainable compared to using fish-based omega 3.
Some types of Algae are edible and are rich in protein, vitamins, and omega 3 and can be utilised as a sustainable food source just as the Aztecs did before us.
Vegan vs Fish Omega-3
When comparing different omega-3 sources there are a few points we need to take into consideration; omega-3 DHA content, sustainability, and safety.
Fish oil or cod liver oil supplements generally have a higher EPA and DHA content when compared to plant-based vegan options. However, there are several marine algae options that contain the recommended EFSA Omega-3 DHA level of 250mg. Other plant-based sources like flaxseed contain mainly ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) the form of omega-3 that needs to be converted into the essential components DHA(docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). DHA being the most important form of Omega-3. This process of conversion is much less efficient than going straight to a DHA source, hence marine algae are regarded as a superior source of omega-3 DHA.
Fish oil-based products have an unpleasant taste and unpleasant after-effects like fishy burps which can make them difficult to take for anyone but especially for children, during pregnancy & during breastfeeding. If you look at reviews of fish oil products the main downside that people always comment on is the overpowering fishy taste. Marine algae-based products are an ideal alternative for fussy kids, morning sickness experienced in pregnancy and for all that want the benefits of omega 3 without the unpleasant taste or after-effects.
Sadly, our oceans have become polluted over time with heavy metals like mercury and toxins including pesticides and herbicides. These toxins can build up to dangerous levels in marine life including fish and these toxins are then passed down the food chain to farmed fish (whose source of food are these marine caught fish) and then to humans. This is the reason why oily fish is limited in pregnancy due to the fact that these toxins can cause harm to the foetus. As farmed fish that consume these fish with dangerous levels of toxins, it means that when they are converted into fish oil they have to go through a de-toxify process that uses chemicals. Marine algae omega-3 DHA bypasses this whole process and is a clean, safe and sustainable option.
When looking for an algae source it is important to look out for those that don’t contain carrageenan as there is evidence that it can have an inflammatory effect on the bowel and possible carcinogenic effects.
Health Benefits of vegan Omega-3
Vegan omega-3 DHA & EPA sourced from marine algae has many health benefits. DHA’s primary function is that it helps maintain brain and eye health in adults and children. DHA is also important in pregnancy and when breastfeeding as it contributes to normal foetal development of the brain and eyes. DHA and EPA combined can contribute to the maintenance of heart health.
The approved European Food Standards Health claims are as below, highlighting the many potential health benefits:
- ALA contributes to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) maternal intake contributes to the normal brain development of the foetus and breastfed infants.
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) maternal intake contributes to the normal development of the eye of the foetus and breastfed infants
- EPA and DHA contribute to the normal function of the heart
- DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal brain function
- DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal vision
- DHA contributes to the maintenance of normal blood triglyceride levels
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) intake contributes to the normal visual development of infants up to 12 months of age
The health of our oceans is hugely important to the health of our planet and has been projected into the forefront of our minds as we become more aware of the negative impact human life is having on marine ecosystems. Pollutants like heavy metals, plastics and toxins are dumped into our oceans on a huge scale. These build up in the marine life including fish and they enter the food chain of human beings causing toxicity and inflammation. As a planet, we are now looking to more sustainable ways of living and marine algae provides a more ethical and sustainable food source when compared to fish. Switching to a vegan marine algal oil source can help to combat overfishing of our oceans and has the added benefit of being pollutant free.
We have developed both APOKRA Vegan Omega 3 for kids (Omega 3 DHA Drops) and APOKRA Vegan Omega 3 for adults (Omega 3 DHA Liquid), which are sustainably and ethically sourced from marine algae, without fish.