On nutrition: Spirulina, green tea and potential benefits

Richard D, reading this column in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, writes: “I am 82 years old and in good health compared to most men my age that I know. Spirulina – I recently started adding 1/2 tsp to my breakfast. What are your thoughts on this? Green tea – I started drinking it because it is supposed to be beneficial. How can an individual know if he is useful?

Since I have osteopenia, my endocrinologist wants me to eat more protein and reduce the amount of leafy green vegetables. Have you written an article on the nutritional value of beans? You write clearly enough to facilitate understanding of the subject. It wouldn’t surprise me if your minor was in English or Literature.

Looks like you’re taking good care of yourself, Richard. Let’s try to answer your questions. Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae – organisms that live in water and produce energy from the sun. A recent review in the journal Molecules gives spirulina a nutritional boost. It is rich 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 help the body fight inflammation and boost the immune system. Extracts of its blue-green pigments have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration as natural color additives for a variety of foods and confections. And understand, NASA used spirulina as a food supplement for astronauts.

However, some precautions remain. People with autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis or those taking immunosuppressive medications should avoid spirulina supplements due to its immune-boosting effect. And because some unregulated products may contain unwanted contaminants, pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children should avoid it.

How do you 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 come from the same plant; they are simply treated differently.

Yes, I wrote a recent column on the value of beans. If your newspaper has not published it, you can access it at www.montereyherald.com.

Thanks for the compliment, but my minor was cowboys, not English literature. Before changing my major to food science and nutrition in second year, I was hoping to become a second-year teacher. Maybe that stint in education helped.

Barbara Intermill is a dietitian nutritionist and unionized columnist. She is the author of “Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating”. Email him at [email protected]

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