What the Heck Is Chlorella, Anyway?


A few of you have noticed that I mentioned chlorella in my recent smoothie posts. It showed up in my cherry vanilla smoothie last week, and it made an appearance yesterday, too, in my Down Dog smoothie (thanks, by the way, for the nice comments on that post—I love it when yogis unite!). It’s part of why that smoothie takes on such an incredible, electric green hue:


I’ve written about chlorella once before, when the Sun Chlorella company sent me a slew of their products:


It was great to have the portable powders and tablets (so easy for life on-the-go) and I also took advantage of the cream. I don’t think it reversed time or anything, but the nice fragrance and the silky texture made me smile.

Chlorella fans claim that this green algae is the key to numerous health improvements, including increased energy, mood elevation, and “detoxification.” It has, they say, been linked to the healing or reversal of the following conditions:

  • Cancers
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Severe liver damage and liver disorders
  • Asthma
  • High blood pressure
  • Constipation
  • Infections
  • Inflammation of joints and tissues
  • Body odor / breath odor
  • Degenerative diseases
  • EFA deficiencies
  • Magnesium deficiency

There you have it, folks. 75% of the Western world’s major health conditions. Of course, before we simply take these statements on faith, we should play a quick game of “what they say / what we know,” which I like to play in my head whenever a food is presented to me for its superpowers.

What they say:

  • Chlorella aids on “detox”
  • Chlorella helps to heal numerous health afflictions
  • Chlorella alkalizes the body
  • Chlorella helps to “neutralize bad air you might breathe in”
  • Chlorella aids in digestion and elimination
  • Chlorella can help to eliminate mold in the body
  • Chlorella enhances the immune system

What we know:

  • Chlorella contains B-vitamins, magnesium, and a terrific ratio of Omega-3 : Omega-6 EFA’s
  • Chlorella is about 58% protein by composition; a typical serving is about 2 g protein, but those are two grams of complete protein, containing all of the essential amino acids
  • Chlorella has been shown in some lab studies to aid in tumor shrinkage
  • Chlorella has been shown in some research studies (conducted on patients with high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, and ulcerative colitis), to help reduce hypertension, support immunity, and reduce cholesterol

Of course, there may be gaps in my research, but this is what I came up with. As you can see, I couldn’t verify many of the famous claims, but I was able to find at least a few strongly suggestive studies. There’s never anything wrong with getting more animo acid and EFA bang for your buck, nor with boosting your B-vitamin and magnesium intake. So I put chlorella in the category of “superfood” that I’ll use when it’s available (that is, if I’ve been gifted with samples, or if I have been able to work it into my budget), and not worry about when it’s not.

If you’re eating a well rounded and healthy diet, smoothie add-ins like chlorella shouldn’t be vital to your health—count on the fruits, veggies, and plant protein for that. But if you have the means to experiment with new, fun ingredients, you can try chlorella out; think of it as an “added bonus” to your diet.

Note that chlorella must be labeled as “cracked cell wall” in order for you to assimilate the nutrients—otherwise, they’ll just pass through your system undigested. Hope that clears up any confusion!

While I’m on the topic of questions, a few of you asked how I made the hemp bread and hemp crackers pictured in my weekend lunches:

IMG_0052 (525x350)

Pretty much a remake of my normal juice pulp crackers: I ground up 1/2 cup hemp seeds and 1/2 tsp sea salt in my food processor, added about 2 cups pulp and a little water, 4 tbsp flax meal, and let it all mix into a dough. I dehydrated it for about 3-4 hours on each side. Quick and easy—that’s what student cooking is all about!

Tomorrow, I’ll be back with a raw “wrap” recipe that made for a tasty lunch today. Stay tuned.


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Categories: Uncategorized, Smoothies

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  1. You’re so interesting! I do not think I have read something
    like that before. So great to discover another person with some
    original thoughts on this issue. Really.. thank you for starting this up.
    This web site is one thing that is needed on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!

  2. Cell wall cracking is not the answer to digestability, superior amino acid profile and bioavailability. Its the strain of chlorella and avoiding nutritional loss in the process of making chlorella that makes chlorella to deliver its claims on the stated health benefits. Try using CK-5 strain Chlorella and experience the difference ! You’ll love it! Just try it

  3. Cell wall craking is not the answer to digestability, superior amino acid profile and bioavailability. Its the strain of chlorella and avoiding nutritional loss in the process of making chlorella that makes chlorella to deliver its claims on the stated health benefits. Try using CK-5 strain Chlorella and experience the difference ! You’ll love it! Just try it

  4. I was amazed by all the INCREDIBLE things chlorella could do, so did some more research on the negatives – found some pretty terrible things…
    Be very careful before embarking on these new superfoods that haven’t yet been truly tested in humans.
    Good Luck all

  5. That chlorella-based smoothie above looks like an avocado smoothie. Though I know that the taste of avocado is completely different from chlorella, I’m also aware that both of these are beneficial to health. I remember when my doctor recommend this supplement to me and told me that I should get the chlorella benefits for detox, at first I don’t believe him. But after taking this chlorella supplement for more than 6 months already, I think I’m seeing good results. My skin is really glowing and I feel that my immune system become stronger. I’m not kidding, you must really try it!

  6. I read in Becoming Raw (Brenda Davis, Vesanto Melina, and Rynn Berry) that a lot of raw vegans use chlorella as an Iodine source… we don’t get much iodine except through sea vegetables and though we have natural reserves for shortages it’s a good idea to ingest some iodine every once in awhile, such as through sea vegetables… maybe I misinterpreted this but I thought I’d add to your list! It also gives this new trend a more meaningful presence …

  7. Hi Gena!
    Good timing with your blog post, because I was looking chlorella up a couple of weeks ago. Is it a good source of iron? is it recommended for iron deficiencies?? Brendan Brazier’s Thrive book has some information about this, but I couldn’t find any reliable information on the internet about it. Only one study on mice… Do you know something about it?

  8. Loving the what they say/ what we know part of this post! I love data backed claims. You should consider making this a regular installment when discussing some of these more unique ingredients!

  9. Thank you for this very nice introduction and explanation of what Chlorella is and its many healthful benefits both for the healthy and those dealing with an illness or chronic health problem. Just wanted to make one clarification though, Chlorella is a green algae (not blue-green like Spirulina). I also wanted to let the readers know that a great amount of research has been done on Chlorella (some by yours truly) and if one is curious, go to PubMed.gov and do a search. I think you’ll find the evidence quite compelling that Chlorella is indeed a “superfood” which can offer the consumer a great deal of benefit.

    • Thanks Randall! That was a dumb slip (green vs. blue green). I did actually look through pubmed (and medline) and didn’t find much, though of course search methods have a big impact on those sites; good to know that articles are numerous.

  10. I found it interesting that you said the cream had a nice fragrance because most blue-green algaes I have tried don’t smell that great. I have yet to try chlorella though.

  11. Loved this Gena. I take E3 Live every morning. The differences between spirulina, chlorella and E3 continue to confuse me, any insight? Hope you’re well. Enjoy your posts whenever I “visit”.

  12. Great explanation! I’ve tried chlorella, and I think it’s a great nutritional aid. It particularly is helpful in getting me back on track when I feel like I’m not eating too healthfully.

  13. Thanks for providing both sides of the story – the product’s claims and the research. It’s always good to have a skeptic’s eye when approaching a new product. That said, I have heard a lot of good things about chlorella and have yet to try it. Sounds like another great ingredient to add to my spinachs…that should get a good eye roll from my hubby! And he thought spinach was bad!!

  14. I have both cholorella and spirulina because I splurged a while back, but I haven’t used a lot of it. I will use some, but I like how you broke down your facts. Thanks!

  15. This is why I respect you so much, Gena. Your clear head, commitment to research, and ability to take (let’s be honest, often rather ridiculous) claims with a grain of salt yet still believe that there is some benefit to be found in eating and trying new things. But, you know, I’ve never seen chlorella here, so there’s that. Sticking with the spinach for now 🙂

  16. Just my style of thinking… I love when you do the research for me! 😉
    Here’s a new one for you to research: infrared saunas. My naturopath has a new one in her clinic and the session is a steal, price-wise… I’m going to try it out. They seem to have a similar type of claim:truth ratio as chlorella: some neat trends in research, some plausible mechanisms for healing, and a whole bunch of hooey thrown in.

  17. Very interesting! Again, I appreciate your interest in looking beyond just the package’s descriptions but rather looking into the real knowledge and research we have about certain foods (which is still limiting). It’s good to keep that perspective in mind before you drop $15 on something at WF!

  18. Love your breakdown of the benefits of chlorella, and the “what they say/what we know” section! Brilliant 😉

  19. Thank you for sharing this info, Gena! Admittedly, I have some of this stuff and while I add it to my water and smoothies from time to time, didn’t know about all the health benefits.

  20. G, I love so much that you always put quotation marks around the word detox. Your fresh, down to earth and realistic perspective when it comes to health and healing is so refreshing. I love that you encourage real food that real people can afford. Health should be for EVERYONE, and I feel that all the information and recipes on your blog support that. It is nice to know about things though, so thank you for the info post! You are great.

    • Ha! Thanks Ali. I was just as susceptible to the “detox” talk as anyone in the beginning, but I quickly learned to think on my own two feet, and pay attention to the science, not the hype.

  21. I read the title and thought you wrote Cholera. What is Cholera. And I was gonna say….well…it’s something you really hope you never get!

    Chlorella. I can get that. And have tried it over the years on and off.

    Thanks for the refresher on that one!

    • I always get the two confused myself, Averie! I don’t think I say “chlorella” correctly.

  22. It seemed like Spirulina was the hot thing to add to your smoothie a while back and now I’m seeing more and more about Chlorella. Is one better than the other? Should they be used together? Thanks for sharing all of your research! It’s always appreciated.

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