After France’s National Assembly discussed the “National Strategy for Plant Proteins for Human and Animal Nutrition” on Monday (October 26th), spirulina, a high-protein food beloved by the French that can help fight malnutrition.

At a time when the food nutrition list is just a click away, the protein issue is at the heart of a debate that goes as far as the state.

Last September, the French government said it wanted to allocate 100 million euros for the development of plant proteins, while the National Assembly discussed the country’s “National Strategy for Plant Proteins for Human and Animal Nutrition”.

Whether for health or environmental reasons, eating less meat is – and will be – necessary in the future. However, to compensate for potential shortages, vegetarians, environmentalists and athletes who choose a less fleshy diet are turning to other sources of protein. One of them seems to have become popular in recent years: spirulina.

France consumes 400 tonnes of spirulina
Known as ‘Spirulina arthrospira platensis’, this micro-algae of the cyanobacteria family is, as its name suggests, a tiny bacterium that naturally grows in freshwater lakes in all the tropics of Asia and Africa.
Spirulina, which is valued by health websites for its high protein content, is very popular in France. The French consume about 400 tonnes of microals a year, according to a recent study by Darwin Nutrition and the French Spirulina Federation (FSF).

“Spirulina is a food high in nutrients. It is rich in vitamins, minerals, trace elements and fatty acids. Above all, it is an ‘important source of protein’, according to nutritionist Arnaud Cocaul. With its high protein content, spirulina has become an unlikely star on social media, selling pills, capsules and powder and sharing photos of spirulina-based smoothies… A hashtag #spirulina has even seen the light of day.

Combating malnutrition
In 2003, the WHO created IIMSAM, an intergovernmental institution that promotes the use of Spirulina microals against malnutrition. Since then, the United Nations and NGOs such as the Red Cross have been deploying food aid missions based on this food. NASA and the European Space Agency are interested and have announced that they want to cultivate it during space missions.

It is not surprising that companies and governments are interested in spirulina given its high nutritional content, which makes it a top food in the event of nutritional deficiencies. In addition to the proteins it contains, spirulina also consists of “numerous antioxidants, with cellular protectors that improve our immunity and resistance to infection,” notes Arnaud Cocaul.

Spirulina, which develops easily, is used in areas affected by hunger.
According to the FSF, spirulina requires on average 10 times less water than any other crop, 20 times less than cereal crops and a hundred times less than the water needed for livestock farming.

In addition, protein yields per hectare are much higher. Per hectare, spirulina produces between 30 and 50 tonnes of protein, while soybean crops produce only 2.5 tonnes.

A French sector

Spirulina also happens to be good for the environment since it is capable of photosynthesis, which means it captures carbon dioxide (CO2) and releases oxygen (O2).
It is doubtful, however, whether the 400 tonnes of spirulina consumed each year in France could help fight global warming, given that 90% of spirulina is imported, mainly from China, India and the US. Spirulina “made in France” exists mainly in the south of France due to the sunshine there.

From 2014 to 2018, the area cultivated with spirulina doubled from 30,000 m² to just over 61,000 m².

The development of French production could be “very interesting”, according to nutritionist Arnaud Cocaul. “Instead of taking dietary supplements, spirulina is a natural source of minerals and vitamins. I’m probably in favor of limiting the use of dietary supplements. Changing your intake and taking seaweed to boost your iness seems to me to be a smart approach,’ she added.

Whether it’s fighting malnutrition, compensating for shortages, or as part of a vegetarian diet, spirulina seems to be an excellent ally, but we have to be careful when extrapolation of its virtues.

For example, eating spirulina for loss or weight gain would not make sense, according to the nutritionist. Its main advantage remains above all health benefits, which “must necessarily be related to a healthy and balanced diet,” he added.

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