If you bite into a capsule of algae, you’ll find it tastes a lot like the bottom of a pond. “We encourage people to swallow,” says algae entrepreneur Catharine Arnston. But whether you’re chewing your pond scum or swallowing it, you probably have no idea that algae is going to be the next big superfood.


Why algae?

Algae has the potential to radically improve your health and energy, all-naturally. Believe it or not, the creepy green stuff that may or may not be floating in the neighborhood pool has over 60% protein content, over forty vitamins and minerals, and a more complete amino acid profile than beef or soy beans. It’s also one of the best-known food sources of beta carotene, B vitamins, antioxidants, and chlorophyll.

All this means you can be more full for far fewer calories. The beta carotene will keep your brain more alert, and you’ll be more energized without artificial energy or caffeine. (You can take it instead of that cup of morning joe.) As if that isn’t enough, the vitamin overload and chlorophyll will boost your immune system, warding off seasonal illnesses and promoting quicker healing.

Why, then, aren’t we all taking algae all the time? According to Catharine Arnston, “99.9% of Americans or anyone outside Asia frankly do not know about algae,” a stat she’s working tirelessly to change.

Over the past several years, Arnston has been developing a product she calls ENERGYbits, or capsulized algae in sleek, streamlined packaging with 30 capsules to a serving, using spirulina algae and chlorella algae. And now, she’s busy trying to convince people that it will change their lives.

But where did it come from?

“I had no intention of becoming America’s algae lady, believe me,” said Arnston, laughing. “Basically, what I have done for algae and what we’re doing as a company is what Steve Jobs did for the computing industry.” And she believes in the next five to ten years algae will be bigger than chia or flax. “Algae will be in everything,” even Coca Cola and Powerbars.

Spirulina, the type of algae Arnston uses in ENERGYbits, is old—very, very old. This little freshwater pond dweller is a descendent of a plant that first appeared on our planet almost three billion years ago. And what it has in age, it has even more of in nutrients. It provides ten times the the amount of bio-available protein as steak, 48 times more iron than raw spinach, and 12 times more iron than beef liver. (Meatheads, step aside.) Chorella, the other algae Arnston uses in her capsules, is super oxygen-rich, so it’s more ideal for recovery and boosting immunity.

Arnston herself first discovered algae by way of her sister. Eight years ago her sister was diagnosed with Cancer, and the doctor prescribed an “alkaline-based diet.” Algae certainly didn’t cure her sister—not exactly—but Arnston believes the amount of nutrients in all alkaline-based foods help to boost her sister’s immune system and eliminate toxins. So it’s not a cancer cure, but it’s about the best way to arm your body against disease, if you can get past the taste.

What do you mean taste?

The emergence of algae as food dates back to World War II, when Hiroshima was dropped on Japan. After the explosion, the United States brought algae over to Japan because the bomb wiped out the food supply, and the U.S. Government already knew algae was rich in nutrients. Not only was the algae providing food to the Japanese, it seemed to be curing their radiation poisoning. Soon, Japan started working toward mass-production, and years later it’s now a ten billion dollar industry.

“The algae industry in Japan is almost as big as the beef industry in America,” said Arnston. “They don’t take vitamins; they take algae.”

But even if we’re the ones who brought the algae to the Japanese, algae consumption in the United States has been stagnant. Back in the 1940s and 1950s, it was just too hard to produce in bulk, so even though we knew the health benefits were off the charts, production in the U.S. essentially stopped.

Today, most of the current algae users in the U.S. are endurance athletes: marathon runners, triathletes, cyclists, hockey players, even Olympians. They’re the ones who use a lot of energy and need a fast recovery. Before algae, most of these athletes relied on substances like gels, essentially chemicals, sugar, and caffeine, which are full of artificial ingredients that cause stomach problems. The algae is all-natural and gives the athletes steady energy, not the rush and crash that comes with the artificial ingredients.

But algae is good for anyone—not just marathon runners—and Arnston believes her ENERGYbits packs of 30 tablets taken in a few gulps are on the road to changing the face of health and nutrition.

How do you get involved?

“I don’t want to just sell stuff; I want to stand for something that has integrity,” said Arnston who abandoned a career in business to devote her life to algae. Unlike most entrepreneurs, Arnston’s challenge isn’t about capturing a market share—it’s about creating a market. There’s currently no demand for algae in the United States in any kind of measurable quantity, so much of Arnston’s work is in education.

ENERGYbits and RECOVERYbits are tiny green capsules of compressed dried algae, taken 30 at time, in a few swift swallows with a tall glass of water. Arnston likens them to raisins because they’re both dried plants. (We’re sorry, Catharine, they are most definitely not raisins.) But if you take them once a day or even blend them into your morning smoothie, there’s no better way to maximize your protein or vitamin intake. (And for only 1 calorie per tablet.)

Just a few years ago, you probably couldn’t find chia seeds outside Whole Foods, and even there, you might have to dig around. Now, they’re everywhere—in snack chips and crackers, mixed with tea, or whipped into pudding. It’s like the world can’t get enough chia. Will algae, even more nutrient rich than these tiny trending seeds, experience the same rise to success?

It’s tough to say, but Arnston’s certainly betting everything on this little pond dweller rising from the deep—and she may very well be right.

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