Association of Algae Protein with Balanced Diet
By 2050, the world population is anticipated to grow by more than a third (2.3 billion people), necessitating a 70 percent increase in food production. Despite a doubling of the world's population, new agricultural food production technologies and an increase in average per capita income have reduced worldwide hunger during the previous half-century. However, food production on a global scale is today more complicated than it has ever been.
Due to the high impact trade-offs, they have on the environment, such as fragmenting natural habitats and threatening biodiversity, production of greenhouse gases from land clearing, fertilizers, and animal livestock production, and nutrient run-off from fertilizer damaging marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems, previously used methods of intensifying agriculture will soon be no longer be an option. Protein, in particular, is one of the essential nutrients that will be scarce in the future. To fulfill consumer demand and projected global protein requirements, alternative protein sources and manufacturing methods are necessary.
Seaweed and microalgae are both considered acceptable protein sources. Some seaweed and microalgae species have protein levels comparable to those found in typical protein sources, including meat, egg, soybean, and milk. In terms of productivity and nutritional value, using algae for protein synthesis offers numerous advantages over traditional high-protein crops. Seaweed and microalgae provide more protein per unit area (2.5–7.5 tons/ha/year and 4–15 tons/ha/year, respectively) than terrestrial crops like soybean, pulse legumes, and wheat (0.6–1.2 tons/Ha/year, 12–12 tons/Ha/year, and 1.1 tons/ha/year, respectively).
Terrestrial agriculture already uses around 75% of the world's freshwater, with animal protein, in particular, requiring 100 times more water than protein derived from plants. Marine algae do not need freshwater or arable land to thrive, allowing for more resources to be allocated to food production or other income crops. Algae are also frequently exposed to severe oxidative and free-radical stressors due to their harsh habitat and phototropic existence.
As a result, natural defensive mechanisms have evolved, such as synthesising pigments (e.g., carotenes, chlorophylls, and phycobiliproteins) and polyphenols (e.g., catechins, flavonols, and phlorotannins), which can provide health advantages to consumers when consumed.
However, various issues, including harvesting access and rights, seasonality and geographical distribution of algae, and the availability of scalable manufacturing technologies for protein separation from algae, limit the widespread usage of seaweed and microalgae. The current methods for isolating algae proteins are time-consuming and cost-prohibitive.
For thousands of years, humans have consumed macroalgae such as wakame and nori seaweed. However, emphasis has increasingly shifted to their tiny relatives' nutritional and environmental potential.
Microalgae are microscopic, protein-rich organisms that may be found in both fresh and saltwater. They usually include necessary amino acids, critical fatty acids such as omega-3, omega-6, and omega-7, and vitamins A, D, and E. The nutritional value of microalgae varies depending on the species. However, two types presently dominate the human consumption market. The first is the Chlorella genus, which consists of many species. The second is the Arthrospira genus, also known as "Spirulina." Both are nutrient-dense.
While microalgae intake is still uncommon, the argument for algae as a food source in the future is compelling. Humans require an alternate protein supply as demand for soybeans rises and agricultural land and water consumption become unsustainable.
Fresh algae should not be used as a straight substitute for soybeans, which are now a significant source of protein for people and the animals they feed. The typical amount of protein in fresh microalgae is similar to that of a spinach leaf, about 3% of its weight.
However, protein per weight varies from 30% to 60% in dried microalgae such as spirulina, making it equivalent to soybean, which has around 35% to 40% protein. Furthermore, algae can supply more necessary amino acids than soybeans.
It also can minimize the amount of land needed for protein production. Microalgae generate 4-15 tonnes of protein per acre per year, compared to 0.6-1.2 for soybean, according to research released last year.
There are a few more challenges to conquer. We don't know if eating algae is as healthy for us as eating spinach. This is because there isn't enough study on whether the nutrients in algae are bio-accessible or can be released from food in our intestines, bio-available, or absorbed by our systems.
Algae provide vitamins that can't be found in soybeans and one vitamin that can't be found in spinach as well.
That vitamin is B12, mainly found in meat, fish, dairy, and eggs and is often lacking in plant-based diets. The algae do not produce B12; instead, they absorb it from their surroundings. These bacteria are responsible for generating vitamin B12, which is subsequently absorbed by algae. Algae might be a critical supply of B12 if people move to a more plant-based diet.
Algae-based dietary supplements are currently available on the market. Chlorella, complete algae, is added to some beverages, although primarily offered as a nutritional supplement in powder form.