What Nutrients are in Marine Phytoplankton?

Marine phytoplankton, tiny microscopic plants that float on the ocean’s surface, have gained popularity in recent years as a nutrient-dense superfood. That’s because size isn’t everything: they pack a powerful nutritional punch.

Phytoplankton contains an extraordinarily wide range of macronutrients, micronutrients, and phytonutrients that are essential for maintaining good health.

In fact, these humble organisms are believed to be one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet.

In this article, we will explore the various nutrients found in marine phytoplankton, and why they are considered an important part of a healthy diet.

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What are the Macronutrients in Marine Phytoplankton?

Protein

Marine phytoplankton is a rich source of protein, containing around 50% protein by dry weight. In fact, marine phytoplankton contains more protein per gram than beef or soybeans. The protein in marine phytoplankton is considered a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids that the body needs to build and repair tissues.

Carbohydrates

Marine phytoplankton contains just under 10% carbohydrates, including simple sugars, complex polysaccharides, and dietary fiber. The complex carbohydrates in marine phytoplankton are believed to provide sustained energy, while the dietary fiber can help promote digestive health.

Fats (Omega 3)

Marine phytoplankton is an important source of healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, phospholipids, and sterols.

Phytoplankton is the highest plant source of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which is an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for good health. EPA is important for a variety of bodily functions, including brain function, cardiovascular health, and inflammation regulation. It is also involved in the production of hormones and plays a role in the immune system.

This makes marine phytoplankton an excellent source of EPA for vegetarians, vegans, and others who may not consume fatty fish or fish oil supplements. In fact, some research has suggested that marine phytoplankton may even be a more sustainable and environmentally friendly source of EPA than fish oil.

In addition to it’s Omegas, phytoplankton contains phospholipids and sterols, both important components of cell membranes and essential for proper cellular function.

Micronutrients in Marine Phytoplankton

In addition to macronutrients, marine phytoplankton is also a rich source of micronutrients. Micronutrients are nutrients that the body requires in smaller amounts but are still essential for maintaining good health. Here are some of the micronutrients found in marine phytoplankton:

Vitamins

Marine phytoplankton is a rich source of vitamins, including vitamins A, C, E, K, and a range of B vitamins. These vitamins play important roles in various bodily functions, such as immune function, vision, bone health, and energy production.

Specifically, phytoplankton is an importance source of B12, with a single one gram serving contain 2mcg or 83% RDI. This makes it the highest known vegan source of B12, other than nutritional yeast!

Minerals

Marine phytoplankton is also a rich source of minerals, including iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. These minerals are essential for a wide range of bodily functions, such as building strong bones, regulating blood pressure, and maintaining proper nerve and muscle function.

Trace Elements

Marine phytoplankton contains a variety of trace elements, such as chromium, selenium, iodine, and zinc. While these elements are required in small amounts, they are still essential for good health. For example, iodine is necessary for proper thyroid function, while selenium plays a role in immune function and the production of antioxidants.

Overall, the wide range of micronutrients found in marine phytoplankton makes it an incredibly nutrient-dense superfood.

Phytonutrients in Marine Phytoplankton

Phytonutrients are plant-based compounds that are beneficial for human health. Marine phytoplankton is a rich source of various phytonutrients, which include chlorophyll, carotenoids, and phycobiliproteins.

Chlorophyll

Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in plants and algae that plays a vital role in photosynthesis. In addition to its role in energy production, chlorophyll has been shown to have a range of health benefits, including detoxification and immune system support. Chlorophyll in marine phytoplankton has a similar chemical structure to human blood, which has led some to believe it may have benefits in supporting healthy blood and circulation.

Carotenoids

Carotenoids are pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. Marine phytoplankton contains various types of carotenoids, including beta-carotene, astaxanthin, and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids have been shown to have antioxidant properties, which can help protect against cellular damage caused by free radicals. They may also play a role in supporting healthy vision and immune function.

Phycobiliproteins

Phycobiliproteins are unique water-soluble pigments found in some species of algae. Marine phytoplankton contains various types of phycobiliproteins, including phycocyanin and allophycocyanin. These pigments have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and may help support healthy immune function. They have also been shown to have potential anti-cancer properties.

References

  • MacKenzie, J. J. (1987). The nutritional composition of marine phytoplankton. Advances in marine biology, 24, 1-100.
  • Chacón-Lee, T. L., & González-Mariño, G. E. (2010). Microalgae for “healthy” foods—possibilities and challenges. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 9(6), 655-675.
  • Rodriguez-Matoso, D., Rodriguez-Boto, G., Sanchez-Saavedra, M. P., Moreda-Pineiro, A., & Bermejo-Barrera, P. (2017). Study of the mineral composition of marine phytoplankton. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, 44, 174-180.
  • Guedes, A. C., Amaro, H. M., & Malcata, F. X. (2011). Microalgae as sources of carotenoids. Marine drugs, 9(4), 625-644.
  • Carvalho, A. P., Malcata, F. X., & Guedes, A. C. (2015). Microalgae as sources of high added-value compounds—a brief review of recent work. Biotechnology progress, 31(3), 830-841.

Cara Hayes is an experienced natural health practitioner with a Masters in Clinical Nutrition & Dietetics from the University of Sydney. She has been writing for Plankton for Health since 2019 and contributes widely to many well-known health publications.