ocean wave about to break

Photo courtesy of @dandedekind/Twenty20

While you might think twice before diving into an algae bloom in the middle of the ocean, it’s a different story once you’re on dry land: Whether it’s in your smoothie bowl or a piping hot bowl of soup, algae is an ingredient that you definitely want to have around.

That’s because it’s a nutritional powerhouse, often packed with everything from iron and protein to fatty acids and important vitamins (in particular, B‑12 — which is one of the top nutrient deficiencies in the world). In other words: move over, kale.

But not all algae is made equal — and navigating the different options can be overwhelming. Also complicating things is the fact that seaweed is technically a type of algae (same goes for anything categorized as a sea vegetable”), so even if you think you’re not into algae, it might be a special guest in your fave Japanese restaurant’s miso soup.

From red to brown, green to blue-green, here’s what you need to know about tasting the algae rainbow.

Red Algae

Better known as: nori, dulse

Benefits: Inflammation (Opens in a new window), pain, gastric ulcers? A recent study (Opens in a new window) found that red algae helped with all three. It has a particularly high amount of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an important fatty acid, as well as magnesium (which we’ve lovingly dubbed the self-care savior”) and calcium.

How to eat it: sushi, anyone?

dried algae in a wooden bowl

Photo courtesy of @murophoto/Twenty20

Brown Algae

Better known as: kombu, kelp, arame, hijiki

It’s packed with iron, magnesium, and a bunch of crucial B‑vitamins, but with brown algae it’s really all about the obscure compounds. For example, it contains something called fucoxanthin, which has been found in studies to help with weight loss (Opens in a new window). It’s also got high levels of fucoidan, which has some researchers (Opens in a new window) excited at its potential to slow down the spreading of certain cancers.

How to eat it: In your favorite soups and broths — or straight-up in a salad.

Green Algae

Better known as: chlorella, sea lettuce

Benefits: Green algae is known as the detoxifier; it’s kind of like a magnet for not-so-great compounds in your body like lead or cadmium, where it attaches to these toxins and prevents them from being reabsorbed. It’s also ridiculously high in vitamin A and iron — you’ll get nearly 300 percent and 200 percent, respectively, of your recommended daily amount in just one ounce of the green stuff.

How to eat it: mixing a little bit of chlorella into your morning lemon water is a quick and easy way to down it.

Blue-Green Algae

Better known as: spirulina

Benefits: Not only does it look pretty in your almond milk latte, but blue-green algae is also an oceanic superfood. Per ounce it’s one of the densest sources of protein on the planet (take that, steak), and contains all of the essential amino acids. Plus, studies have found it to aid in everything from gut (Opens in a new window) to cardiovascular (Opens in a new window) health. So sip up!

How to eat it: Scoop it into your smoothie and blend, blend, blend.

Articles from The Natural should not be considered medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please consult a medical professional.