Chini Zittelli Graziella


Researcher, CNR-ISE


Microalgae: An emerging source of functional foods and nutraceutical ingredients

The growing increase in the human population and the heavy environmental impact of current food production technology, require the development of alternative and more sustainable food sources, capable of providing balanced diets and/or healthy ingredients. Microalgae are one of the most promising sources of protein and bioactive compounds (polyunsaturated fatty acids, pigments and vitamins) and could be used as functional ingredients of traditional foods and contribute to improving the wellbeing of populations, particularly that of specific nutritional targets (elderly, sportsmen and vegans). Among the microalgae of particular importance is “Spirulina” (Arthrospira platensis), rich in proteins (60-70% d.wt), pro-vitamin A, minerals (Ca, Mg and Fe), -linolenic acid (1% d.wt) and phycocyanin (10% d.wt) and for centuries used as human food. Other microalgae species contain significant amount of the 3-long chain fatty acids EPA and DHA that play a key role in the prevention of cardiovascular, inflammatory and cancer diseases. Furthermore, several species can accumulate carotenoid pigments (e.g., astaxanthin, -carotene and fucoxanthin) that, due to their antioxidant properties, play an essential role in the capture of free radicals and therefore in the prevention of stress-oxidative diseases.

Recent advances in food technology have opened up a number of novel avenues to develop natural substances as food or food ingredients. This work aims at revealing and discussing prospective applications of microalgae and their metabolites in modern nutraceuticals and functional foods. Some legislative aspects related to the consumption of these “Novel foods” will be also elucidated.

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