I recently ate at a trendy health-food joint called Cafe Gratitude that sells $3.25 “live algae” shots. The most interesting thing about these shots is they claim to have “over 65 vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids”. That sounds pretty healthy.
Except that it also sounds mathematically impossible. There are only:
- 13 vitamins
- 15 minerals recommended for human consumption
- 22 amino acids (only 9 are essential)
- 2 essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6)
- 52 vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids.
How could this drink have over 13 brand new “vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids” that no one else has ever heard of? My immediate thoughts were:
- “Are they counting non-standard amino acids that humans can’t absorb? That would be nutritionally dubious. But probably also nutritionally harmless.”
- “Did they just make a scientifically impossible health claim and hope their “health conscious” customers don’t know anything about health? Or arithmetic?”
- “Or are they doing something even stupider like counting poisonous or non-bioavailable minerals?”
If you look online, the only company selling live blue-green algae products like this is E3 Live. Their website even makes the exact same marketing claim about having “over 65 vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids”. But what is it made of? According to them, “it is 100% Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA)” algae.
Unfortunately, resources like Wikipedia claim AFA only has 13 vitamins, 11 minerals, 19 amino acids, and 2 essential fatty acids = 45 total. That number only gets lower if you actually read the original citations for these claims. Researchers found 11 vitamins (no Vitamin K or B2), 11 minerals, and 17 amino acids (no Aspartic acid or Glutamic acid). This would imply only 41 total health products total, not 65+.
Maybe the numbers will work out better if we just take E3Live’s own testing data sheet at face value?
- 14 vitamins
- 23 minerals
- 20 amino acids
- 2 essential fatty acids
- 59 vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids
Wait a minute! There are still so many things wrong here:
- The company’s own testing data shows they only measured 59 vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and essential fatty acids — not 65+. Perhaps the saddest hypothesis I can imagine to explain this is that they simply counted the 7 additional lines on the scientific evaluation for “Protein, Fat, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Moisture, Chlorophyll, and Calories” as 7 extra nutrients. If you assume they think things like “calories” and “moisture” are just more vitamins, that gets you to exactly 66.
- BTW, how does this stuff have 14 vitamins anyway (when only 13 exist)? Oh, by having trace amounts of all the real ones… plus Inositol — the pluto of vitamins — which used to be called B8 until scientists realized it was a non-essential nutrient that every single human cell produces (and therefore hasn’t been considered a vitamin since the 1940’s).
- And how does it have 23 minerals (when only 15 human usable ones exist)?!? Oh, by having trace amounts of all the safe ones… plus Boron, Cobalt, Germanium, Nickel(!!), Silicon, Tin(!!), Titanium, and Vanadium. That’s terrifying. It’s definitely not a health bonus to get extra minerals in stuff you’re eating. For instance, nickel is strictly a contaminant with no nutritional value that is considered toxic at over 1mg/day. Similarly, tin has no biologically known role either, other than being “almost as toxic as cyanide” in some situations.
- Also, it’s really sketchy to claim to have “over 65 vitamins, minerals, etc”, but then only lists 6 vitamins and zero minerals on your product’s legally required nutrition facts label (*and* to report vitamin levels significantly higher than your own testing data shows†). What’s up with that? The clue is on the same label: “Not a significant source of Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron…“.
If you go through the nutrients contained in one (1) algae shot, almost all of them round down to 0% of the recommended daily intake† for a human. Fish may get by on algae, but we definitely can’t. For humans, there’s only a meaningful amount of 2 vitamins in each shot: Vitamin B12 and Vitamin K.
But before you get too excited about those last two, keep in mind that the most plentiful one comes with a warning from the manufacturer that “it has been documented that only a small portion of Vitamin B12 in AFA is Bio-available.” Well, maybe the vitamin K is still legit? Probably not. Vitamin K is one of the two vitamins (along with vitamin B2) that wasn’t even found when AFA was tested at independent labs. So this means 2 is the upper limit on how many meaningful nutrients could exist in these algae shots. The real answer is probably 0.
So be careful. Places like Cafe Gratitude carry things that literally cannot scientifically exist. And even when you tell them about it and show them the facts, they do things like call the CEO of the company selling them the fake product to double-check that it still works.
UPDATE on Nov 1, 2014: Cafe Gratitude has responded to this article:
“I am confidant after contacting the CEO of E3 Live that E3 Live has not made any false claims and is in fact a product we stand by.”
-Marta Macbeth, Vision Coordinator for the Engelharts (Owners of Cafe Gratitude)
†: Here’s the raw calculations showing 0% nutrient content for almost all the algae shot constituents using the manufacturer’s own testing data and standard adult RDIs.
Vitamin Amount / RDI
Vitamin E: 0.59IU / 30IU = 2%
Vitamin C: 2.34mg / 90mg = 3%
Biotin: 0.1mcg / 30mcg = 0%
Folic Acid: 0.73mcg / 400mcg = 0%
Choline: 0.8mcg / 550mg = 0%
Cobalamin (B12): 2.80mcg / 2.4mcg = 117%
Vitamin K: 34mcg / 120mcg = 28%
Provitamin A Beta Carotene: 1890IU (divided by 12) / 5000IU = 3%
Thiamin (B1): 27mcg / 1.2mg = 2%
Riboflavin (B2): 49mcg / 1.3mg = 4%
Niacin (B3): 0.05 / 16mg = 0%
Pantothenic Acid (B5): 2.38mcg / 5mg = 0%
Pyridoxine (B6): 3.85mcg / 1.3mg = 0%
Mineral Amount / RDI
Calcium: 4.86mg / 1000mg = 0%
Chloride: 0.02mg / 2.3g = 0%
Chromium: 0.18mcg / 35mcg = 1%
Copper: 1.49mcg / 900mcg = 0%
Fluoride: 13.21mcg / 4mg = 0%
Iodine: 0.18mcg / 150mcg = 0%
Iron: 121.59mcg / 8mg = 0%
Magnesium: 0.76mg / 420mg = 0%
Manganese: 11.12mcg / 2.3mg = 0%
Molybdenum: 1.15mcg / 45mcg = 3%
Potassium: 4.15mcg / 4.7g = 0%
Phosphorus: 1.82mcg / 700mg = 0%
Selenium: .23mcg / 55mcg = 0%
Sodium: 0.94mcg / 1.5g = 0%
Zinc: 6.51mcg / 11mg = 0%
Amino Acid Amount / Daily Requirements (per kg * 70 kg)
Isoleucine 10 mg / 70*23 mg = 0.6%
Leucine 18.04mg / 70*39mg = 0.7%
Lysine 12.15mg / 70*30mg = 0.6%
Methionine + Cystine 2.43mg+0.69mg / 70*15mg (0.08) = 0.3%
Phenylalanine + Tyrosine 8.68mg+5.89mg / 70*39mg (0.21) = 0.5%
Threonine 11.52mg / 70*15mg = 1.1%
Tryptophan 2.42mg / 70*6mg = 0.6%
Valine 11.10mg / 70*20mg = 0.8%
Essential Fatty Acid Amount / Daily Requirement
ALA 10.70mg / 6.67g = 0%
LA 2.15mg / 11.44g = 0%