Microalgae have a long history of use as foods and for the production of food ingredients. There is also increasing world movement in their exploitation as sources of bioactive compounds for use in functional foods and nutraceuticals. Authorisations of novel foods and novel food ingredients are regulated differently from country to country.

A functional food is similar in appearance to, or may be, a conventional food that is consumed as part of a usual diet, and is demonstrated to have physiological benefits and/or reduce the risk of a disease beyond basic nutritional functions. Microalgae might be used as functional food whenever the microalgae is ingested as a whole-cell as it contains the bioactive compounds.

A nutraceutical is a product purified from food which is generally sold in medicinal forms not usually associated with foods. The majority of the microalgae derived products sold as nutraceuticals are usually marketed as tablets, capsules, or liquid extracts. A nutraceutical is demonstrated to have a physiological benefit or provide protection against disease.

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 NutraceuticalFunctional Food Functional Food 
 Whole-cell  Chlorella  Super food. Detox capacity
 Whole-cell  Spirulina  Super food. Detox capacity
 Alpha-carotene / Beta-carotene Dunaliella Neutralise free radicals, which may cause cell damage
 Lutein Green Microalgae  Reduces the risk of macular degeneration
 Lycopene  Isochrysis,
 Reduces the risk of prostate cancer
 Omega-3 fatty acids DHA Isochrysis, Odontella,
 Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease. Improve mental, visual functions
 Omega-3 fatty acids EPA Nannochloropsis Tetraselmis  Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease. Improve mental, visual functions
 Astaxanthin  Haematococcus  Strong anti-oxidant activity
 Fucoxanthin  Phaeodactylum   Fat-burner
Decrease insulin and blood glucose levels