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Fiber in Seaweed May Fight Fat and Obesity


Would you be willing to eat seaweed if you knew it would reduce the amount of fat that your body absorbed by 75 percent? What if you were told that seaweed could fight obesity? Researchers at Newcastle University believe seaweed could offer these benefits.

Sea kelp, which is among the most commonly used seaweed in the world, contains a natural fiber called alginate, which can significantly reduce the amount of fat that the body absorbs. People are already consuming very small amounts of alginates, as food manufacturers use them as thickeners and stabilizers in many foods.

The research team used an artificial gut to evaluate more than 60 different naturally occurring fibers to determine how much fat was digested and absorbed by each type. They discovered that alginate could reduce the amount of fat absorbed by the body by approximately 75 percent, which surpasses the ability of most anti-obesity treatments available over the counter.

These findings prompted the researchers to test the seaweed in people, so they added seaweed fiber to bread. According to Dr. Iain Brownlee, who headed the study, “The aim of this study was to put these products to the test and our initial findings are that alginates significantly reduce fat digestion.”

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Now the researchers suggest that alginate could be added to other everyday foods, such as yogurt and biscuits, and that up to 75 percent of the fat contained in a person’s meal could be eliminated from the body without being absorbed. The initial taste tests using bread were “extremely encouraging,” and participants in the study reported that the alginate bread had a better texture and richness than standard white bread.

Overweight and obesity are an epidemic in the United States and in many countries around the world, and despite the countless numbers of weight loss diets, programs, medications, and other treatments, very few approaches work and few are backed by sound scientific research. Brownlee notes that “Alginates not only have great potential for weight management—adding them to food also has the added advantage of boosting overall fibre content.”

Additional fiber in the diet has other advantages other than weight loss and management: it helps lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels, normalize bowel movements, prevent hemorrhoids and constipation, and has also been linked to a decreased risk of colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Seaweed fiber may someday soon be a common ingredient in everyday foods as part of the fight against fat and obesity. At least that is suggested by the Newcastle study. Brownlee notes that their “initial findings suggest alginates could offer a very real solution in the battle against obesity.”

Mayo Clinic
Newcastle University news release, Mar. 22, 2010



How much fiber is in seaweed?
The amount of fiber in seaweed depends on the type. According to an article by Dr. Dharmananda from the Institute of Traditional Medicine in Portland, Oregon: "seaweed has a high fiber content, making up 32% to 50% of dry matter. The soluble fiber fraction accounts for 51-56% of total fibers in green (ulvans) and red algae (agars, carrageenans and xylans) and for 67-87% in brown algae (laminaria, fucus, and others). See: http://www.itmonline.org/arts/seaweed.htm