New weight loss miracle food – seaweed?

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 23rd March 2010

KelpSeaweed could hold the key to tackling obesity, after it was found it reduces fat uptake by more than 75 per cent, new research at the University of Newcastle has shown.

The research, funded by the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) found that dietary fibre in seaweed can reduce fat absorbtion by around 75%.

Using an artificial gut, they tested the effectiveness of more than 60 different natural fibres by measuring the amount of fat that was digested and absorbed with each treatment.

Alginate, a natural fibre found in the world’s largest commercially-used seaweed, sea kelp, stops fat absorbtion better than most over-the-counter anti-obesity treatments available in the UK.

The researchers are now adding seaweed fibre to bread, in an attempt to create ‘weight-loss’ foods that can be eaten as part of a normal diet.

Presenting their findings yesterday at the American Chemical Society Spring meeting in San Francisco, lead researcher Dr Iain Brownlee said the next step was to recruit volunteers and study whether the effects they have modelled in the lab can be reproduced in real people, and whether such foods are truly acceptable in a normal diet.

“The aim of this study was to put these products to the test and our initial findings are that alginates significantly reduce fat digestion,” said Dr Brownlee.

“This suggests that if we can add the natural fibre to products commonly eaten daily – such as bread, biscuits and yoghurts – up to three quarters of the fat contained in that meal could simply pass through the body.

“We have already added the alginate to bread and initial taste tests have been extremely encouraging. Now the next step to to carry out clinical trials to find out how effective they are when eaten as part of a normal diet.”

The research is part of a three year project addressing new regulations set out by the European Food Safety Authority that any health claims made on a food label should be substantiated by scientific evidence.

“There are countless claims about miracle cures for weight loss but only a few cases offer any sound scientific evidence to back up these claims,” explains Dr Brownlee.

Alginates are already commonly used at a very low level in many foods as thickeners and stabilisers and when added to bread as part of a blind taste test, Dr Brownlee said the alginate bread actually scored higher for texture and richness than a standard white loaf.

“Obesity is an ever-growing problem and many people find it difficult to stick to diet and exercise plans in order to lose weight,” explained Dr Brownlee.

“Alginates not only have great potential for weight management – adding them to food also has the added advantage of boosting overall fibre content.”