Thursday, February 23, 2012

Konjac - The Newest Super (non) Food?

Konjac is the plant used to make Shiratake noodles. These are the noodles I've mentioned many times before, that contain no calories, carbohydrates or nutritional value, and make a great substitute for rice noodles, glass noodles or bean thread noodles in a variety of Asian dishes. They are perfect for anyone who has allergies to wheat or rice, is gluten intolerant, or needs to limit their calorie or carbohydrate intake.

Since noodles are generally a calorie-dense food, these noodles are also a great way for anyone to lighten up a traditional noodle dish. Although they contain no food energy, they are extremely filling, so pairing them with lean protein, healthy fats and lots of veggies, can provide you with a massive, satisfying, and nutritious meal while keeping calories in check. They also are quick to prepare and do not get soggy or mushy, so they are perfect for noodle soups. They do not, however, absorb liquid, so unless using them in soup, they need to be sauced with a very thick sauce, or any liquid released from other ingredients in your dish, will turn your sauce soupy. They also have a funny smell when you open up the package, and must be rinsed well and then cooked in a dry frying pan, wok or skillet, to remove excess moisture.
If you like shiratake noodles, then, like me, you might feel that they are too good to be true. Calorie-free noodles, that can be used to make fabulous dishes? Well as it turns out, shiratake noodles, and konjac, in general may just be the next super food/supplement.

While konjac flour has no nutritional value (i.e. no calories, fat, carbs, vitamins or minerals), it does appear to have some health benefits. It curbs appetite, lowers cholesterol, improves bowel function/prevents constipation, and can help control blood sugar and Type II diabetes.

I only recently discovered that konjac, also sometimes labelled glucomannan (konjac is 40% glucomannan, which is a polysaccharide that gives it its ability to gel with liquids), is the main ingredient in weight-loss products like PGX and go4trim.  Normally I steer clear of all weight-loss products because most tend to be either fraudulent, dangerous, or both.  So I was stunned that these products are actually using something with some actual science behind it, that has health benefits rather than risks involved.  But I should also point out, that konjac root capsules are available in the supplement sections of most health food stores (sometimes in blood sugar/cholesterol control section) and costs a fraction of what those pricey weight loss products cost.

Konjac might be new to the North American market, but Asian countries have been producing and consuming products with it for a long time.  In addition to shiratake noodles, they also make jello-like snacks and desserts from it.  These products, it should be pointed out, can be risky for children because unlike other gelling agents, konjac does not dissolve, which can create a choking hazard.  Because of this, these products are not readily available in North America or Europe. 

There are two main kinds of shiratake noodles, the pure konjac ones, and the ones that also contain tofu.  The latter are better suited to Italian pasta dishes, but I am not a huge fan of them.  When making Italian pasta dishes, I prefer to use traditional pasta.  The tofu type also have calories and carbohydrates, although much less than grain-based noodles, and they are still gluten-free.

I have also seen konjac flour being sold on its own, but again, you have to be careful because of its ability to gel with liquid.  Even PGX and go4trim have warnings that you should not use these products if you have difficulty swallowing or any health condition that makes it easy for you to choke.  It is precisely this quality which makes it an effective appetite suppressant too.

Frankly, given how easy it is to turn these calorie/carb-free goodies into a spectacular meal, I am surprised that shiratake noodles have not become the latest diet craze among Hollywood actresses looking to get or stay stick-thin without having to starve themselves.  That being said, precisely because they are filling but contain no nutrition, you do not want to overdo it with shiratake noodles.  While eating nothing but the noodles could keep you full, you would still end up malnurished.

By the way, here is my take on appetite suppressants:

Generally speaking, I believe you should honour your appetite because it is your body's cues that you need fuel.  IF you are doing all the right things - getting sufficient sleep, eating high fibre, whole foods, lean proteins, etc., eating at regular intervals throughout the day, getting enough exercise, controlling stress, etc. - than your appetite should not lead you astray and honouring it should allow you to maintain a healthy weight.

Unfortunately, sometimes we cannot do all of these things.  Perhaps you work shifts or are a new parent and you simply cannot get enough sleep, or you are struggling with depression, or maybe you are taking a medication that affects your appetite and metabolism.  If some of these issues cannot be addressed immediately, than your appetite may be out of sync with your body's energy needs.  In this case, an appetite suppressant could be helpful.  But always consult with your doctor first before taking ANY sort of supplement.

But I think allowing you to fit into your skinny jeans without going hungry is definitely not the greatest benefit of konjac.  What is wonderful is that this is a safe, natural and affordable plant-based supplement/food that can help lower the risk of chronic illnesses and health problems that are common in North America.  I would like to see future research examine its ability to lower cholesterol and control blood sugar, relative to statins and diabetes medications that may have serious side-effects.

I was pleased to see the following article about shirataki noodles in the Globe and Mail yesterday:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing this information about konjac its very help full !!