Scientists have claimed seaweed could hold the key to tackling obesity after research indicated it prevented the digestion of fat.
A team of scientists at the UK's University of Newcastle found that dietary fibre extracted from one of the world's largest commercially-used seaweeds could reduce the amount of fat available for absorption by the body by around 75 per cent. The researchers are now planning to add the seaweed fibre to food products to see if they can develop foods that help consumers lose weight.
The Newcastle University team claim that alginate — a natural fibre found in kelp — stops the digestion of fat better than most anti-obesity treatments currently available over the counter. 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.
Presenting the findings at the American Chemical Society Spring meeting in San Francisco in March, study leader Professor Jeff Pearson said the next step was to recruit volunteers and study whether the effects they have modelled in the lab could be reproduced in people, and whether such foods were 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," he said. "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 is to carry out clinical trials to find out how effective they are when eaten as part of a normal diet."
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, 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," he said "Alginates not only have great potential for weight management, but adding them to food also has the added advantage of boosting overall fibre content."
The research is part of a three-year project being funded by the Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council.