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Researchers Hope Adding More Seaweed to Food Will Block Fat Intake

Researchers Hope Adding More Seaweed to Food Will Block Fat Intake


British researchers say a dietary fiber found in seaweed may help fight obesity by reducing the amount of fat the body absorbs from food by as much as 75 percent. They've already conducted taste tests of bread made with seaweed fiber and claim good results.

In a report presented at a recent American Chemical Society meeting in San Francisco, researchers from Newcastle University said that sodium alginate prevents fat absorption better than most current over-the-counter obesity treatments. They say using more of it in prepared food products may have a significant effect on obesity and reduce the need for patients to undergo bariatric surgery.

Seaweed Already Used to Thicken Numerous Foods

Several varieties of common seaweeds known as red and brown algae are already harvested worldwide to provide alginates used as thickeners and stabilizers in numerous foods and other products.

Dr. Iain Brownlee and Prof. Jeff Pearson led the research team in a three-year study funded by the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The team tested more than 60 natural dietary fibers to rate their ability to absorb fat.

Brownlee said "initial findings are that alginates significantly reduce fat digestion." He said adding alginates to common foods as dietary fiber could allow up to three-quarters of fat from food to pass through the digestive system without being absorbed.

Volunteers Needed to Confirm Lab Results

Tests of the alginates were conducted using a laboratory simulation of the human digestive system. Brownlee said the next step is to recruit volunteers and determine if the effects on them confirm the results of the simulation, as well as gauging their reaction to alginates in foods other than bread.

Researchers said that preliminary taste tests showed subjects preferred bread with seaweed fiber added to standard white bread. Brownlee suggested alginates could be used in other baked goods and in yogurt.

One of the goals of the BBSRC in the research is to satisfy the food labeling requirements of the European Food Safety Authority, the European Union's equivalent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in matters of food safety.

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