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Can a Seaweed Appetizer Help You Lose Weight?

Can a Seaweed Appetizer Help You Lose Weight?
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At the end of the trial, the alginate drinkers had lost 3.74 pounds more than the placebo drinkers
For people who struggle with their weight, the best appetizer may be more of an anti-appetizer—one that takes away appetite. A new study found that taking a pre-meal supplement made from the seaweed extract alginate, which as been previously shown to suppress appetite, helped people with obesity lose extra weight.

Seaweed in foods and drinks

Alginate is a structural carbohydrate from brown seaweeds like those in the Laminaria family. It has a gummy texture and is widely used in the food industry as a gelling agent, emulsifier, and thickener. Sodium alginate can be found in the ingredient lists of common foods such as ice cream, yogurt, sauces, gravies, and dressings. Several studies have found that taking alginate as a supplement can cause a sensation of fullness and decrease appetite.

In the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96 adults with obesity were put on a calorie-restricted diet and were given a powdered drink supplement to take three times per day, 30 minutes before meals, for 12 weeks. The drink mix given to half of the participants contained sodium alginate, while the placebo drink mix given to the other half did not.

Alginate drinkers lost more weight

At the end of the trial, both groups had lost weight, but the alginate drinkers had lost 3.74 pounds (1.7 kg) more than the placebo drinkers. They also lost a greater percentage of body fat. However, the drop in blood pressure that generally accompanies weight loss was seen only in the placebo group.

“These results suggest that alginate supplementation as an adjunct to energy restriction may improve weight loss in obese subjects,” the study’s authors said. They proposed that the sodium content of the alginate drink may have kept blood pressure from falling, despite the added weight loss.

Other ways to feel full

Getting the body to think it is already full at mealtime is one of the oldest weight loss tricks. In addition to sodium alginate, here are some things to try if you want to suppress your appetite:

  • Drink water. Having a big glass of water before a meal gives a feeling of fullness and helps us eat less.
  • Start with salad. Fill up on salad greens or other vegetables before you approach your main course. Use dressings made with healthy oils like olive or safflower oil, and flavor steamed or lightly sautéed braising greens with garlic, lemon, and a dash of tamari or soy sauce.
  • Enjoy an apple. Apples are low in calories and dense in pectin, a fiber that supports healthy bacteria in the digestive tract, keeps bowels moving regularly, and is very filling. Remember: only a fresh apple has pectin. Stay away from apple juice, which has lots of natural sugar and almost no fiber.

(Am J Clin Nutr 2012;doi:10.3945/ajcn.111.025312)

Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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