Seaweed bread 'may hold key to beating obesity'

Seaweed bread could be the answer to the obesity epidemic, say scientists.

Researchers found seaweed fibre could reduce the body's fat uptake by more than 75%.

A fibrous material in Sea Kelp called alginate was better at preventing fat absorption than most over-the-counter slimming treatments, laboratory tests showed.

Dr Iain Brownlee, who co-led the University of Newcastle team, 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 it is when eaten as part of a normal diet."

The scientists used an "artificial gut" to test the effectiveness of 60 different natural fibres by measuring the extent to which they affected the digestion of fat.

They presented their findings today at the American Chemical Society's spring meeting in San Francisco.

Dr Brownlee said the aim was to see if the same effects modelled in the laboratory could be reproduced in living volunteers.

"Our initial findings are that alginates significantly reduce fat digestion," he said.

The research is part of a three-year project funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

It addresses new European regulations that insist on scientific evidence backing any health claims made on a food label.

"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," said Dr Brownlee.

"Obesity is an ever-growing problem and many people find it difficult to stick to diet and exercise plans in order to lose weight.

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

Alginates are already used in small amounts in food as thickeners and stabilisers. Dr Brownlee said in blind taste tests bread with added alginate actually scored higher for texture and richness than a standard white loaf.

He added there was still a lot of confusion about what constituted dietary fibre.

Technically it was classified as a group of plant carbohydrates that escape digestion in the human gut. But there was more to it than that, said Dr Brownlee.

"I think most people would describe it as roughage - the bit of your food that keeps you regular and is vital for a healthy gut," said. "Both of these facts are true but the notion that all fibre is the same and that it simply goes through your system without having an effect is wrong."

Fibre was made from a wide range of molecules called polysaccharides which despite not being digested affected bodily processes.

"These initial findings suggest alginates could offer a very real solution in the battle against obesity," said Dr Brownlee.

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