Junk food could be made healthier by adding an extract of an exotic type of seaweed, say British scientists.
The highly-fibrous seaweed extract, alginate, could be used toincrease the fibre content of cakes, burgers and other types of foodwhich usually contain large amounts of fat and a low degree of healthynutrients, say the team.
Scientists at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne publishtheir findings in the academic journal Critical Reviews in Food Scienceand Nutrition, in a paper detailing alginate's many benefits to thebody. They believe it will be a valuable weapon in the internationalbattle against obesity, diabetes and heart disease and diseases such asbowel cancer.
The research paper examines the properties of a brown-colouredseaweed called Lessonia and Laminaria, found in the Far East, SouthAmerica and parts of Norway and Scotland. The seaweed is processed inthe laboratory to produce the extract, alginate, a carbohydratecompound which is a tasteless and odourless off-white coloured powder.
The paper shows that alginate has been proved to strengthenmucus, the body's natural protection of the gut wall, can slowdigestion down, and can slow the uptake of nutrients in the body.
Moreover, alginate is high in fibre and has been proved to bepalatable and safe, and as such is already in widespread use by thefood industry as a gelling agent, to reconstitute powdered foods, andto thicken the frothy head of premium lagers.
Studies have shown that eating high-fibre diets can help reducethe incidence of diseases such as bowel cancer. Good sources of fibreare fruit and vegetables, brown bread and cereals like bran flakes.
One of the research team, Professor Jeff Pearson, of NewcastleUniversity's Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences, said: "We'rejust not eating enough fibre, yet we need this to keep us healthy. Theproblem is that a lot of people don't enjoy many of the foods that arehigh in fibre, like fruit and vegetables, yet to consume therecommended daily amount of fibre they would have to eat a lot of thesetypes of foods.
"We believe it's hard to change people's habits and that themost practical solution is to improve the food they do eat. With aburger, for example, you would simply remove some of the fat andreplace it with the seaweed extract, which is an entirely naturalproduct from a sustainable resource. You'd have a healthier burger andit's unlikely to taste any different.
"This compound can also be added to any number of foods, suchas synthetic creams and yoghurts. With pork pies, one of my favouritefoods, it could replace the gelatine which usually covers the meat, asthe seaweed extract has gelling properties too."
Prof Pearson, who has already made loaves of bread containingthe seaweed extract which passed the taste test with colleagues, added:"Bread is probably the best vehicle to reach the general populationbecause most people eat it. Adding the seaweed extract could quadruplethe amount of fibre in white bread."
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