sea kelp
Powdered sea kelp, when added to dietary products ranging from cakes, breads, and sausages, may promote weight loss. Alginates in the seaweed could be promising natural alternatives to over-the-counter diet pills, new study by Newcastle University says.Creative Commons

Weight loss may get simpler, easier and safer if the fat-blocking properties of seaweeds are harnessed, according to a new study by scientists at the University of Newcastle.

Researchers found that alginate or alginic acid found in brown algae can obstruct digestion of fat in the intestines and could be a promising natural alternative to an over-the-counter diet pill Alli.

Alginate powder is colourless and tasteless, which means that it could be added to a range of sweet and meaty delights to make them healthier.

The study led by Dr Jeff Pearson and David Houghton and published in the journal Food Chemistry found that one of the variants of alginate compound curtailed fat-absorption in body by 75%.

We have already added alginate to bread and initial taste tests have been extremely encouraging," Pearson was quoted as saying by the Mirror.

"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."

The family of alginic acids with more sugar molecules in the form of guluronate were most effective at inhibiting fat breakdown.

The research also says that the dietary fibre in seaweed scales down the side effects associated with anti-obesity drugs that manipulate enzyme activity.

"Normally, between 95 and 100 per cent of all the food eaten is broken down and absorbed," Dr Matthew Wilcox, fellow researcher, told the Daily Mail.

"If you don't absorb as much fat, then hopefully you can lose weight," he added.

Extensive clinical tests need to be conducted before alginate products are introduced in market, says the study.

However, the scientists are already in talks with major food chains to work out composition of dietary products supplemented with alginate.

The new concoctions will be different from the usual low-fat products on the shelves, as the new brand of alginate confectioneries will not compromise on the fat content, leaving the original taste intact.

In fact, breads containing alginate were testified as tastier than ordinary ones by volunteers. Researchers say augmentation in taste could possibly be explained by moisture and softness added by the seaweed fibre.

The new research may open up options for guilt-less diets, but dieticians still caution that the key to a healthy life is good eating habits and exercising, which probably cannot be trumped by any of the new fat-cutting trends on the scene.