Konjac: The Healthiest Food You’ve Never Heard Of

The Konjac Plant

  •  Konjac glucommanan powder or powder is derived from the root of a starchy tuber plant, known as the amorphophallus konjac plant, which belongs to the Araceae genus family grown in China and Japan, where it has been harvested and consumed for centuries.
  • Sometimes referred to as glucommanan, which is actually the polysaccharide extracted from the konjac plant’s corm or tuber, it has many health benefits and culinary uses.
  • Konjac is a soluble fibre with an exceptionally high viscosity due to its high water-absorbing capacity that be used as an emulsifier and stabilizer in foods, beverages, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

Konjac Noodles (Shirataki Noodles)

Konjac powder is used to make no-calorie shirataki noodles.  In North America the most widely available type of shirataki noodles are those which also contain tofu. Like their pure konjac powder counterparts, they are gluten-free, and less energy-dense than grain noodles, but contain more carbohydrates and calories than those which are soy-free.  These products tend to be best suited as an alternative to traditional Italian and American noodle dishes.

Less widely available in North America are these Asian-style, soy-free  shirataki  noodles. These products are gluten-free, have negligible calories and carbohydrates, and are best suited as a replacement for rice noodles or glass (cellophane) noodles.  Considering that 1 cup of cooked rice noodles contains about 190 calories, and 1 cup of cooked glass noodles are about 160 calories, while 1 cup of the ‘pure Konjac  powder’ type shirataki noodles are virtually calorie free, the dietary benefit of these products is obvious.  The other type of ‘tofu’ shirataki noodles have 40 calories per 100g serving, which is still significantly less than the 125 calories in a 100g serving of cooked whole wheat pasta.  Shirataki noodles are also much lower on the glycemic index than regular noodles and pastas and thus, don’t cause your blood sugar to spike, and keep you feeling full longer.

Shirataki noodles also look and taste much more like traditional noodles than do other low calorie, low carbohydrate pasta alternatives, such as raw zucchini ribbons or spaghetti squash.  Like all products made from konjac powder, they are extremely filling and satisfying.  Given their versatility, low calorie density, and the potential health benefits of consuming konjac products, these noodles really seem too good to be true, but are the real deal!

Konjac History

  • In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the extracts from konjac corms have been used for detoxification, tumour-suppression, blood stasis, treatment of asthma, cough, hernia, breast pain, burns, as well as blood and skin disorders.
  • It has been approved as a food additive by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration since 1994; however, it is still relatively unknown to most North Americans and its many health benefits and uses have yet to be fully explored outside of Asia.

Health Benefits

  • Konjac fibre lowers cholesterol, which can decrease the risk of heart disease.
  • Konjac fibre controls blood sugar and insulin, which can help manage diabetes, prevent the onset of diabetes, assist with weight loss (link to weight loss page), and improve energy levels throughout the day.
  • Konjac has prebiotic properties which can improve intestinal health, and it can prevent constipation and promote healthy bowel function.

The health benefits are incredible.  Experimental studies have also demonstrated that konjac-derived glucommanan can effectively control insulin, blood pressure and cholesterol levels among diabetic patients (Chua et al., 2010).  In addition, konjac gucommanan promotes regular bowel function among both healthy and constipated adults and shows evidence of prebiotic activity in that it increases healthy gut microflora, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, and reduces harmful ones, such as C. Perfringens and Escherichia coli. (Chua; Elamir et al., 2008).  Several reports indicate that a diet high in glucommanan suppresses cancer induction in rodent studies (McCarty, 2002).

A literature review by Tester and Al-Ghazzewi (2013) concluded that konjac  glucommanan, among other things, can increase defaecation frequency, promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, inhibit the development of gut pathogens, potentially reduce colorectal cancer risk, increase immune function, prevent dermatological inflammation and irritation and prevent allergic-like symptoms.

Although optimal daily dosage for konjac powder as a supplement has not been formally established, the recommended dosage for weight loss is 1g three times daily, 1 hour before meals while higher doses of 3.6g up to 13g a day have been recommended for managing Type II diabetes, insulin resistance and high cholesterol (Chua et al., 2010).

Konjac and Weight Loss

As little as 4g of konjac powder per day can promote weight loss, lower LDL cholesterol, and assist in the control of both types of diabetes (McCarty, 2002). Specifically, just one teaspoon of konjac powder taken with meals can markedly reduce the effective glycemic index of a meal by delaying gastric emptying and slowing the break down and absorption of carbohydrates (McCarty). In fact, several studies have demonstrated that konjac root glucommmanan supplementation decreases caloric intake and increases weight loss, even among subjects who are not consciously dieting (McCarty). This may be due to konjac’s viscosity which promotes satiety and feelings of fullness. It has also been shown to decrease fat mass/improve body composition and improve high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C)/TC ratio. Moreover, combined with exercise, konjac fibre significantly increases the reduction of leptin, a hormone which regulates body mass through its effects on metabolism and energy intake (Chua et al., 2010).

Although optimal daily dosage for konjac powder as a supplement has not been formally established, the recommended dosage for weight loss is 1g three times daily, 1 hour before meals.

Fast Facts

  • Konjac is gluten-free, and because it is mostly fibre, it is an insignificant source of carbohydrates and calories.
  • Konjac powder lowers the glycemic index of the foods you eat.
  • Konjac fibre promotes satiety, or feelings of fullness, making it effective at controlling appetite and helping with weight-loss.
  • Konjac powder is one of the most powerful thickeners (absorbs about 10x its weight in water!), giving it great value culinary value and usefulness.  A little goes a long way!
  • Konjac powder is the perfect addition to shirataki noodle recipes.  It allows sauces to adhere to the noodles creating flavourful, mouth-watering dishes.  You will never miss the carbs and calories you are saving!