More and more low-calorie noodle and flour options are appearing on the market, making it difficult to know whether they are actually healthy options. One in particular, known as konjac root, is often used to make konjac flour or noodles. But what is it? And, is it really a healthy option?
Like the name suggests konjac root (here’s how to pronounce it) is a type of root which has a naturally starchy quality and is high in the type of fiber known as glucomannan. Either glucomannan, which is extracted from konjac, or the konjac root itself are used in the making of many different noodle or rice-like products on the market. Sometimes konjac flour is mixed with a liquid to form a gelatinous product that is similar to gelatin and can be used as a vegan substitute for gelatin in recipes.
Because konjac is low in calories, the pasta made with the root are often called “miracle noodles,” “wonder pasta,” “shirataki noodles” or “low cal pasta.” Not all shirataki noodles are made from konjac root. Some are made with tofu and usually state “tofu shirataki” if they are made with soy instead of konjac root.
The noodles have an unusual, chewy texture similar to kelp or other seaweed. And, straight out of the package they also have an odd smell, but once rinsed the smell quickly disappears. I poured some tomato sauce over the noodles. Not only did the noodles remain flavorless, the sauce just wouldn’t stick to them. They definitely weren’t my favorite.
Nutritionally, they tend to be low calorie, high in fiber and have a small amount of calcium. Research in the journal Medical Science Monitor found that supplementing with glucomannan (the fiber in konjac root) can help with weight loss. Other research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that glucomannan can help lower cholesterol levels. And, recent research in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that glucomannan may help with constipation in children, but the results were somewhat inconsistent.
Research published in the journal Bioactive Carbohydrates and Dietary Fibre found that konjac fiber may help people with diabetes feel full longer making them less likely to reach for other foods or snacks that could cause blood sugar fluctuations.
Surprisingly, glucomannan appears to boost the immune system and aid the speed of wound healing, according to research presented in another edition of the journal Bioactive Carbohydrates and Dietary Fibre. While there are some claims that konjac root helps with skin conditions, the reality is that this effect was found when konjac fiber was applied directly to the skin and acne in particular. Let’s face it: few people are slapping these noodles on their face unless they are sloppy eaters.
There can be uncomfortable side-effects due to their ability to absorb high amounts of water. The side-effects include: diarrhea, bloating, intestinal or esophageal blocking, and flatulence. They are basically fiber supplements in noodle-form.
To reduce the chance of side-effects you’ll want to drink a lot of water throughout the day. Ideally, drink water just prior to eating konjac noodles or just afterward. You may still experience bloating but it may reduce the likelihood of other intestinal issues or blockages.