What is Glucomannan?
Glucomannan is a rather special type of ‘superfood’ as it is incredibly different to other superfoods that can commonly be found on the shelves of most health stores and large supermarkets. Most people would associate superfoods with different types of berries and other straight forward food sources. Glucomannan is actually a type of water-soluble polysaccharide, which means that it consists of polymeric carbohydrate molecules.
The product itself is directly derived from the dried root of Konjac, otherwise known as Amorphophallus konjac. It is also known by other names, including ‘devil’s tongue’ and ‘voodoo lily’. The plant itself is native to several East Asian countries, including Japan, China, and Indonesia. The dried root of Amorphophallus konjac consists of approximately 40% glucomannan gum.
Glucomannan is commonly used as a food additive and emulsifier. It can also be used as a perfectly natural vegan substitute for gelatine, making it a good product for people that follow strict vegetarian or vegan diets. Most people purchase it in the form of a supplement, opposed to its natural form.
Scientists have already studied glucomannan in depth. They have found that it can be used in a variety of different ways, to treat a number of different ailments. Konjac itself consists of almost no calories and a large amount of fiber, making it the very definition of a superfood.
The Origin of Glucomannan
Amorphophallus konjacgrows as a native plant across both Southeast Asia and China, thriving in the subtropical climates. Glucomannan itself has been used in Japanese cuisine for the past few centuries. It has also been used commonly in Chinese traditional medicine, to treat a large number of different ailments.
The people that consumed glucomannan would first have to dry out the root of the plant itself, before milling it into an incredibly fine powder. In Chinese traditional medicine, this powder was used to treat everything from asthma and breast pain to burns and skin disorders. It was first referred to during the Western Han Dynasty, which lasted from 206 BC to 8 AD.
Glucomannan was incredibly popular in Japan just a handful of centuries ago, to the point where a book was published about it in 1846. The book, Konnyaku Hyakusen(100 Recipes of Konnyaku), was essentially a recipe book that included a hundred recipes that all contained glucomannan. During the Edo Period in Japan, glucomannan was regularly imported from China.
Health Benefits of Glucomannan
Glucomannan is a product that is constantly being researched by scientists for the medicinal benefits that it possesses. It is rather unique, as it remains completely undigested as it passes through the gastrointestinal tract. Once it has gone through the gastrointestinal tract and reached the colon, it ends up being fermented by the microflora that exists within the colon.
This process naturally creates a wave of probiotics, forming additional friendly bacteria within the intestines. This simple process can lead to an overall improvement in your digestion and in the health of your gut. It can also help balance the cholesterol levels that occur within the body. A higher rate of probiotics has also been successfully linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease(1).
Glucomannan can also be used to help with a variety of different ailments. It can be used to aid weight loss, as it promotes the feeling of fullness within the body, making people less likely to overeat. It can also help with constipation, as it works as a prebiotic. Once a prebiotic reaches the colon it produces the friendly bacteria. It also acts as a natural laxative, to promote healthy bowel movements.
The Downside of Glucomannan
People have been consuming glucomannan for centuries, so you do not have to worry too much about how it will affect your diet. When too much glucomannan is consumed, people often experience diarrhea, bloating, and an overall sense of abdominal discomfort. This goes away quickly when the dosage is corrected. This means that you should limit the overall amount that you consume on a daily basis.
We would always have to advise that you consult a medical professional before adding any type of ‘superfood’ to your diet. You do have to be careful with one thing when consuming glucomannan in a natural form, opposed to a supplement. It can cause blockages if it is not taken correctly. This is because it absorbs a large amount of water, and if it became stuck in the esophagus then it would be a choking hazard. Health Canada has insisted that people always consume at least 8 ounces of water after eating glucomannan in powder form.
Nutritional Value of Glucomannan
In approximately 100g of Konnyaku (a raw form of Glucomannan), you will find:
In Japan, konjac root is generally thought of to be a type of potato. Yet, it certainly does not have the consistency of a potato. Generally, it is softened and mixed with water, then dried out and ground. It then gets mixed with ash from a burnt green oak wood that gives it the natural consistency that it has.
It is usually thought of as a ‘wonder food’ for people that are on diets. It contains a fairly large amount of minerals and nutrients, wrapped up in a tiny amount of calories. Once it hits your stomach it absorbs water, making it even larger than it previously was. Even today it can be found in dishes across Japanese izakayas.
5 Best Health Benefits of Glucomannan
Glucomannan can directly affect your overall wellbeing.
Naturally occurring probiotics are vital for maintaining a healthy gut, and their consumption can directly affect your overall wellbeing. This type of food is unique, as it passes through the upper section of the gastrointestinal tract within the body without being digested, it is then fermented by the microflora that exist within the colon. This process creates a number of probiotics within the body, these probiotics are more commonly known as ‘friendly bacteria’. A study was done back in 2008 that found that a glucomannan supplement directly increased the fecal concentration of probiotics in the subjects involved(2).
Glucomannan can be used to aid weight loss and help with weight management.
Losing weight, or maintaining a healthy weight, is something that a lot of people find difficult. Weight loss medications can be found everywhere, but finding out which ones actually affect the body in a beneficial way can be incredibly difficult. Glucomannan can directly affect your weight for two different reasons.
The first is that the root contains a high amount of fibre and a low number of calories, meaning that it naturally promotes a healthy waistline. The second forms more of an impact. Glucomannan absorbs water once it has been consumed, meaning that it promotes a feeling of satiety. This results in less overeating. One study found that people consuming a supplement of konjac root had a higher weight loss result than those involved that were consuming a placebo(3).
Glucomannan can help people that suffer with diabetes.
A large number of scientific studies have been done to link glucomannan and diabetes, as glucomannan naturally delays the emptying process of the stomach. This enables the body to absorb sugar slower than it generally would, and helps to keep the blood sugar levels of diabetic people low after they have eaten. One study found that the use of glucomannan can improve the natural effectiveness of conventional treatment for people with type 2 diabetes(4). Another study found that glucomannan is useful for preventing hyperglycemia, a condition that commonly affects people with diabetes(5).
Glucomannan can be used to relieve constipation, helping with a variety of bowel diseases.
Constipation can be caused by a large number of different factors, and people that suffer from any type of inflammatory bowel disease will know just how painful it can be. Scientists have proven that glucomannan can directly affect constipation in a positive way, as it promotes healthy bowel movements. Most scientists now consider it to be a naturally occurring laxative. A number of different studies have found that glucomannan is good at treating constipation that is already occurring, not long after it has been consumed(6).
Glucomannan can directly affect the cholesterol levels within the body.
Scientists have learnt that glucomannan consumption can significantly affect the levels of cholesterol that occur within the body. High cholesterol levels can cause a lot of different ailments, so they should be avoided when possible. Glucomannan intake decreases the amount of cholesterol that can be absorbed by the gut, reducing the amount of cholesterol that can be found in the blood(7).
How do you use glucomannan?
Glucomannan is commonly used in dishes across the whole of East Asia, but it can be a little bit difficult to get glucomannan in the same form in other countries. In Japan, glucomannan is called konnyaku. In most western countries, it is easier to find glucomannan in the form of either a powder or a supplement.
The powder itself can be easily added to either a smoothie or a shake, making it an efficient way to add vitamins and minerals to your diet. It can also be used as a gelatine supplement for vegetarians and vegans. It is worth noting that the powder should always be stored in a cool place.
Using glucomannan to aid weight loss is easy, as a small amount will make you feel full. Most people consume 2 – 4 grams of powder on a daily basis. The same amount can also be used as a laxative for treating constipation.
Lastly it is well worth the mention that glucomannan is becoming widely available in products that resemble pasta. Both as spaghetti, noodles and even thinner variants known as angel hair or shirataki noodles. These products have become popular with those who want to enjoy a low calorie and/or low carb diet.
What should you think about when you buy glucomannan?
You should always do a lot of research before purchasing your glucomannan from a specific brand. A lot of brands add additional fillers to their glucomannan supplements. For example, it would be commonplace to find caffeine in a supplement that is aimed at people that are looking to lose weight. This is because caffeine naturally stimulates your metabolism, while also making you feel full.
Products like caffeine can also have a number of negative effects, as a lot of people experience symptoms like headaches upon consuming it. You should always look for a product that is simply 100% glucomannan, so that you get the highest health benefits possible. If you are consuming a product that is only 50% glucomannan, then you are also only getting half of the health benefits that you could be getting.
It is much harder to find the natural version of glucomannan in western countries than it is to find it in Asian countries. For example, in Japan, konnyaku can be found in a large number of supermarkets. Consuming a powder or a supplement does have its benefits, as it lowers the risk of choking. The act of choking is completely avoidable as long as glucomannan consumption is immediately followed by water, but children should never be allowed to consume the organic version of glucomannan.
Is Glucomannan Really a Superfood?
Most people would define a superfood strictly by what it contains. This will generally involve a lot of nutrients that are wrapped up in a tiny number of calories. Glucomannan contains just that, with approximately 5 kcal in every 100g of glucomannan powder. This amount is minuscule when you consider that glucomannan has a high concentration of potassium, calcium, zinc, copper, and fiber, along with other things.
Glucomannan has been used for the health benefits that it can offer for centuries. Hundreds of years ago it was one of the main ingredients in the branches of Chinese traditional medicine, and now it is the subject of an ever-growing number of clinical trials. People from a variety of different walks of life could benefit from adding a small amount of it to their diet.
The consumption of glucomannan has been successfully linked to the treatment of a number of different illnesses, including illnesses as serious as diabetes. It can be used to help people lose weight, and it can be used to ease the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. As further studies are done, we are certain that it will be linked to even more ailments.
With all of the evidence, it is hard to question whether or not glucomannan is a real superfood. This is because the evidence all points in the direction of glucomannan being exactly that, a fantastic superfood.