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Low-cal ‘konjac pasta’: wonder noodles or a nutritional black hole?

Written by Samantha Ward | Monday, 15 July 2013

noodles nutrition weight loss

Are the low calorie, 'skinny' pastas (made with the Asian vegetable konjac) found at the major supermarkets a super noodle or a nutritional black whole? We asked one of our writers Samantha Ward from Invora Health to investigate.

‘Slim Pasta’ by SlendierSlim and Chang's Super Lo-Cal Wok Ready Noodles are two of the emerging brands of konjac noodles currently marketed through the major supermarket chains as a weight loss aid.

Boasting claims of no-fat, low-carb and being under 10 calories per serve, gluten free and crazy high in fibre you’d wonder why these haven’t replaced every single piece of conventional pasta and noodles on the supermarket shelves.

These 'wonder noodles' usually sit quietly in the aisle next to the diet protein bars and ‘bulk up’ protein shakes with obnoxious labelling so, it’s no surprise there are mixed feelings about this product amongst consumers and nutritionists.

So, are konjac noodles really good for you?

Are they a dieter's dream or a nutritionist’s nightmare?

For the purpose of this analysis, I tried SlendierSlim’s Slim Pasta.

Let’s start with the taste… It’s odd, really odd. The noodles really have no taste at all and the texture reminded me of seaweed – very chewy and difficult to swallow. They turn clear and wobbly; almost jelly like, after cooking and a great deal of onion, garlic and spices are needed to make them palatable. I experimented by using them as a base for a vegetarian Thai red curry and with the sauce all over them, the taste was quite pleasant. It still felt like chewing on rubber though.

How do you prepare konjac noodles?

Ridiculously easy. To prepare konjac noodles, simply drain the liquid from the packaging, sit in hot water for a couple of minutes, drain and serve. They are wonderful for people who want to cook their own food at home but struggle to find the time. The preparation of dishes featuring these noodles will take a little longer than usual to ensure you get some flavour in there though.

So, what are these konjac noodles made of?

The ingredients listed in konjac noodles are: Purified Water, Konjac Flour, Calcium Hydroxide (a preservative that has shown no adverse effects after countless studies). Upon analysing the ‘Slim Noodle’ variety (similar to flat vermicelli), the nutritional information stated there were eight calories per serve, 6.1 grams of dietary fibre, 23.7 milligrams of calcium and… nothing else.

So, are they good for you? Konjac is an Asian root vegetable that has been consumed for centuries. When made into pasta, no grains are added and they contain no sugar – perfect for any pasta lovers wanting to go grain or sugar free. You’d be really hard pressed to find a food with more fibre than this and with fewer calories. Konjac root contains around 40% of the soluble fibre, glucomannan, which creates a feeling of fullness due to its very slow passage through the digestive tract and it is shown to lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar.

The down side?

There are reported side effects of diarrhoea, loose stools and flatulence as well as oesophageal blockages due to its gelatinous consistency and the dramatic increase in size when exposed to liquids. These side effects were reportedly experienced after excessive consumption so I dare say, as long as you chew your food; you’re unlikely to end up with a blockage.

The real concern I have, as a nutritionist, is that this is basically a fibre supplement, not a food. There are no other nutrients in these noodles and I fear that if eaten too regularly and without nutritious accompaniment, the consumer may risk malnutrition – especially if restricting consumption of a whole group of foods while following a strict fad diet.

The moral of the story

While these noodles are perfectly safe to consume if eaten occasionally (and chewed thoroughly), I feel they should be considered as a fibre supplement or as a temporary diet food3. If you’re looking for a natural way to lower cholesterol, these may be an option for you due to the glucomannan content however, you must remember that this should complement a healthy diet, not replace it. If you’re craving pasta or noodles but don’t want the carbs to disrupt your paleo/atkins/carbs-are-the-devil-diet, then this is a good option as long as your sauce is bursting full or vegetables to ensure your meal contains an adequate amount of nutrients.

Konjac noodles should not be eaten as a staple. Yes, you’ll lose weight, but you’ll probably lose your energy, your shiny hair and your faith in ‘health’ foods. Konjac products are a great way to satisfy random cravings, lower cholesterol and top up your fibre intake if eaten as an occasional addition to a fabulously healthy and fresh whole-food diet.

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Samantha Ward

Samantha Ward is a nutritionist passionate about fostering evidence-based, holistic health and uses a variety of tools to rebuild physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing in her clients. She is also committed to providing nutritional education to school children in Melbourne and assisting disadvantaged communities overseas.

Samantha is a member of the Australian Natural Therapists Association, a graduate and tutor of Endeavour College of Natural Health and the founder of Invora Health.

Read more by Samantha Ward