The health benefits of Agar are surprising and varied. It is increasingly being recognised as a superfood due to the amazing health benefits it offers when consumed as part of our daily diet.
Agar is the name for the natural jelly produced by certain species of red seaweeds, and it is a nourishing food that has been part of traditional diets across Asia for centuries. This is because of its health benefits and versatility in cooking. It’s recognised as a ‘functional food’ as it contains bioactive compounds that provide clinically proven and documented health benefits. There are a number of different health benefits offered by agar ranging from weight loss to gut health. Let’s explore some of the ways in which it supports our human and planet health below.
Agar is Fat Free and Linked to Weight Loss
Some cultures strongly associate Agar with natural weight loss as well as helping to maintain healthy weight. It’s claimed that some Japanese women use agar every spring to cleanse their bodies (to lose a little extra weight and for general well being), by adding half a teaspoon of Agar to their tea and drinking it 10 minutes before the evening meal.
Agar contains virtually no calories, no cholesterol, is fat-free, and is 80% fibre; some of which is transformed into a gel-like substance that bulks up in the gut with some interesting benefits. It is claimed that Agar:
- Reduces appetite As a water-soluble indigestible fibre and a hydrophilic colloid, Agar absorbs water and increases the bulk of a meal with very few calories. Thus, giving a feeling of fullness that helps those who consume it to reduce their overall food intake. According to Professor Takako Yasuoka, this creates a feeling of fullness, reducing the need for much food.
- Supports the elimination of waste from the stomach and the intestines by stimulating the large bowel muscle contraction. Historically, Agar has been used therapeutically as a daily treatment for chronic constipation because of its mild laxative properties.
- Acts as a natural fat blocker because it absorbs glucose in the stomach, passing it through the digestive system quickly, inhibiting its storage as fat.
- Helps to dissolve cholesterol by calming the liver and absorbing bile. This is important as loosing weight will mobilise energy stored as fat, which will be released into the bloodstream.
- Creates creamy textures in food without the need for sugar or fat, resulting in healthy and satisfying dishes with far fewer calories.
Agar is Beneficial to Lowering GI levels, Supporting those with Diabetes & Cholesterol
Scientific studies have shown that Agar has beneficial effects on glucose intolerance in people with type 2 diabetes. A diet supplemented with Agar can promote better blood sugar and glucose management, although research is ongoing as to the extent of these benefits.
Studies indicate that the benefits of consuming agar are likely linked to lower GI levels because agar is very rich in soluble fibre which binds to sugar molecules in other foods we eat, slowing their absorption into the bloodstream. Eating agar with, or as part of a meal, therefore lowers the overall glycaemic index of the meal to prevent blood sugar spikes immediately after eating. This, in turn, helps to control appetite and prevent the body from storing excess fat.
There are indications agar may help to reduce the risk of GI cancer and may lower cholesterol as it is a good source of foliate and choline. Foliate consumption has many benefits but protection against certain cancers (bowel, colon & other parts of the digestive tract) has received lots of visibility recently. Choline has been shown to protect and/or heal the liver from certain types of damage. Additionally, it may help lower cholesterol and homocysteine levels associated with cardiovascular disease. This is an area where more research is needed, but there are some positive first signs.
Agar Contains Numerous Minerals & Fatty Acids Essential for Optimal Health
Agar is a good source of many important minerals such as: manganese, magnesium & iron, and moderate levels of calcium, potassium, zinc, copper, choline, folate (B9), vitamins E and K. In addition, the omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid ratio of agar seaweed jelly is 25:1, which is a major benefit as our typical diets are often too heavy on the omega-6s – for optimal health. We should aim to consume more omega-3 than omega-6 fatty acids. Furthermore, agar seaweed is low in sodium so a good alternative for those on a low sodium diet.
Agar Can Support Digestion and Gut Health
Because of its high soluble fibre content (~80%), Agar can aid digestion and gut health. Soluble fibres form a gel-like material in the gut that can be readily fermented by the bacteria in the colon*. The fibre in agar absorbs and retains water which sends satiety signals. This is great for keeping us full, reducing appetite and regulating hunger.
Ongoing research into the health and wellbeing benefits of agar indicates that it has a positive effect on colon health and may be able to treat colon disorders and cancer.
Agar - A Vegan Collagen Source?
The sulphated polysaccharides found in agar (called galactans) may be said to play a role similar to that of collagen in the body by preserving and improving joints, membranes, skin, and the gut lining. As collagen production in our bodies naturally declines with age, supplementing collagen or the galactans found in agar could mitigate the ageing process and deterioration. Research measuring the ability of compounds found in seaweed and agar suggests that it may also help to reduce inflammation – watch this space!
What is the Best Agar to Buy?
Not all agar is created equal. Although many red seaweeds or sea vegetables produce agar, some varieties produce better quality agar and in larger amounts. Different seaweeds grow in different environments and different extraction techniques can be used resulting in end products with varied characteristics. Hence, agar quality varies from producer to producer. Whatever you buy, always buy seaweeds which have been tested for contaminants.
Since New Zealand no longer produces food-grade agar, Pacific Harvest imports high-quality Agar from India that has been rigorously tested for contaminants to ensure its nutritional profile is preserved. It meets the highest food grade standards to support human health, planet health, and wellbeing.
Keen to learn more about Agar? Check our top tips for using Agar