Some sea vegetable varieties can help keep carbohydrates out of your system.
By Lisa James
For millenia, cultures around the globe have turned to the sea for sources of concentrated nutrition. And while much of that bounty has come in the form of fish and other marine animals, sea vegetables have made major contributions to the health and well-being of people who eat them on a regular basis.
Kelp, dulse and other plants from the sea offer rich stores of vitamins and minerals, often at levels higher than those found in land-based foods. What’s more, two sea vegetable species—
Ascophyllum nodosum and Fucus vesiculosus—yield an extract that may make weight loss easier by blocking starch digestion.
Blood Sugar and Weight
Within the intestines, starches—found in potatoes, bread and pasta, among other foods—are broken down by specialized enzymes into simple sugars that pass into the bloodstream. Then it’s the job of a hormone called insulin to move blood sugar, or glucose, into cells to be burned for energy.
This process backfires, however, when a person eats too much starch. When that happens, so much glucose floods the body that the cells can’t keep up. All that sugar has to go somewhere, so insulin forces it into fat cells. Over time, this leads to the development of obesity—a problem facing 33% of all Americans. Eventually, insulin can find it more difficult to do its job. This leads to insulin resistance, a condition that can set the stage for type 2 diabetes.
Following a sensible diet and getting enough exercise go a long way in keeping blood sugar at healthy levels. In addition, interfering with the breakdown of starches within the digestive tract helps stop sugar from entering the bloodstream in the first place.
That’s where A. nodosum and F. vesiculosus come in. An extract taken from these plants is able to block the action of alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase, enzymes that convert starch into sugar. This lowers the glycemic index, a measure of how quickly food raises glucose levels, of a meal and results in less stress on the body’s insulin-producing mechanism.
Researchers at Laval University in Québec, Canada gave either extract or a placebo to 23 people between the ages of 19 and 59 on a double-blind basis; neither the scientists nor the participants knew who was taking which substance. Thirty minutes later the volunteers ate white bread, which has a high glycemic index.
Those people who took the extract showed lower levels of glucose in their bloodstreams 90 minutes after eating. The extract was also found to increase insulin sensitivity, a key factor in maintaining healthy blood sugar. In their journal report, the researcher recommended that additional studies be conducted on the potential impact of brown sea vegetable extract in “healthy as well as in prediabetic and diabetic subjects” (Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism 12/11).
Brown sea vegetable extract is more effective when used in conjunction with other herbs and nutrients that complement its effects. Inulin, a type of fiber found in chicory and other plants, helps block simple sugars from being absorbed just as sea vegetables block starches. Chromium is a trace mineral that allows insulin to do its job of shepherding glucose into cells. Green tea, a powerful antioxidant, promotes thermogenesis, the process by which the body uses energy to produce heat. And rhodiola, a Siberian herb, has shown an ability to help the body fight stress and burn fat.
Getting off the blood-sugar rollercoaster is an important part of weight control. By blocking starch digestion, brown sea vegetable extract can make that job easier.