The Daily Mail's Independent Look Into Zero Noodles
Extract from The Daily Mail:
(By David Derbyshire)
Filling, healthy food with fewer calories than you burn to eat it sounds too good to be true. But...
Are 'no calorie' noodles the Holy Grail of dieting? Filling, healthy food with fewer calories than you burn to eat it sounds too good to be true...
They have zero fat, zero sugar, zero taste and a slightly fishy odour. Yet according to a growing army of health-conscious dieters, these white rubbery noodles could be the ultimate weight-watching food.
A single 200g portion of Zero Noodles — enough to replace a small portion of rice, pasta or conventional egg noodles on your plate — contains just eight calories.
And they won’t just help you lose weight. Their manufacturers claim they can even help reduce cholesterol, cutting the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Since Zero Noodles were launched in the UK last autumn, retailers have struggled to keep up with demand. Stocks have been running out almost as soon as each new batch has hit the shelves. Moreover, they were the fastest-selling new product at the health food chain Holland & Barrett last year.
Dieters who have eaten Zero Noodles sing their praises, saying they have helped them shed pounds while keeping hunger pangs at bay.
In the world of miracle diet supplements, superfoods and weight loss aids, when something seems too good to be true, it usually is.
But could these white ribbons — imported from China by a tiny Surrey firm and sold for £1.60 per portion — really be the longed-for dieting Holy Grail: a food that contains fewer calories than you burn up as you eat it it? In Japan, these highly desired Zero Noodles have been known for generations as shirataki, or ‘white waterfall’ noodles.
They are made from the konjac plant, a single-leafed red flower with a long spike grown for food throughout Asia.
The konjac’s striking appearance gives it its alternative names of devil’s tongue, voodoo lily or snake palm.
It is prized for its large starchy tubers, which have been used over centuries to make jelly and flour. The tubers are processed into a product called ‘glucomannan flour’, sold as a health supplement powder or used to make noodles.
Glucomannan noodles come in sealed 200g packets in water. They must be boiled for at least three minutes. They look a little bit like rice noodles, but their texture is more rubbery. Some might even say ‘slimy’.
Shirataki noodles have been used in Japan as a low-calorie food for years. They have been available in specialist health food and Asian shops in the UK and America for the last few years, but have only just started to get mainstream publicity.
Zero Noodles are made in China and imported to Britain by Laura Lamont, a nutritional therapist who trained in Australia. She saw the potential after successfully recommending them to clients.
‘They are a bulking food, so you feel full, but they are low-calorie,’ she said. ‘The consistency on first try can be surprising because it’s not a texture you’re used to, but after one or two goes people like them. They are not slimy; they have more of an al dente texture.’
The noodles contain 96 per cent water and less than 4 per cent glucomannan fibre. So it’s surprising they fill you up.
And Laura Lamont says they do far more than that. She points to a flurry of scientific studies, published in respectable journals, showing that glucomannan fibre can reduce cholesterol and blood sugar.
The most comprehensive of these studies appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2008. The paper was a ‘meta study’; a review of 14 of the best scientific studies into glucomannan, covering 531 people.
After pooling the results, the authors from the University Of Connecticut Schools Of Medicine And Drug Information concluded that glucomannan fibre lowered LDL cholesterol — the ‘bad’ sort linked to furred arteries — and helped with weight loss.
Two years ago, the European Food Safety Authority investigated the health claims made about glucomannan supplements being sold as a powder. It concluded glucomannan flour could help reduce weight as part of a calorie-controlled diet.
However, in order to get the benefit, ‘at least 3g of glucomannan should be consumed daily in three doses of 1g each, together with one to two glasses of water before meals,’ the authority said. Whether the same effect comes from a daily serving in the form of noodles eaten during a meal has not been tested.
The European scientists concluded there was no clear evidence that glucomannan lowered blood fats, but there was evidence to say it could reduce bad cholesterol.
Laura Lamont says a 200g serving of Zero Noodles contains more than 6g of glucomannan flour.
The packaging merely says that the noodles ‘aid weight loss’, while her website stresses that the health benefits only come as part of a calorie-controlled diet.
Of course, the noodles aren’t the first product to be hailed as a miracle ‘zero-calorie’ food. Some foods are deemed ‘negative-calorie’ because they are so very tough to digest that the body burns up more energy digesting them than it gains.
In recent years, grapefruit, strawberries, sea kelp, beetroot, cucumber, apples and hard-boiled eggs have all been promoted as ‘negative-calorie’ foods.
Sadly for weight-watchers, there is no scientific evidence to suggest negative-calorie foods actually exist. Nutrition experts believe a typical person uses up to 10 per cent of the calories they consume each day through chewing and digesting food.
That means an active person consuming 2,000 calories a day could burn 200 calories simply digesting the food they eat.
This figure varies hugely from person to person. It depends on their metabolism, age, weight, fitness levels and diet.
The best candidate for a negative-calorie food is raw celery. A typical stalk — made up mostly of water and cellulose, a tough vegetable fibre that our bodies can’t digest — contains six to ten calories.
Zero Noodles have a similar calorie count to celery — and so could lead to a tiny net reduction in daily calories for some people. However, the evidence for other supposed negative-calorie foods is less convincing.
The natural sugar content of fruits means they do contribute to your calorie intake. Even half a grapefruit, at 40 calories, contains more calories than you’d burn eating it.
Hard-boiled eggs are often said to be another negative-calorie food. But the evidence doesn’t stack up.
One hard-boiled egg contains around 75 calories — far more than the miniscule number of calories needed to digest it.
What low-calorie foods like celery and boiled eggs do is fill us up, and stop us eating high-calorie foods.
So, for someone like me who could do with losing a few pounds, and who adores starchy food, Zero Noodles are an attractive idea. I decided to put them to the test.
They have a slightly fishy odour, which comes from the glucomannan flour. But by the time you’ve rinsed the translucent strands of white noodle and boiled them for three minutes, there is no smell — and absolutely no taste.
Food with no taste is an unusual concept. Rice, pasta and nasty processed bread may be bland, but there is some flavour there. But Zero Noodles have none.
The texture is surprisingly rubbery, but they’re not slimy if cooked properly. They do have a slightly gelatinous quality — a cross between macaroni and sliced squid.
But you know what? They aren’t bad. Mixed with a little tomato sauce, or a sprinkling of soy, they are surprisingly edible. They go well with creamy sauces, work in stir fries and can even replace the rice in a rice pudding.
Zero noodles are never going to win over gourmet chefs or home cooks who make their own durum-wheat pasta. And their rubbery texture and non-flavour certainly takes a lot of getting used to.
But as a bulking-out food that fills you up without adding the pounds, you could do a lot worse.