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Seaweed Fiber in Liquid Meals May Cut Hunger

Study Shows Fiber in Meal-Replacement Drinks Helps Delay Feelings of Hunger
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 21, 2011 -- Adding a dietary fiber derived from seaweed to a meal-replacement drink may reduce feelings of hunger by 30%, a team of industry researchers reports.

Researchers from Unilever's Research and Development in the Netherlands compared the effects on hunger after drinking a meal-replacement drink with the fiber, alginate, at two different strengths and without it.

The higher concentration alginate drink reduced hunger longest -- up to nearly five hours after drinking it.

"We didn't measure calorie intake, but you would anticipate that would be translated to a relevant reduction in calorie intake," says study co-researcher Sheila Wiseman, PhD.

She cannot estimate when the new drink will be on the market. The researchers are still working out what she calls ''technical challenges" with the technology. One is to improve the ''slimy mouth feel" that can accompany a drink with a high concentration of the alginate, she tells WebMD.

Alginate is already added to some other meal replacements on the market.

The study is published in the journal Obesity.

Reducing Hunger With Alginate

Wiseman and her colleagues asked 23 volunteers to drink three different drinks on three occasions:

  • A chocolate meal-replacement drink under development by Slim-Fast, a Unilever brand.
  • A chocolate meal-replacement drink with 0.6% alginate.
  • A chocolate meal-replacement drink with 0.8% alginate.

Each drink had about 190 calories, nearly 7 grams of fat, 10 grams of protein, and about 24 grams of carbohydrates. All had similar amounts of fiber, from 4.7 to 5.2 grams a serving.

Participants were ages 18 to 60. Their body mass indexes (BMIs) ranged from healthy to obese.

They drank one of the three drinks for breakfast. Every half-hour from the time they drank at 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. the participants rated their hunger and fullness.

The higher-concentrate alginate drink worked best to delay hunger and keep drinkers feeling full. At the five-hour mark, for instance, those who drank the comparison drink rated their fullness at 10 on scale of zero to 80. Those who drank the high-alginate drink rated it at over 20.

On the hunger rating, those who drank the higher alginate staved off hunger for at least four hours, longer than the other drinks. On a hunger scale of zero to 80, those who had the high alginate drink rated their hunger, on average, at about 68 before drinking the beverage and about 63 at 4.5 hours later. By five hours, their hunger was back to what it was before drinking it.

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