Agar-agar doesn’t just refer to ‘jelly’. For starters, it’s derived from a species of red algae known as gelidium amansii, says nutritionist Sheeba Majmudar.
Besides acting as the main ingredient for jellies, agar (as the gelatin is known in a non-confectionary sense) can be used in other aplications: as a non-reactive transport base for medical drugs, a platform for microbiological work, a stabiliser additive in cosmetics or even a laxative, asys Alvin Wong, a dieditian from the Department of Dietetic and Food Services at Changi General Hospital.
Ever wonder if agar-agar has any health benefits at all? This gummy dessert may appear to tread in a nutritional no-man’s land, but it’s surprisingly not that bad a dish to consume. Sea vegetables and algae can be an excellent source of nutrients such as protein and fibre, says Majmudar. Also, agar-agar is made up of polysaccharides that are, in essence, complex carbohydrates such carbs are broken down into glucose more slowly by the body, resulting in a constant release of energy. This also allows you to feel fuller for longer. Though certain agar-agar sources may be low in fibre, the right kinds can be s good source of fibre without significantly increasing caloric intake great for individuals who don’t meet the daily recommendation of 25-30g of fibre per day, says Wong.
If you’re clued in to Japanese trends, you’ll have heard of the kanten diet, or rather, a dient in which you eat agar-agar before each meal. The result: You could consume less food overall credit to the gelatinous substance’s ability to absorb water and its fibre content, says Majmudar. Agar-agar contains proteins, polysaccarides, mineral and vitamins and can be incorporated into any food plan, she says. But as with the kanten diet, she recommends having it before a meal rather than as a dessert to experience the biggest weight-loss benefits. Still, Wong points out that any fibre source (fruits and vegetables included) will have a similar appetite-curbing effect. Adding fruits is the best way to bump up agar-agar nutritional content, says Majmudar. You don’t even need to add sugar. It’s nutritionally complete food in itself.