Having read Dr. Mark Hyman’s post about the amazing health benefits of Konjac root – otherwise known as Glucomannan (Amorphophallus konjac) derived from the Elephant Yam - I set out to investigate.
My first stop was a neighborhood health food store in Nyack, New York. They never heard of konjac or Glucomannan (and didn’t seem to want to know about it).
At first, I thought I’d prefer using the whole root and finding a way to incorporate it into the diet, if possible. Everything I’ve found out about health and fiber suggests that whole food structures yield the maximum health benefit, so with capsules in hand, the next stop was the Chinese supermarket on Central Avenue in Scarsdale. They had all kinds of stuff there, but no Elephant Yam. They did have another phallic-looking root that I have as yet been unable to identify that has the texture of jicama, but slimy (if you can tell me what it is, please email me – I’ve consumed about a third of the one in the picture. It’s not konjac.)
The checkout lady was emphatic about the health benefits of my purchase – left her post and navigated the store to fetch it – so my interest is piqued in it as well, but I must confess that the palate is somewhat taxed coping with the sliminess. It’s reminiscent of okra – sort of a cross between okra and jicama… but, back to the subject – konjac.
A web search for konjac brought me to the Konjac Foods website. I found bags of flour (or powder) derived from the root – pure konjac fiber. It’s a soluble fiber that absorbs a lot of liquid; rather than becoming gummy and sticky like wheat and other grain flours, this becomes viscous (or gelatinous) when exposed to water. Given the enthusiasm professed by Dr. Hyman, I ordered a bag.
Meanwhile, I started taking the capsules as directed. One has to be sure to follow the directions and take them with the suggested dosage of water; there is a danger of choking, apparently, if they become lodged in the gullet and start to expand. The pills need to go completely into the stomach, and have some liquid to absorb. Konjac pills are illegal in Australia because of this danger.
The capsules are a handy way to carry the stuff with you, but make the process of consuming konjac seem somehow medicinal and removed from the joyous task of healthy eating. I wanted to know how it behaves as food, and if there is a way to incorporate it (and receive its benefits) by finding a way to eat it.
There are many konjac products on the market; Shiritaki and Konnyaku noodles are among them. These products are widely available in oriental markets and health food stores. They’re not mentioned in Dr. Hyman’s article, and since these products are sold in packages suspended in water, it’s possible that the flour has expanded already as much as it’s going to. Konjac absorbs two hundred times its weight in water, and one of its benefits is that it creates a false sense of satiety. If you eat it in its expanded form, that benefit may be lost.
As the powder is manufactured, the root is sliced into “chips” which are allowed to dry, then pulverized; then the root starch is separated from the heavier fiber by wind current. Konjac fiber is an isolate, with peculiar characteristics. It’s a processed food. The use of konjac as a weight-loss product depends on its satiety characteristics, and there’s natural deception involved. It tricks the body into feeling that it’s full.
There are other benefits, though, according to Dr. Hyman, which could outweigh the “unnaturalness” of its use. The fiber has particular characteristics causing it to regulate blood sugar, prevent metabolic syndrome, reduce insulin resistance, remove cholesterol from the blood, and promote weight loss by reducing the overall consumption of calories.
Although it’s too soon to report on the weight loss benefits I may or may not have experienced (this is not a chief concern for me; my diet is already high in fiber and my weight tends to be fairly stable), I have experienced an immediate unexpected benefit.
Beans are a great source of fiber, as are cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and brussels sprouts. One problem common to these foods – and to a high-fiber diet in general – is the increase in digestive gas. This alone is enough to discourage many people from staying on a rigorously high-fiber diet. My experience had been that if certain savory vegetables are avoided (onions, garlic), the odor of the gas is minimized, but it’s an ongoing issue, a discomfort and an inconvenience.
The remarkable thing about konjac, however, is that it relieves this. The sense of churning and gurgling in the gut and the relatively constant battle with gas has suddenly ended almost completely with the incorporation of konjac. I haven’t seen any mention of this anywhere in the literature, but this has been my experience. I have a sense of being full, but not bloated. I feel different, however, in a way that’s hard to describe. It’s a slight sense of being hungry and full at the same time; this is relieved by a relatively small quantity of food. When I eat at mealtimes, I find myself eating much less than I did before, but I also feel a much greater stability of mood and well-being.
So, back to the bag of konjac flour. I made a smoothie and added konjac to it. The directions on the bag suggest making a suspension of the flour in a glass of water and drinking it – kind of like Metamucil – with the caveat that it should be consumed before the solution gels. That’s what happens, the water gets thicker the longer it stands, and the more challenging it becomes to consume. Viscous water is hard to describe… suffice it to say that their advice is worth taking.
The morning smoothie I’ve been making for some years consists of whey powder, vitamin/mineral powder, rice bran, cocoa powder, stevia powder, and frozen blueberries. Sometimes I’ll add peanut butter , coconut milk, or a banana. This morning I added a heaping teaspoon of konjac flour. At first it was unnoticeable, but as the remainder of the shake stood, it got thicker and thicker. It passed through a “thick shake” phase reminiscent of a (shudder) McDonald’s shake. It kept getting thicker, though, and took on the “viscous water” characteristic, eventually appearing almost solid. It was a good five minutes before that happened – so, there’s a window of opportunity wherein a konjac-infused smoothie can be consumed without any culinary downside.