You may have heard of the latest craze with the so-called “miracle noodles”, especially among keto diet and other weight loss diet enthusiasts.
These miracle noodles are actually Shirataki noodles. They are traditional Japanese products which are low in calories and carbohydrates, and high in glucomannan.
Glucomannan comes from the Asian konjac plant root and is a water-soluble dietary fiber with multiple health benefits, which is often used for promoting weight loss too.
So, how healthy and beneficial are the shirataki noodles? Read on to find out more.
What exactly are shirataki noodles?
Shirataki noodles are long, thin, translucent Japanese noodles named after the Japanese “shirataki” meaning waterfall.
The main ingredient of Shirataki noodles is glucomannan, a water-soluble dietary fiber made from Konjac plant roots (1).
They are also known as yam noodles or konnyaku noodles and have become incredibly popular in the Western world as a weight-loss promoting and healthy food.
Shirataki noodles contain about 97% water and 3% konjac flour (water-soluble glucomannan dietary fiber), and a touch of lime water.
In some cases, there is some added tofu to soften the rubbery texture of the noodles and make it more palatable for westerners.
The high water content of these noodles results in a very low overall caloric content of only 20 calories per serving.
The varieties with included tofu have little more calories per serving but are still considered low-calorie foods.
They are an excellent source of soluble fiber, and at the same time are low in digestive carbohydrates, and contain little or no fat.
They are extremely filling because glucomannan has the ability to expand its size to up to 50 times after absorbing water, which is why many people choose to eat these miracle noodles in order to help lose weight and feel full.
The other good thing about shirataki noodles is that they are extremely easy to prepare, and can be used in various recipes, even in western ones as a replacement for traditional pasta, rice, and other higher-calorie, high-carb products.
They are also vegan, gluten-free and suitable for people with food sensitivities and allergies (2).
They are offered in dry or soft versions and don’t have a real flavor. They actually absorb the flavors you add to them, so you can prepare a meal of your taste with minimum calories, fat, and carbs, and feel happy and full at the same time.
Shirataki noodles are high in soluble dietary fiber
The main health and weight loss benefit of shirataki noodles is the fact that their main ingredient glucomannan is a highly viscous soluble fiber.
It is derived from konjac plant roots and has the ability to absorb a lot of water and turn it into a gel of a much larger size.
In can absorb water which is as much as 50 times its own weight (3).
As it absorbs the water in the stomach, the noodles expand and promote a feeling of being full.
Also, they move through the digestive system really slowly and help relieve the hunger pangs for longer, as well as delay the absorption of the nutrients from the food into the bloodstream (4).
A study revealed that as the glucomannan in the shirataki noodles ferments and forms short-chain fatty acids, it produces a calorie per gram of fiber.
A typical 113 gram serving of these magical noodles contains only about 1-3g of glucomannan, so it is essentially carb and calorie-free (10).
Shirataki noodles can promote weight loss
Widely promoted as “miracle noodles”, shirataki noodles are becoming increasingly popular among people looking for healthier and lower-calorie foods (11).
They can easily substitute pasta in any of your favorite recipes and will absorb the tastes of the rest of the ingredients you add to your meal.
At the same time, they are almost zero in caloric value and in digestible carbs and fats.
Also, they expand in the stomach creating a fuller feeling and thus limiting the intake of too much other food.
They are completely vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free.
These noodles are sold in various shapes and forms – including plain, or fettuccini, spaghetti, macaroni, and others.
According to a recent study, a low carb diet is much more efficient for weight loss as well as for reducing the risk of heart disease, and shirataki noodles are perfect ingredients for this type of diet (11).
They are also very popular ingredients for the growing number of followers of the keto, paleo and gluten-free diets as well (12).
Studies have shown that shirataki noodles, and especially their high viscous fiber features can be powerful weight loss tools. They make the stomach feel full for a longer time, and so you will end up being less hungry and hopefully eating less once you start consuming them (13, 14).
Also, the fermenting glucomannan which is the basic ingredient of the miracle noodles turns into short-chain fatty acids which boost the release of the hormone in the gut promoting fullness (15).
Plus, consuming shirataki noodles prior to eating carbs can reduce the ghrelin hunger hormone as well (16).
Then again, another study found that there was no difference in the weight loss of the obese and overweight subjects who took glucomannan and those who didn’t (20).
However, another eight-week study observed no difference in weight loss between overweight and obese people who took glucomannan and those who did not (13).
More than nine other studies reached the same conclusion later on (14).
The most reliable results from similar studies suggest that soluble fiber supplements such as glucomannan (and shirataki noodles) can promote weight loss but only in short term and without affecting the BMI.
For long-term weight loss results, it is recommended that the glucomannan or shirataki noodles (or other soluble dietary fiber) are combined with a low-calorie diet, and when possible – with an increase of the activity level (15, 16).
Still, these studies are all for the basic ingredient of shirataki noodles, and not for the noodles themselves. There are still no scientific studies on shirataki noodles and their benefits for weight loss.
Also, some studies have suggested that the glucomannan supplement is only beneficial for weight loss if taken before each meal, while shirataki noodles are the meal itself.
Then again, these noodles are very low in calories, and low in carbs, so they can help you reduce the overall daily caloric intake, which can lead to weight loss if you burn more calories than you eat.
Other potential health benefits of shirataki noodles
As mentioned previously, there are no specific studies on the health and weight loss benefits of shirataki noodles, but there are plenty of studies performed for the main ingredient of these noodles – glucomannan.
The results of these studies suggest that soluble fiber can have various health benefits, including:
- Relieving constipation by encouraging quicker bowel movements (17, 18, 19)
- Helping improve gut flora microbiome by fermenting and producing beneficial short-chain fatty acids which promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms. This can help boost the immune system, fight inflammations, and lower the risk of developing some diseases (20, 21)
- Reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol, the bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood (22)
- Improving the symptoms of metabolic syndrome (23)
- Reducing the risk of cancer and other serious diseases by strengthening the activity of the antioxidants in the body (24)
- Improving the symptoms of diabetes and insulin resistance, by lowering fasting blood sugar levels and insulin levels (25, 26)
- Reducing the thyroid hormone levels in people suffering from hypothyroidism (27)
- Preventing allergic rhinitis (hay fever) symptoms (28)
- Helping improve overall skin health and preventing acne (29)
- Encouraging the faster healing of wounds (30)
Potential adverse effects and risk of eating shirataki noodles
Although shirataki noodles are generally considered to be safe and healthy food products, they still contain glucomannan which is known to have potential adverse effects including loose stool, constipation, abdominal discomfort, flatulence, diarrhea, as the NIH has warned (31).
Also, due to the fact that it is highly absorbent, glucomannan (but in tablet form) has been claimed to present a danger for children and adults of choking or intestinal blockages (32).
In some extreme cases, glucomannan can lead to malnutrition as well, because the soluble fiber can stop the GI tract from absorbing all of the essential nutrients from the food as it passes through the digestive tract.
As with all types of dietary fiber, it is advisable to introduce shirataki noodles to your diet gradually, so that your organism can get used to it slowly.
Keep in mind that the glucomannan in the shirataki noodles can interfere with the effect of certain medications because it can reduce their absorption into the bloodstream.
In order to prevent this from happening, always take your medication at least an hour prior to enjoying a delicious bowl of shirataki noodles.
How do you prepare shirataki noodles?
Shirataki noodles come in dry or in liquid form and can be slightly daunting to handle at first.
When you open the package, you may notice a slightly fishy smell. Don’t worry, this is actually clear water, which has absorbed the smell of the konjac plant root.
In order to get rid of the smell, pour them in a strainer, and rinse them off under cold running water for several minutes.
If you can still feel the smell you can add a few drops of lemon, or lime juice or white or apple vinegar to eliminate it.
Then proceed to boil them. Add the noodles in a pot of boiling water, and boil them for 2 to 3 minutes the most.
Boiling them for too long can make them rubbery or can burn them if the water evaporates.
Pour them back into the strainer in the sink and strain all the water from them.
You can then roast the noodles in a preheated pan or skillet, with a little fat for about a minute.
After they are done, add them to any dish you prefer (33).
The good news for all food lovers is that shirataki noodles can successfully replace all kinds of pasta as well as rice in any of your favorite dishes.
They will absorb the taste and aroma of the other ingredients you add to the dish.
As you can see they are incredibly easy and quick to prepare and can be the perfect low car, low calorie and high fiber addition to any of your favorite meals.
Final verdict – should you try shirataki noodles
The truth is that while there is no specific scientific proof regarding the weight loss and health benefits of shirataki noodles, there is plenty of evidence showing that the main ingredient of these magical noodles glucomannan has multiple health benefits, and can help promote weight loss, if combined with a lower calorie intake, and an increase of activity levels.
Then again, shirataki noodles have almost zero calories, almost no digestible carbohydrates, and very little or no fats, so if you choose to substitute your regular pasta and rice with them, you will decrease your caloric intake significantly.
Also, the glucomannan in these noodles can help you improve your health by reducing your blood sugar levels, your cholesterol, improving your digestion, and bring you various other health benefits.