The zero-calorie noodles I was talking about are actually called “konnyaku” noodles (or shirataki noodles).
I’ve coined the phrase “zero-calorie noodles” because that’s how these traditional japanese foods have been commercialized in the Western world e.g.
also ‘zero calorie’
And this is the brand I use (one and only)
These noodles also more commonly come in ‘block’ form and are made from ‘Konjak’ or ‘Konnyaku’ powder. Konnyaku is a type of Japanese potato plant. These noodles are not totally ‘zero-calorie’ (no food can have zero-calories!) although the noodles and jelly-like slabs made from these plants are pretty close to being worth virtually no kilojules with about 11 calories per a packet or 6 calories per 100 grams. That’s because they’re 97% water according to this website http://shakespeare-w.com/english/konnyaku/whatis.html and the remaining 3% is insoluble fiber and some minerals.
Here’s a picture showing the noodles and ‘konnyaku blocks’.
The grey ones have simply had some seaweed powder added in, while the white ones are the ‘original’ konnyaku (no seaweed powder). Shirataki noodles are the actual Japanese name for the noodle form of konnyaku, meaning “white waterfall”. The flavor of both forms is the same.
But ‘zero-calorie noodles‘; seem too good to be true right?
The reason why you may have not heard of them, or why they’re not intensely popular in the dieting world/a supermarket must-have, are because they can’t really act as replacements for noodles. I’m talking about taste and texture.
Shirataki noodles taste nothing like noodles or pasta made from flour; the texture is more jelly-like, more like agar-agar (also a virtually no calorie food made from seaweed) and are not very filling at all (the 3% insoluble fiber doesn’t account to much.) They tense up slightly when cooked, but nevertheless eating shirataki is like eating tasteless jelly. It is not particularly satisfying.
Are shirataki noodles any good?
Don’t look to shirataki as a complete ‘carb’ replacement. Konnyaku maybe full of water (but unlike veggies or fruits – a common example of a high water and low-calorie food type), their fiber content is nearly negligible making them very un-filling. Having a plate full of konnyaku and very little of anything else for dinner may leave you hungry in the middle of the night, and drive you to late-night snacking. Even I (don’t normally eat a lot) got hungry a little while after having a packet of shirataki noodles with adequate protein and veggies.
According to this website http://justhungry.com/2007/01/konnyaku_and_shirataki_ojftmhy.html “be sure not to overuse it. A well known Japanese journalist and writer in the 1960s called Soichi Ohyake was rumored to have died of malnutrition after attempting to lose weight by eating excessive amounts of konnyaku!”
Other sources may claim konnyaku are great diet foods because they’re “filling” yet low in calories; in Japan, they also call it “broom for the stomach” for it’s filling qualities, but I disagree.
Konnyaku all day would basically be like sipping water all day and taking in about 40 or so calories. (Although fasting during Ramadan prohibits practitioners from any form of consumption in the entire day, the fasters do replinish all their un-ingested calories by having enormous dinners after sun down)
What I’d recommend to people trying to lose weight by incorporating shirataki into the efforts is…
1. Include shirataki/konnyaku into your carb allowance instead of substituting them i.e. mix them in with your noodles, stir-fries to lower your total caloric intake without feeling undernourished.
2. For no/low-carb dieters: In your times of noodle craving, open up a packet of shirataki noodles. When I want to make a noodles dish (because I don’t like refined carbs), I’d either opt for super healthy, relatively low-calorie and high fiber noodles like buckwheat noodles, potato noodles or more recently shirataki (because they’re completely guilt-free)
In terms of nutrients….
The remaining 3% of the konnyaku is mostly fiber in the form of a viscous substance called ‘glucomannan’ – indigestible in our digestive tracts (therefore act as the filling property; The “broom” some claim konnyaku possesses) plus some traces of protein, starch and minerals like calcium. But again, very little nutritional value because of the high percentage of water per serving.
As a caution, I wouldn’t recommend anyone to live on processed foods especially for dieting purposes (shirataki noodles comes in packets after all, and the fact that they can keep indefinitely is a bit scary). Why fill up on potato-powder water when you can have a range of nutritious and more filling vegetables – whole foods – with just a little more calories?
One of my dieting principles (well, identical to those of Volumetrics, Mayo Clinic diet and negative-calorie ideas) is to not starve but eat high fiber veggies that will help you burn fat (the body uses a substantial amount of energy in the digestive process, hence why some people often feel sleepy after a big meal) eating veggies, which are also low in calories, will drive the body to use stored-up fat as their source of energy instead, in the digestion of fiber (this basically is what the negative calories principle is about).
Interestingly, 100 grams of lettuce is equivalent to 100 grams of shirataki noodles in calories. And 100 grams of lettuce contains 97% of your daily intake of vitamin K, lots of folate and maganese, and it tastes yummy dipped in hot sauce! So much more nutrient-dense than shirataki noodles.
For those of you looking to try out some shirataki noodles, here’s an example of how you prepare them…
1. Empty the water in your packet then wash the noodles
(They smell a bit iffy pre-washing… Could be the seaweed? Or calcium hydroxide?)
2. For more densely textured noodles, stir-fry for a few minutes:
(They will shrink a little as some of the water evaporates off)
(Shirataki with onions, broccoli, soy sauce and chili! Broccoli for protein and fiber, onions for natural flavouring and delicious chili to aide with metabolism! *I’m sure I had protein as well with this meal, but wasn’t pictured…)
*caution: Don’t eat shirataki with hot sauce because the noodles are very flippy and slippery. I was injured in the eyes when the noodles flicked chili water into them!
For softer noodles, just mix them in your stir-fry right after cooking to simply warm the noodles up.
(udon-like texture as a result)
Stir-fry slices of konnyaku blocks into super yummy looking things (image from www.justhungry.com)
I’ve heard konnyaku have been made into rice shapes to help those trying to lose weight control their rice consumption (by mixing the konnyaku with rice)
Looks nothing like rice though! (image from www.affectioknit.blogspot.com)
As a summary of the post, do not replace konnyaku for full meals as they barely contain any of your daily nutrient requirements; instead, use them to control your intake, and opt for more helpful, high-fiber carbs or veggies instead (lean protein is also a great way to suppress hunger e.g. lentils, beans, etc.)
Turn to konnyaku only when you’re in a pigging out on noodles kind of mood 🙂
And also, Happy World Animal Day to all! (It’s also vegetarian month in October, Halloween is not the only big event this month). Go ahead, abstain from meat for at least a few days or even weeks, and save animals’ lives whilst lessening your carbon footprint!