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The soup course.

Somehow it is typical of our society that we seek to lose weight not by eating less but by eating something extra.

Japanese scientists say they have found a compound in the seaweed kelp that could become a powerful tool in the fight against obesity.

To them the brown seaweed Undaria pinnatifida is known as wakame and as such it's a key ingredient in miso soup and other Japanese and Asian dishes.

Specifically, animal tests showed that a pigment in the seaweed called fucoxanthin promotes weight loss. It targets the area round the gut, where fat deposits are strongly linked to heart disease and diabetes.

When obese rats and mice were fed the compound they lost between 5% and 10% of their body weight.

But - doesn't there always have to be a snag? - simply drinking gallons of miso soup is not likely to be the answer. For fucoxanthin is tightly bound to proteins in the seaweed and not easily absorbed in its natural form.

And, as lead researcher Dr Kazuo Miyashita, from Hokkaido University in Japan, says, you would probably have to eat "huge amounts" of wakame to see any benefit.

The scientific underpinning of all this is that fucoxanthin stimulates a protein called UCP1 that causes the oxidation of white adipose tissue, the harmful fat that builds up around internal organs and is associated with beerguts and "middle-aged spread".

The pigment also causes the liver to produce a form of omega-3 fatty acid which reduces levels of "bad" cholesterol, thus protecting the arteries.

Best guess is that it might take another three to five years before a slimming pill based on fucoxanthin is available to the public, said Dr Miyashita.

And the curious thing is that when it does it might come from the west rather than the east.

Kelp forests grow in abundance along the California coast, which suggests that the US could be a leading supplier of the compound.

And the irony of an idea from the land of sumo wrestlers, fuelled by material from the most overweight people on the planet making us slim, should not be lost on anyone.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Sep 16, 2006
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