Agar Agar: Health Benefits, How to Use & Side Effects

Agar agar is a microalgae that has thickening, gelatinous and stabilizing properties. It can be used in recipes to add a thicker consistency to desserts or other preparations.

It is naturally rich in fiber and minerals, such as phosphorus, potassium, iron, chlorine and iodine, cellulose and protein. Therefore, agar agar can also be used to promote weight loss and optimal intestinal functioning. 

Agar agar can be found in pharmacies, supermarkets or health food stores in the form of strips of dried seaweed, powder or capsules. It should be taken as advised by your doctor or registered dietitian.

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Health benefits

Agar agar is rich in fiber and minerals, and has several health benefits, such as:

1. Promoting weight loss

Agar agar, when consumed with water, forms a gel in the stomach. It can keep you full and reduce overeating and excess calorie intake. The substance itself does not contain calories, and can be added to a weight loss diet. 

To guarantee the benefit of weight loss, it is important that agar agar is part of an active lifestyle and healthy and balanced diet.

Also recommended: 8 Best Supplements for Weight Loss (& How to Take Them)

2. Improving bowel function

Agar agar has gelling properties and can help to hydrate stools. It is rich in fiber, and therefore agar agar adds bulk to the stool and promotes bowel movements, which contributes to optimal intestinal functioning.

3. Regulating blood glucose

Agar agar is rich in fibers that regulate carbohydrate absorption in the gut. This helps to reduce blood glucose levels and reduce the risk for insulin resistance. Therefore, it can be beneficial for those with diabetes or glucose intolerance.

4. Improving bone health

Agar agar is rich in calcium and magnesium, which are minerals that are fundamental for strengthening the bones and increasing their resistance and density.

5. Controlling cholesterol levels

Because it is rich in fiber, agar agar helps reduce the absorption of fats from food, which can be useful for managing cholesterol levels.

Also recommended: 35 High Fiber Foods: Food List, Health Benefits & Recommendations

Despite having several health benefits, more studies are still needed to prove all the effects of agar agar.

How to use

The use of agar agar may vary depending on the form that is used and the treatment goal.  Agar agar is entirely plant-based and has a gelling power up to 20 times greater than common unflavored gelatin. For this reason, it should be used in smaller quantities in recipes. Therefore, agar agar can be used as follows:

  • In recipes, as a gelling agent: you can add 1 tablespoon of agar agar when preparing porridge or dessert cream. Agar agar  does not dissolve in cold temperatures, so it must be used when the cream base is heated, at a temperature above 90ºC. You must mix it in with a spoon, stirring constantly until completely dissolved.
  • To make fruit jello: add 2 tablespoons of agar agar to 1 glass of pure, freshly squeezed orange juice or whole grape juice. Bring to a boil so it can dissolve completely, if necessary you can sweeten it to taste. Place in molds and refrigerate for about 1 hour, until solidified.
  • In capsules, as a laxative or weight loss pill: take 1 agar agar capsule (0.5 to 1 g) 30 minutes before lunch, and another before dinner, along with 2 glasses of water.

It is important that the use of agar agar to achieve a specific health benefit should be approved and directed by a doctor or registered dietitian, as excessive amounts of agar agar can cause side effects.

Possible side effects

Agar agar is considered to be safe for adults when consumed within the recommended amounts. When consumed, you should drink at least 8 glasses of water within the day, as reduced water intake with agar agar consumption can block the esophagus or intestine, which are medical emergencies.

If you experience symptoms of an intestinal or esophageal obstruction, such as vomiting, chest pain, difficulty swallowing or breathing, you should proceed to the nearest emergency room for assessment.

Furthermore, when consumed in excess, it can cause diarrhea, due to its laxative effect.

Contraindications for use

Agar agar is not recommended for pregnant women, breastfeeding women and children under 3 years of age.

It should not be consumed by people who have intestinal obstruction or chronic illnesses.

Therefore, it is recommended that its use always be carried out under the guidance of a doctor or nutritionist.