The plant has been consumed for hundreds of years in Southeast Asia, where it is called "vegetable meatball" due to its high protein content - more than 45% of its dry matter. It contains a complete protein profile, similar to an egg, consisting of essential amino acids. In addition, mankai is rich in polyphenols, mainly phenolic acids and flavonoids, dietary fiber, minerals (including iron and zinc), vitamin A, vitamin B, and vitamin B12, which is rarely found in plant products
The search for plant-based alternatives to meat is bearing fruit. A team of researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that mankai, an aquatic plant high in protein, has significant potential as a superfood, which has a positive effect on balancing the sugar levels needed after consuming carbohydrates.
The plant has been consumed for hundreds of years in Southeast Asia, where it is called "vegetable meatball" due to its high protein content - more than 45% of its dry matter. It contains a complete protein profile, similar to an egg, consisting of essential amino acids. In addition, mankai is rich in polyphenols, mainly phenolic acids and flavonoids, dietary fiber, minerals (including iron and zinc), vitamin A, vitamin B, and vitamin B12, which is rarely found in plant products.
Hila Zelicha, a dietician and doctoral candidate in the public health department at the university, together with her colleagues, investigated the glycemic aspect of the mankai plant. The research findings were published these days in Diabetes Care, the official journal of the American Diabetes Association.
In the new study, the researchers compared the consumption of a mankai shake to the consumption of a yogurt shake. The two drinks were compared to each other in terms of the composition of carbohydrates, protein, fat and calories. After monitoring with glucose sensors, the participants who drank the mankai shake showed a significantly better response in a variety of measures of sugar levels, including: lower peak glucose levels, lower glucose levels upon awakening and faster glucose clearance. Participants also felt fuller. This study is part of a huge "Direct Plus" clinical trial that examines the effect of plant-derived polyphenols on the human body by examining body fat tissue, brain function, epigenetics and the microbiome.
The cultivation of the mankai plant, in Israel and in other countries of the world, is carried out in a closed and sustainable environment - it uses a tiny amount of water to produce protein compared to soy, kale or spinach plants. The possibility of growing it throughout the year through hydroponic cultivation is another advantage.
The research group, led by Prof. Iris Shay, a member of the Daniel Avraham Center for Health and Nutrition and the Department of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, found in several previous studies that the mankai plant has tremendous health potential as a superfood.
The first study carried out this year by Alon Kaplan, a doctoral student in Prof. Shay's laboratory, found that the bioavailability of the amino acids from Mankai was similar to other foods (cheese and peas) with the same protein content. Also, the research findings suggest that mankai may be a unique plant source of vitamin 12B. These findings, which emphasize Mankai's being an excellent source of protein from the plant, were published in the journal Clinical Nutrition.
Another study conducted this year by the group of researchers by Anat Yaskolka Meir, a dietician and doctoral student in Prof. Shay's laboratory, found as part of the "Direct Plus" experiment that not only does the Mediterranean diet, which includes Mankai without red meat, not harm the iron levels, it also increases them and the levels of folic acid, substances that are required for the proper production of red blood cells. This study also found that treating rats with anemia due to iron deficiency using Mankai is as effective as conventional treatment. This study was published in the Journal of Nutrition.
Following the findings of the joint study with Harvard, the leading nutrition researchers there decided to launch the plant for consumption as a green protein smoothie in the cafeteria of the School of Public Health at Boston University.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev researchers continue research on aquatic plants in international collaborations.