Could the Mankai duckweed plant be beneficial for diabetes patients?

Adding Mankai to your daily smoothie could boost its nutritional content according to new research.

New research has found that a high protein aquatic plant strain of duckweed called Mankai could help improve glycemic control, which is important for managing diabetes.

Led by researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), Israel, the new small-scale study looked at 20 abdominally obese participants and asked them to replace dinner with either a green shake containing Mankai (also known as Wolffia globosa duckweed) or a yogurt shake which had the equivalent amount of carbohydrates, protein, lipids, and calories.

The researchers monitored the participants for two weeks with glucose sensors and asked participants to keep a record of their diet, daily activity, feelings of satiety (feeling full), and sleep.

The findings, published in Diabetes Care, the official journal of the American Diabetes Association, showed that the participants who drank the duckweed shake showed lower glucose peak levels; lower morning fasting glucose levels; and faster glucose evacuation, which are all important in the management of diabetes, compared to those who drank the yogurt shake.

The participants who drank the Mankai shake also felt slightly fuller.

The researchers pointed out that several previous studies have found other benefits of Mankai duckweed. One found that Mankai is a high-quality protein source which appears to also be a unique plant source of vitamin B12. Another study suggested that including Mankai in a Mediterranean diet could boost levels of iron and folic acid levels, even though this type of diet includes low quantities of red meat.

Duckweed has been consumed for hundreds of years in Southeast Asia, where it is known as "vegetable meatball" due to its high-protein content. It includes the complete protein profile of eggs, containing all nine essential and six conditional amino acids, and is very high in antioxidant-packed polyphenols, dietary fibers, minerals (including iron and zinc), vitamin A, vitamin B complex, and vitamin B12, which is rarely found in plants.

As it also requires just a fraction of the water needed to produce each gram of protein compared to soy, kale, or spinach, it is also being touted as a sustainable plant-based protein alternative.

As proof that its popularity is growing, Mankai smoothies were recently introduced in the Harvard School of Public Health cafeteria.