Anyone who has scrolled through one of the many blogs dedicated to the keto diet has probably read at least one paragraph about konjac noodles, the high-fiber, low-carb, and low-calorie pasta replacement that is made from the stem of the konjac plant. Konjac noodles, which are also sold as shirataki noodles, or under assorted brand names, have become a staple for those on the keto diet, or for gluten-sensitive individuals who have probably considered murdering someone for one bite from a Never Ending Pasta Bowl.
Although konjac has been eaten in parts of Asia since the 6th century, its popularity elsewhere seems to be a result of its supposed role in weight loss: because it’s mostly just water and fiber, eating it contributes to a feeling of fullness.
And because it’s, uh, mostly just water and fiber, in Japan, konnyaku is known as “a broom for the stomach,” because it has a tendency to clean your digestive system riiiiiiight out. Some konjac converts have learned that it can be dangerous to consume a significant amount of soluble fiber in one go. Carol Brodie, a jewelry designer and Home Shopping Network host, is one of those people.
Last summer, Brodie was eager to give the noodles a try, especially after learning that each package only contained around 25 calories. “If I ate three or four bags of this, I was still looking at around 100 calories, so how great is that?” she told NBC New York. “And I was going to get to fill up!”
So that’s what she did: she placed an Amazon order for Better Than Pasta-brand konjac noodles, and she downed four packages of them. “All of a sudden, I started getting the most horrendous tightening and pulling cramps,” she said. “I felt like I was dying. I felt like I was choking to death.”
She went to the hospital, where doctors discovered that the undigested noodles had formed a solid, indigestible mass called a bezoar in her digestive tract; as a result, she says that she was forced to remain on a diet of nothing but “soup and Diet Coke” for more than a month.
Brodie has recently filed a lawsuit against Green Spot Foods, the Wisconsin company that produces the Better Than Pasta noodles, and she has also sued Amazon for selling a product that she believes is dangerous. (“I almost died from Better Than Pasta. It sounds unreal,” Brodie wrote in her one-star Amazon review.)
“When you swallow it, it doesn’t dissolve in your stomach and that’s why it was able to keep you full for so long,” Brodie’s attorney, Rosemarie Arnold, told the station. “This company knew that this product was not safe to consume but they put it on Amazon.”
As of this writing, Amazon still sells a six-pack of Better Than Noodles, which retails for $35.72. The product has a 3.5 star rating from 314 customers, but as NBC New York noted, some of those reviewers also noted “terrible nausea and GI distress,” and “some unholy levels of gastric upset and rage.” (One person who used her real name and photo wrote that the noodles “didn’t fully digest in my stomach so you can imagine the poop situation.” Thanks Bailee, everyone is imagining that very thing right now.)
According to Better Than Noodles’ nutrition label information, each package contains “about three” servings, and each serving contains four grams of fiber. If Brodie consumed four packages, that means she ate approximately 48 grams of fiber, which is almost twice the FDA’s Recommended Daily Value of 25 grams of fiber.
The Amazon listing for Better Than Noodles also has a product note stating that it is “important to drink plenty of water” when eating konjac because of the amount of soluble fiber that it contains. (According to the FDA, soluble fiber is the type of dietary fiber that “dissolves in water to form a thick gel-like substance in the stomach” before being broken down by bacteria in the large intestine.)
Glucomannan, the soluble fiber present in konjac, has previously been studied for its natural laxative effects. A 2006 paper published in the journal Nutrition suggested that supplementation with just 4.5 grams of Konjac glucomannan a day “promoted the defecation frequency in healthy adults,” and it also increased the bulk of each stool. (Your move, Bailee.)
VICE has reached out to Green Spot Foods for comment. In the meantime, if you’re considering adding konjac noodles to your diet, take it slow. It’s called “a broom for your stomach” for a reason.