Inulin is used as a nutritional supplement to fortify food products. Inulin and its byproduct, oligofructose, are both carbohydrates and fibers. So, what’s the big deal about this fiber source?
There are two types of fiber: insoluble and soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber can help increase stool bulk and keep your bowels regular. Soluble fiber dissolves in the fluids in your stomach. It forms a gel-like substance that slows down digestion, increases fullness, and removes cholesterol.
Good sources of soluble fiber include:
- certain fruits
Chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes are the most common sources of inulin. Read on to discover its many health benefits.
1. Full of Soluble Fiber
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t digest. It moves through the intestines intact. As it passes through the GI tract, it can slow digestion and increase fullness. It continues into the colon to serve as a food for the bacteria there.
Fiber has no caloric value, but it’s essential to good health.
2. Packed with Prebiotics
Prebiotics ferment in your colon, becoming a food source for healthy bacteria. Healthy bacteria? Absolutely! Your gut contains between 15,000 and 36,000 species of bacteria. Only a small portion of the bacteria in the body has the potential to be harmful. The good bacteria provide many health benefits.
3. Aids Digestion
It does this by increasing the number of good bacteria in the gut, particularly Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. These bacteria:
- fend off unwanted pathogens (bad bacteria)
- help prevent infection
- stimulate your immune system
Inulin also adds bulk to your stool and increases the frequency of your bowel movements.
4. Increases Nutrient Absorption
Your body is better able to absorb nutrients from the food you eat because inulin slows digestion. According to studies conducted in the United States and France, inulin can increase calcium absorption by as much as 20 percent and magnesium absorption by up to 12 percent.
5. Boosts Immune System
According to a review of research on inulin and other prebiotics, it may:
- stimulate the immune system
- fight infection
- combat inflammatory conditions
6. Reduces Cholesterol
Inulin may help lower triglyceride levels in those who have high triglycerides. It may also help reduce levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol). However, further research is needed. When your triglyceride levels are low, your risk of heart disease is reduced.
7. Controls Blood Sugar
Inulin slows digestion, including the digestion of carbohydrates. This helps stabilize blood sugar levels after eating by allowing sugar to be released slowly without spiking.
8. Lowers the Risk of Cancer
Researchers are actively exploring the use of inulin in cancer prevention. One study found that the combination of probiotics and prebiotics such as inulin has the potential to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
The Secret Ingredients
As food ingredients, inulin and oligofructose are viewed by many as powerhouses. Oligofructose is a sweetener used in cereals, yogurt, desserts, and other dairy products. With its creamy consistency, inulin functions well as a fat substitute in margarine and salad dressings. Inulin is also used to replace some of the flour in baked goods. Both add fiber that doesn’t taste like fiber.
Because of its wide use as a food ingredient, you may already have inulin in your diet without knowing it. You also can take supplemental inulin, which is available in capsule and powder forms.