Plants naturally produce inulin and use it as an energy source. Today, it’s being added to more and more food products because of its benefits and adaptability. Read on to find out more about this fiber source and how can it benefit you.
Sources of Inulin
Inulin can be found naturally in foods, such as:
- chicory root
- wild yams
With its creamy consistency, inulin functions as a fat substitute in margarine and salad dressings. It’s also used to replace some of the flour in baked goods.
Benefits of Inulin
Inulin is a nutritional powerhouse. It’s high in fiber, low in calories, and has other health benefits.
It keeps you full (of fiber).
Fiber is any type of carbohydrate the body can’t digest. It moves through the intestines intact and 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.
The fiber in inulin is soluble, which means it dissolves in water. It dissolves in the stomach and then forms a gelatinous substance that:
- slows digestion
- increases fullness
- removes cholesterol as it passes through the digestive tract
It promotes digestive health.
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. Good bacteria provide many health benefits. Inulin stimulates these bacteria to grow.
Inulin aids digestion by increasing the number of good bacteria in the gut, particularly Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. These bacteria help:
- fend off unwanted pathogens (bad bacteria)
- prevent infection
- stimulate your immune system
Inulin also adds bulk to your stool and increases the frequency of your bowel movements. You may have more bowel movements, but inulin slows overall digestion. This enables your body to better absorb nutrients from the food you eat.
Research suggests inulin can also enable the body to better absorb calcium. Calcium creates a stronger skeletal system.
It controls blood sugar.
Inulin slows digestion, including the digestion of carbohydrates. This allows sugar to be released slowly without spiking, which promotes healthy blood sugar levels.
A 2015 study revealed that inulin might benefit people with prediabetes. It can act as a potential blood-stabilizer when present in your diet over a long period of time.
Some research suggests these properties make inulin a good weight management aid.
It could potentially lower your cancer risk.
Researchers are actively exploring the use of inulin to prevent cancer.
As an immune system booster, it may also be a good preventative supplement against cancers of the digestive system. One study found the combination of probiotics and prebiotics such as inulin has the potential to reduce colon cancer risk.
Supplemental inulin is available in capsule and powder forms. A typical dose is 3.1 grams per day. You may prefer to get your inulin by eating foods it naturally occurs in. This is possible, however it may require eating much more garlic than you’d like in order to get the amount you need.
Consider using inulin supplements to further promote digestive health if you’re on a probiotic regimen or currently using antibiotics to treat a bacterial illness.
A study tested the powder form of inulin to determine whether it contributed to feelings of health and well-being. People who took the inulin were happier, less hungry, and felt more full over a period of time than people who received a placebo.
Side Effects and Risk Factors of Using Inulin
Any amount of inulin is considered safe for human consumption. It’s extremely unlikely to trigger any kind of allergic reaction.
When you begin using inulin, you may notice discomfort during bowel movements, excessive flatulence, or loose stools. Drink plenty of water when incorporating it into your diet if you have irritable bowel syndrome or a sensitive digestive tract. This will help prevent constipation.
If you’re pregnant, you should talk to your doctor before taking any supplemental product, including inulin.