Inulin is a natural soluble fiber that is common in many plants and, in recent years, has become a popular prebiotic supplement. Once consumed, the substance is not broken down by the body. Its inability to be readily digested once it enters the body’s gastrointestinal tract is one of the main features that provide the fiber’s many health benefits such as improved gut function, a suppressed appetite for weight management, and assistance cardiac function.
Understanding a Prebiotic
Inulin is what is classified as a fructan. It is made up of fructose molecules. The molecules cannot be digested by the human body. It travels to the lower intestines where it functions as a food source for natural and beneficial bacteria that reside in the colon. The bacteria naturally ferment the substance. This is why it is known as a prebiotic.The bacteria within the gut convert it into short-chain fatty acids which help the cells of the colon remain healthy and functioning at optimum performance. Providing the beneficial bacteria with a ready supply of the food substance helps cultivate a healthy colony in the large intestine.
Plants That Contain Inulin
In nature, many plants are rich in the fiber. It is estimated that over 36,000 various plants contain the soluble fiber. The roots of plants store the substance to help the plant withstand cold, winter conditions, absorb water, provides natural resistance to enzymes, and also produce energy. Interestingly, the fructan has osmotically active properties. Its ability to absorb water is why it is often used as a weight loss tool.
The ideal way to consume prebiotic inulin in your diet is by increasing your dietary intake with fruits and vegetables. However, if that cannot be done then a daily supplement is very beneficial.
- Dandelion Root
- Green Plantains
- Sprouted Wheat
- Camus Root
- Yacon Root
- Burdock Root
- Chicory Root (contains very high levels)
- Sugar Beets
Manufactured Forms of Inulin
The health-focused supplemental marketplace has developed many ways to alter and recreate inulin for use in supplements. It is also a common ingredient in power bars, cereal bars, protein bars, and yogurt.
- Native Chicory: Chicory root contains the highest levels of inulin found in nature. The manufacturing world can effectively and efficiently extract the prebiotic from the root for use in supplements.
- HP: HP is what is known as ‘high-performance inulin’. Manufacturers can remove the shorter molecules to create a more potent form.
- Oligofructose: This form is created by removing the longer molecules.
- Fructooligosaccharides (FOS): FOS is made of short molecules that have been synthesized using common table sugar.
10 Health Benefits of Inulin
The many health benefits of the fructan are undeniable. The ancient Egyptians even turned to the substance for numerous physical conditions. They grew fields of chicory to supply the medical industry within their empire with a sufficient amount.
- Constipation: The fructans ability to readily absorb water helps reduce the likelihood of the body creating dry, hard stool. Softer, more formed, and water enriched stool is easier to pass without physical discomfort. It can be highly beneficial in elderly people suffering from frequent or chronic constipation. In a study done by researchers at the Medicosurgical Department of Digestive Diseases in Paris, France, it was found that as little as 15 grams of the water-soluble fiber improved constipation in elderly participants.
- Hemorrhoids: When mixed with water, it forms a gelatinous mass which lubricates the entire digestive tract to make stool slip through easier. The ease of the bowel movement means less straining so hemorrhoids are reduced and discomfort is all but eliminated.
- Gut Bacteria: Improving the colonies of gut bacteria ultimately aids your overall physical health by boosting your immune system, diabetes protection, reduced cholesterol, better nutrient absorption, and assistance in weight management. The bacteria in the gut also helps regulate the body’s endocrine system, protects against parasites, yeasts, and harmful bacteria. In a study done by researchers at the Université Catholique de Louvain, in Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium, it was found that a bowel with a flourishing colony of bacteria reduced the risk of carcinomas of the colon and inflammatory bowel diseases.
- Appetite Suppressant: Fiber has been shown to help people lose weight. It provides a feeling of fullness and overall satisfaction. Fructan fills up the bowel and slows the passage of food through the digestive system which reduces the feeling of hunger and cravings.
- Calcium Absorption: Beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract perform many functions in the body. One of the key functions is believed to be the absorption of calcium in the system. Prebiotics assists the good bacteria by supplying them with nutrients so they can flourish. If the body has sufficient calcium, it may reduce the likelihood of osteoporosis, especially in women. During puberty, calcium absorption is key in developing good and healthy bone growth that is helpful later in life. Magnesium absorption is also dramatically improved.
- Diabetes: The fructan is believed to reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes. Sufferers of type II diabetes also showed improved glycemic control and increased antioxidant activity when taking the substance. Liver fat, which is common in diabetes sufferers, is also reduced. As little as 10 grams of the soluble fiber per day has been shown to prevent diabetes and also greatly assists those who already suffer from the disorder. Diabetes sufferers often experience an A1c drop of 10 percent after adding the beneficial soluble fiber to their diet plan.
- Cardiac Health: Naturally lowers blood triglycerides and cholesterol which prevents heart disease and the possibility of stroke.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Colitis and Crohn’s disease both cause serious inflammation in the colon. In severe cases of Crohn’s, sufferers often have to undergo numerous surgeries to remove inflamed sections of the colon to prevent life-threatening bowel obstructions. It is believed that fructan helps the good bacteria in the colon grow and strengthen which assists the colon in reducing the inflammation brought on from the disorders.
- Colon Cancer: Colon cancer can occur for a variety of reasons such as genetics, but in many cases, physicians believe the that it is caused by chronic inflammation and cell changes. Fructan effectively prevents inflammation and cell changes which can lead to cancer of the colon.
- Fatty Liver Disease: Appears to protect against Fatty Liver Disease.
Possible Side Effects
Inulin appears to be safe when taken in small doses. However, people who have an intolerance to FODMAPs or ragweed may suffer from side effects.
Side effects include:
- Excessive Flatulence
- Loose Stools
- Abdominal Pain
- Bloating Discomfort
Oligofructose has been shown to cause extreme flatulence and bloating in some people who take 10 grams per day.
Chicory root may cause stomach discomfort in some people when taken a 7.5-gram dose.
It is suggested that you start out with a low dosage and gradually increase if your body does not experience any discomfort. Usually, natural forms of the fructan that are consumed in dietary foods do not cause the disorders that some people experience with supplements.
When first taking inulin, it is suggested that you start out at a low dosage and gradually increase the levels over time. Ideally, you should initially begin taking 2 to 3 grams per day over the course of one to two weeks before increasing the dosage. You should slowly increase your dosage by 1 to 2 grams until you reach 10 grams per day. If you already consume a well-rounded diet then you need to be getting about 10 to 15 grams of fiber naturally so adding a fructan supplement of 10 grams per day brings your overall dietary fiber intake to 20 to 25 grams. Many physicians recommend that people consume 20 to 35 grams of overall fiber per day.
Ways to Take Inulin
Powder Form: Readily available in powder form, you simply mix the powder with any liquid, such as water or juice, and then drink it. You will need to drink it quickly before the soluble fiber forms a gelatinous mass which is difficult to swallow.
Prebiotics: Fructan is readily available in many probiotic supplements that contain prebiotics. Be sure to read the label of your probiotics closely to determine if it contains prebiotics and in what dosage.
Fiber Formulas: Many dietary fiber formulas that are labeled as cereals, meal replacements, or bars contain some form of inulin. Read the label closely to determine if the soluble fiber is truly an ingredient. Remember that it can be listed as chicory root or some other form.
What Does Inulin Taste Like?
Most people cannot even taste the fructan. Its colorless and odorless. Some people do report a slightly sweet taste. Its relatively tasteless nature makes it easy to add to fruit juices to quickly consume. The fructan can also be added to baked goods, oatmeal, smoothies, and other foods.
Adding inulin to your daily diet is an excellent way to improve your fiber intake. It is relatively low cost and easy to consume. Overall, adding it to your diet will improve your digestive function and fight leaky gut.