The Health Benefits of Inulin

Inulin: Benefits, Dosage, Side Effects, Preparation, and Storage

Inulin is a type of fermentable fiber that is found naturally in the roots of many foods, such as whole wheat, onions, garlic, and artichokes, and is commonly extracted from chicory root and added to foods. Dietary fibers can promote gut health, increase feelings of fullness, aid in weight loss, and improve heart health by reducing cholesterol.

Inulin is a type of oligosaccharide called a fructan. Fructans are a chain of fructose (sugar) molecules strung together. Inulin is fermented by bacteria that normalize the colon and is considered a prebiotic. Prebiotics may improve gastrointestinal health as well as potentially enhance calcium absorption.

Health Benefits

Inulin is considered a functional food, and adding it to your diet may improve your health. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines functional foods as "whole foods along with fortified, enriched or enhanced foods that have a potentially beneficial effect on health when consumed as part of a varied diet on a regular basis at effective levels based on significant standards of evidence."

Gut Health

Inulin is classified as a prebiotic because of its ability to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria such as Bifidobacteria. Increasing the number of good bacteria in your gut can help to decrease the number of bad bacteria that can lead to a variety of symptoms including inflammation and reduced nutrient absorption.

Over the past decade, the health of your gut (commonly referred to as the gut microbiome) has become a very popular area of developing research. Researchers are now discovering the gut's role in metabolism, immune defense, and behavior. Consuming adequate amounts of inulin can promote bowel health by regulating bowel habits and promoting gut health.

Blood Sugar Control

Some animal studies have suggested that inulin fibers may protect or delay type 1 diabetes in mice by modulating the immune response and improving gut health. Additionally, in a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers determined that supplementation with inulin-type fructans (ITF) helped to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol.

They found that supplementation with ITF helped to lower fasting blood sugar, reduce fasting insulin, and improve good (HDL) cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes.

While researchers suggest that more studies need to be provided to reach a definitive conclusion, they believe that overall, inulin supplementation may improve cholesterol and glucose metabolism.

Weight and Appetite Control

Fiber is the zero-calorie indigestible part of carbohydrate that helps to keep us full by slowing down the rate at which food empties into our stomach. Inulin, a type of fiber, may also help to control appetite by increasing feelings of fullness. It is thought that this occurs due to short chain fatty acids and their ability to increase appetite suppressing hormones such as glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1).

Research has shown that supplementing with inulin may help to reduce appetite and overall calorie intake in children with overweight and obesity.

A randomized control trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that supplementation with 8 grams oligofructose-enriched inulin reduced appetite and overall calorie intake in children with overweight and obesity. In another systematic review conducted on randomized control trials featuring adolescents and adults, the verdict was mixed. Some studies found that supplementation with inulin helped to reduce body weight, while others did not.

It appears that inulin supplementation may be a good way to help increase feelings of fullness, which inherently may influence weight loss.

Calcium Absorption

Calcium is an important mineral that has many roles, including, bone and teeth formation, blood vessel relaxation and constriction, nerve assistance, muscle movement, and hormone balance, to name a few. Some studies suggest that inulin may aid in the absorption of calcium. This may be of particular importance for people with absorption impairment due to physiological reasons.

Contraindications

Inulin is a short-chain carbohydrate that is poorly absorbed in the intestine, rapidly fermented by bacteria in the bowel, and draws extra water into the intestine. For those people who have gastrointestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), supplementing or eating foods rich in inulin can be problematic.

Many people with IBS benefit from eating a low FODMAP diet. A low FODMAP diet restricts certain types of carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are defined as fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (hence the acronym FODMAP).

If you have been told to follow a low FODMAP diet, then you will likely need to avoid inulin. There is a chance you will be able to add it back into your diet if you find out it is not an offender. Working with a registered dietitian who specializes in this type of dietary regimen is recommended.

Allergies

If you are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, or daisies, you should avoid inulin derived from chicory root because it belongs to the same family.

Potential Side Effects

Inulin can cause several gastrointestinal side effects including:

  • Diarrhea of increased bowel movements
  • Bloating and/or flatulence (gas)
  • Abdominal cramping

To reduce the chance of experiencing these side effects make sure to:

  • Discuss supplementation with your physician before beginning
  • Start slow and increase intake gradually
  • Drink adequate fluids

What to Look For

Most Americans are falling short of meeting the recommended 25 to 38 grams of fiber daily or 14 grams for every 1,000 calories per day. Your exact needs may vary depending on your energy needs. However, we know that eating a high fiber diet has a host of benefits, including aiding in weight loss, lowering blood cholesterol, improving blood sugar, and benefiting your gut.

When you are looking to increase your fiber intake, it's always a good idea to eat a wide range of whole fibrous foods- fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. This will assure that you are including all different types of fibers in your diet and will reduce the chance of adding unwanted sodium and sugar.

Different types of fiber yield different benefits—some work on lowering cholesterol, while others can increase the health of your gut. Therefore, eating a variety is important.

If you are looking for foods that contain inulin specifically, you can find a good amount in:

  • Wheat products (look for 100 percent whole wheat for whole grains and a less processed product)
  • Asparagus
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Artichokes
  • Bananas
  • Herbs (cinnamon, parsley, powdered red chili peppers, ground black pepper)

Adding Inulin to Food Products

Food companies add inulin to processed foods, too. Inulin has no calories and can function as a fat substitute in margarine and salad dressings. In baked goods, it maybe used to add fiber and can substitute for some flour without affecting the taste and texture.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working to ensure that the types of dietary fibers added to foods provide a health benefit. It has provisionally approved inulin as one of these fibers. If you are looking for a food with added inulin, the label will likely list "inulin or chicory root fiber" as an ingredient.

Keep in mind that just because inulin is added to a food, it doesn't make it a health food. Make sure to evaluate the whole product before purchasing.

Inulin supplement: Should you consider taking an inulin supplement, you'll find it available in powder form, chewable (mostly gummies), and capsule form. The inulin maybe extracted from artichokes, agave, or chicory root. Labels state claims such as "prebiotic," "intestinal health," "weight control," and more. While inulin is healthy for you and has been shown to be useful in these areas, remember that these statements have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

If you are looking for a supplement to boost your fiber needs, aim to choose one that comes from a reputable source and perhaps one that is organic. This will assure better quality and reduce the risk of adulteration or added impurities.

Storage, Dosage, and Preparation

Foods rich in inulin should be stored using best practices for preventing spoilage. Eating a variety of fiber rich foods can assure that you'll get your daily fiber needs. A good way to assure you are eating a wide range of foods is to:

  • Aim to eat one fruit or vegetable at every meal.
  • Choose whole grains daily (aim for at least 3 servings) of whole grain bread, oats, quinoa, barley, bulgur, brown rice, farro, wheatberries, and more.
  • Eat a serving of nuts or seeds daily.
  • Make 1/2 of your plate non-starchy vegetables.
  • Snack on fiber rich foods like whole grain air-popped popcorn, carrots with hummus or guacamole, whole fruit with nut butter, and more.

The amount of fiber you should ingest per day ranges based on age, gender, and your overall calorie needs. Most people should get around 25 to 38 grams of fiber daily. This is overall fiber and not inulin specifically.

If you are supplementing with inulin most servings will provide around 2 to 3 grams of fiber per serving. Keep that in mind when thinking about your overall fiber intake. Check labels on preparation, which will depend on the form of supplement. Most powders can be incorporated into shakes, beverages, or baked goods.

Adding inulin powder to baked goods may add a hint of sweetness as well as boost the fiber and prebiotic properties of breads, muffins, cakes, and other baked goods.

Before starting any supplement consult with your health care team. When adding fiber sources like inulin to your diet, you should do so slowly and drink adequate amounts of fluid to prevent constipation, gas, and bloating.

Other Questions

What will it say on the nutrition label if a food product has added inulin?

Inulin can be added to foods such as yogurt, protein bars, and cereals. If inulin is added to a food, it can be identified on an ingredient list by name (chicory root extract, inulin, oligosaccharide, and oligofructose).

Can I ingest too much inulin?

Too much fiber can cause gas, flatulence, and overall abdominal discomfort. In severe cases, excessive fiber intake can cause abdominal obstruction. Overdoing it on fiber can also cause issues with mineral absorption. Additionally, too much of one particular fiber, (in this case, inulin) can cause an imbalance in your gut, creating more gastrointestinal side effects.

The best way to prevent overconsumption is to a eat a varied fiber rich diet focused on whole foods. If you are struggling to meet your fiber needs, consider supplementing, but do so slowly and ask your physician first.

A Word From Verywell

Inulin is a type of fiber that has many beneficial properties. Eating a diet rich in inulin through food and supplementation may help to improve weight, cholesterol, and gut health. To start, begin by adding more fiber rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes, to your diet. Doing so can increase your nutrition profile and reduce the risk of adding extra sugar and sodium that foods enhanced with inulin may have.

If you are looking to add inulin in capsule, gummy, or powder form consult with your physician before doing so. Think about your overall fiber intake and how much inulin you need to meet your recommended fiber needs.

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