What is Inulin?
Published June 25, 2015
We could all use digestive support from time to time, especially if we’re not consuming a high-quality diet. For a healthy stomach and digestive tract, inulin is a must. While you can’t digest this water-soluble dietary fiber, you won’t feel good without it. It’s found in many natural plant foods and is known as a prebiotic, and recent research indicates it has much more far-reaching effects than just keeping your tummy happy.
What Inulin Does
This dietary fiber survives your stomach acid and passes into the small intestine. Along the way it mixes with water, ferments, and then becomes food for life-supporting probiotic bacteria of the large intestine. This bacteria includes things like bifidobacterium and lactobacilli. When you keep bacteria like these fed, they keep out unwanted bacteria like E. coli and Clostridium difficile and fungus like Candida.
Benefits of Inulin
Inulin has many researched benefits, including weight, cholesterol, and blood sugar support. Here are a few of the many benefits you can get from inulin.
While inulin can help with weight loss, it’s not the entire picture. Eating healthy and exercise are also key components. When it comes to inulin and weight loss, a healthy digestive tract–and the symbiotic bacteria inulin promotes–moves the nutrients you need into your bloodstream and gets the toxins through so they do as little damage as possible. One study of 30 obese women found those who took inulin restored healthy bacteria and created a positive change on metabolites linked to obesity. 
A study of 49 women with diabetes reported those who took inulin responded better to sugar, had lower glycemic levels, and increased antioxidant activity.  While more research is needed, the importance of a healthy gut can’t be understated.
Keeps You Regular
You’ve probably heard how important fiber is for being regular. For the best outcomes, you want to get fiber, like inulin, to keep your gut bacteria fresh. In a study of elderly volunteers who took 15 grams of chicory root daily, researchers found that participants experienced improved digestion, fewer problems with constipation, and an easier time with bowel movements. 
How Much Inulin Do You Need?
There is no set limit for how much inulin you can have, or really how much you need. Typically, you want to eat inulin-rich foods every day to keep your digestive tract healthy and working right. If you’ve been taking antibiotics, you will want to increase inulin and maybe even supplement with the compound to replenish the intestinal bacteria that antibiotics wipe out. Alcohol, processed, sugary foods, and fried foods also kill off the healthy intestinal bacteria you need. So if you’re trying to right your diet, lose weight or overcome IBS or IBD, you will want to increase your inulin intake.
Great Sources of Inulin
Inulin can be obtained through supplements; however, it is always best to get the ingredient closest to its natural source as possible. The best natural food sources of inulin include bananas, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, leeks, onions, garlic, and chicory and dandelion root. Many supplements feature chicory as their source of inulin. Fun fact: chicory root and dandelion root are commonly used in herbal coffee formulations for their bitter flavors and rich dark colors.
If your diet’s been high in processed foods and sugars, start slow. Too much of this dietary fiber too quickly can lead to bloating, gas, diarrhea, and intestinal discomfort like IBS. But this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat foods high in inulin. If natural, real foods–like bananas–upsets your stomach, it likely means your system is out of whack. Starting with an inulin supplement allows you to control how much you get and avoid the unpleasant side effects commonly associated with this essential dietary fiber.
-Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
- Dewulf EM1, Cani PD, Claus SP, Fuentes S, Puylaert PG, Neyrinck AM, Bindels LB, de Vos WM, Gibson GR, Thissen JP, Delzenne NM. Insight into the prebiotic concept: lessons from an exploratory, double blind intervention study with inulin-type fructans in obese women. Gut. 2013 Aug;62(8):1112-21. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2012-303304.
- Pourghassem Gargari B1, Dehghan P, Aliasgharzadeh A, Asghari Jafar-Abadi M. Effects of high performance inulin supplementation on glycemic control and antioxidant status in women with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Metab J. 2013 Apr;37(2):140-8. doi: 10.4093/dmj.2013.37.2.140.
- Marteau P1, Jacobs H, Cazaubiel M, Signoret C, Prevel JM, Housez B. Effects of chicory inulin in constipated elderly people: a double-blind controlled trial. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2011 Mar;62(2):164-70. doi: 10.3109/09637486.2010.527323.
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