Inulin & Food: Are You Eating Inulin Unknowingly?

Friday, December 15, 2006 - 9:37am

By Allison Stevens, MS, RD

Practically everyone knows about fiber and its importance for digestive health. But have you ever heard of inulin? Increasingly used by food manufacturers in processed foods, you’re probably eating more inulin than you think. Here are some facts about this little-known dietary fiber.

What is inulin?

Inulin is a specific type of dietary fiber that is naturally found in hundreds of common foods such as leeks, artichokes, asparagus, onions, garlic, bananas, wheat, rye, and…chicory root. Do you eat chicory root? Before you answer no, you may want to take a closer look at some of your food labels. Although this hearty root is not usually eaten in its natural form, chicory root is the source used for the inulin added to processed foods.

Inulin has excellent nutritional and functional characteristics and can be used to replace fat, flour, and sugar. Want to know if your favorite packaged foods contain inulin? Read the ingredients list and look for the word ‘chicory root’ or ‘inulin.’ This fiber is popping up in everything from cereals and granola bars to yogurt and cookies.

Health benefits of inulin

When food manufacturers choose a fiber to add to foods, they have many types to choose from. Some examples of fiber include oat bran, cellulose, and wheat bran. All of these fibers are indigestible by the body and can help slow digestion, making you feel full longer. Inulin may offer more health benefits than other fibers. Here’s a list of some of its benefits:

1.   Inulin promotes healthy gut bacteria

Pre- and pro-biotics are ‘good’ bacteria that help maintain gut health. Inulin is a probiotic. Foods like yogurt contain probiotics. Prebiotics serve as food for probiotics. In this way, inulin is part of a chain of bacteria that keeps your gut healthy and alleviates digestive problems.

2.   Improve your digestive functions with inulin

Like other fibers, inulin helps digestion, prevents constipation, and keeps you regular. A large reason for this is because of its probiotic properties.

3.   Inulin can help manage diabetes

Because inulin is not digested, it does not affect glucose levels. This makes it an appropriate food for diabetics. It is not counted as carbohydrate intake.

4.   Improved bone health with inulin

Preliminary studies suggest that adding inulin to calcium-rich foods like yogurt may boost calcium absorption. This is good news for your bones!

Find Inulin and other Fiber Supplements:

- Inulin Powder
- Probiotic Supplements
- Fiber Supplements

Inulin supplements

There are lots of fiber supplements on the market. Just like with food, manufacturers use various fiber sources to create these supplements; some use inulin. Although fiber supplements help some people, it’s generally recommended to eat high-fiber, whole foods. When you eat real foods, you get all kinds of additional nutrients that you miss when you take a pill.

For further information on how to best include fiber in your healthy diet see the following article from TheDietChannel: What's The Best Source of Fibre: Pills or Food?

Is more inulin better?

As with anything, remember that more is not necessarily better. There are no reports of inulin toxicity. However, it is still best to stick with foods naturally high in inulin such as onions, artichokes, bananas, asparagus, and garlic. These foods have centuries behind them to prove they are safe to eat.