Although you may not be familiar with inulin, it’s pretty much everywhere.
Inulin is created by plants and is then used as an energy source by them. This prebiotic dietary fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is not digested by your body, but is used as “food” by the good bacteria in your gut. Sounds promising, right? But should we jump on the inulin bandwagon or do without this natural prebiotic? Dietitian Kendra Weekley, RD, walks us through it all.
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What is inulin?
Inulin is a prebiotic fiber produced by plants. It is found in many fruits, cereals and vegetables such as:
- Artichokes, especially Jerusalem artichokes.
- Chicory root.
- Wild yams.
Inulin is frequently used as a fat substitute or as a sweetener. It can be used as an egg alternative in baked goods and added to ice cream to prevent ice crystals and reduce fat.
Inulin is also available in the form of capsules, gummies, tablets and powder. The inulin used for most of these purposes usually comes from chicory root.
The health benefits of inulin
When it comes to gut feelings, inulin seems to put things at ease. Here are some of the reported benefits.
It can help get your bowels moving
“Because it’s dietary fiber, inulin can stimulate bowel movements,” says Weekley. “Fiber helps keep our bowels regular, which is important for overall gut health. Fiber can also help get things moving, prevent constipation, and solidify loose stools. So it’s very important to balance the amount of fiber and fluids in their diet.
It can prevent overeating
Inulin is a soluble fiber. When this fiber mixes with water or other fluids in your body, it turns into a gel. This gel makes your stomach empty much slower, so you end up feeling full for longer. “Fiber helps us stay full and stabilizes our blood sugar. It can prevent us from overeating and help us make better food choices,” says Weekley.
It could help prevent several health problems
According to Weekley, some studies have shown that inulin may help repair the gut microbiome (a network of tiny microorganisms in your intestines that help control digestion and other functions) when damaged by health conditions like type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, obesity and prolonged appetite suppression. She adds that in addition to stabilizing blood sugar, inulin may help lower cholesterol and lower your risk of certain types of cancers, like other types of fiber.
It could give your sanity a boost
Some studies have shown that adding inulin to your diet can increase the variety of good bacteria in your gut, which can lead to a healthy gastrointestinal tract. “Many studies have connected a healthy gut to a healthy mind. Some have even stated that a diverse microbiome and healthy bowel habits may be linked to reduced anxiety and depression,” says Weekley.
side effects of inulin
Inulin is safe for most, but Weekley says too much could cause uncomfortable side effects for some, including:
- Uncomfortable bloating.
She adds that artificial sources of inulin can make certain conditions worse, such as irritable bowel syndrome. So before you start taking an inulin supplement, talk to your health care provider to avoid any potential problems.