By Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., author of Eat Your Way to Happiness, and medical advisory board member for Persona Nutrition
You probably have heard of fiber. But have you heard of inulin? It’s worth a look, because this new kid on the nutrient block has some important health benefits.
Inulin is a group of carbohydrate-like substances found in a variety of foods, from garlic, onions, and leeks to bananas, artichokes, asparagus, and whole wheat. Chicory root is the richest source of inulin, so is the primary source for inulin in supplements and fortified foods. It has a creamy and sweet texture, so it is used in foods as a fat and/or sugar replacer and to improve texture. (1,2)
Digestive Health Benefits
The inulin story begins with gut health. Your gut environment, called the microbiome, contains a population of tens of thousands of different good and bad bacteria. The right balance is important for gut health and to protect the body from disease. The healthy bacteria are called probiotics and include lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. Inulin is what the experts call a “prebiotic,” which means it is fermented in the GI tract and supports a healthy microbiome by encouraging the growth and activity of these probiotics.* For example, inulin can help relieve constipation in everyone from kids to seniors, it may reduce GI infections and inflammation. (1-8)
But, that’s just the tip of the nutritional iceberg. Inulin is a soluble fiber, so it slows digestion and allows carbohydrates and sugars to be released slowly into the blood stream. This helps stabilize blood sugar and maintain normal blood sugar levels. (9) In addition, inulin improves the absorption of several nutrients, including calcium and magnesium, and may be useful in increasing bone density. (7-9) Saving the best for last – being a soluble fiber, inulin helps slow digestion, increase feelings of fullness, and suppresses appetite, so is a worthwhile addition to the diet for those trying to maintain or lose weight. (10,11)
Just don’t overdo it (think, “the key to success is balance”)! Like any fiber, inulin can cause gas and bloating, especially if you jump into a fiber-rich diet too soon. If a fiber-rich diet is new to you, then drink lots of water and start with a small dose of 2 to 3 grams of inulin a day. For easy reference, Persona’s Adult Immune Support Prebiotic gummy vitamin contains 3.6 grams of inulin per day through chicory root powder. Even if you do experience some bloating or gas, the symptoms subside with use and are most common when intake is high, such as 30 grams a day. Of course, like any supplement, if you have concerns or questions about inulin fiber, always discuss them with your doctor.
Inulin is just one ingredient in a healthful life. You’ll stack the deck in favor of living a long and healthful life if you also pack the plate with colorful fruits and vegetables, 100% whole grains, legumes, and other unprocessed foods; fill in the nutritional gaps with a personalized supplement program designed specifically for you; exercise daily; and sleep well.
*The combined effect of probiotics and prebiotics is called synbiotics.