Inulin is a natural prebiotic found in a number of food sources. Due to its benefits and versatility, you can now find it in more supplements and fortified foods.
In a nutshell, inulin is a form of fiber and prebiotic. Chicory root is the most common source of inulin. All prebiotics are fiber, but not all fiber is a prebiotic.
Prebiotics are special compounds that help the microbiome in your gut by encouraging the growth of good bacteria. These microorganisms, cannot survive without nourishment. Foods high in prebiotics, such as inulin, can help those microorganisms to flourish.
The body does not produce digestive enzymes that break down inulin. Instead, it goes through the digestive system to the large intestine, where it nourishes gut bacteria, rather than being digested in the stomach and small intestine.
The daily recommendation of fiber is anywhere from 20-35g. The average adult only gets about half of this recommended dose. So, it is good to understand which foods contain fiber and the benefits of prebiotic fiber in the diet.
Below we discuss how inulin works as a prebiotic, where you can get it, and what other health benefits it might have.
Inulin encourages the growth of the good bacteria that keeps your gut healthy, like Bifidobacterium. These are organic, probiotic bacteria that maintain microbiome balance and prevent bad bacteria from growing.
Inulin also acts as a prebiotic. It has a non-digestible dietary element that nourishes the healthy bacteria in your intestines.
There are trillions of helpful bacteria in the human body called probiotics. Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus are common beneficial bacteria that live in the intestine.
They ferment complex carbohydrates that can't be digested in the upper gut, releasing short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, which are important for our health. Bifidobacterium feed on inulin, which boosts their development and activity.
It operates like a time-release probiotic, which survives the stomach and provides good bacteria to your gut.
The complex bonds of Inulin make them unable to be digested by the body. As a result, they move slowly through the colon and absorb more water, which aids in the formation of softer stools.
Inulin can contain anywhere from 2 to 60 fructose molecules bound together. When inulin includes more than 10 fructose molecules strung together, it’s referred to as “high-performance inulin.”
The shorter chains are eliminated from the product when they’re commercially produced. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are chains that comprise fewer than ten molecules.
Manufacturers use FOS to add fiber to diets as it has a pleasant, sweet flavor.
It Keeps You Full
Fiber is a carbohydrate that the body cannot digest, but is required for good health. It passes through the intestines undigested and into the colon. While undigested, fiber can help the body to regulate sugars, promote satiety, and regulate bowel movements. Prebiotic fiber will have the additional benefit of feeding the good bacteria in your gut.
Inulin contains soluble fiber. This means that as it moves through the digestive tract, it draws water into the intestine to soften stool and support regular bowel movements. This process can also make you feel fuller longer as it moves slowly through the gut.
Between 15,000 and 36,000 species of bacteria live in your gut. Only a small percentage of bacteria in the body can actually cause harm. Probiotic microorganisms can provide you with many health benefits.
Inulin helps some of these good bacteria multiply. It also improves digestion by raising the number of beneficial bacteria in the stomach, including Bifidobacterium and Lactobacilli, which do a lot of the hard work breaking down our meals.
These bacteria aid in the fight against harmful bacteria, preventing infection.
Inulin also makes your bowel movements more frequent. Inulin slows digestion overall, allowing the body to absorb nutrients from the food you eat more effectively.
Lowers Risk of Diabetes
Research shows that inulin can help to control blood sugar levels in individuals with diabetes and prediabetes.
However, this may be dependent on the type of inulin you use. The high-performance (HP) kind could be particularly useful. HP inulin, for example, was found to reduce fat in the liver of people with prediabetes in one study.
This is relevant because some studies suggest that treating fatty liver can reduce insulin resistance and potentially reverse type 2 diabetes.
In another study, females with type 2 diabetes were given 10 g of HP inulin per day. Their fasting blood sugar dropped by an average of 8.5 percent, while hemoglobin A1c, a measure for long-term blood sugar control, dropped by 10.4 percent.
Several studies show that inulin may also aid in weight loss.
In one study looking at weight loss, individuals with prediabetes consumed either inulin or cellulose fiber for 18 weeks. Between 9 and 18 weeks, those who took inulin lost significantly more weight.
Another study showed that a snack bar containing inulin reduced appetite and food consumption in 125 overweight and obese adults.
In clinical research involving 21 overweight, but otherwise healthy participants, adding inulin into food products lowered appetite and boosted energy.
However, there’s no evidence that it can lower calorie intake in studies of children who are overweight or obese.
Inulin may help to lower cholesterol. A short study of 22 males showed that pasta containing inulin lowered blood triglycerides by 22.2% while boosting good cholesterol by 35.9%.
In another study, an inulin-enriched soymilk lowered total cholesterol by 6.6% in over 200 adults with high cholesterol levels.
Other Potential Benefits
Absorption of Magnesium and Calcium
Inulin fiber boosts the absorption of certain minerals in the intestine, specifically calcium and magnesium.
Magnesium is a mineral that the body needs for numerous metabolic functions that keep neuron and muscle function, blood sugar levels, bone health and blood pressure stable.
Calcium is equally important. It promotes bone health and aids the neurological system's communication with the body.
Studies show that inulin supplementation for one year can enhance calcium and magnesium absorption. This directly affected bone mineral density in 98 adolescents when compared to controls.
In another trial, supplemental inulin intervention enhanced bone calcium absorption (although only in 32 out of 48 teenagers).
Mice that were given inulin during pregnancy had thicker bones than mice given a standard diet or a calcium-enriched diet. When compared to the offspring of mice in the other groups, the offspring of mice given inulin had higher bone mineral density.
Inflammatory bowel conditions may be caused by the inability to tolerate resident gut bacteria, according to studies in humans and animals.
In such circumstances, prebiotics like inulin can help to lower gastrointestinal inflammation.
In a small trial, 19 people with ulcerative colitis took dietary inulin, and it reduced indigestion symptoms and intestinal inflammation (measured as stool calprotectin levels).
Inulin supplements are available in capsule and powder form. You can also consume inulin through food sources that naturally contain it.
Inulin is regarded as safe for human intake in any amount. It’s highly unlikely that it will cause an allergic reaction.
You may experience some stomach discomfort when you first start taking inulin, such as increased gas or loose stools.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) patients may be more vulnerable to the abdominal discomfort caused by inulin prebiotic fiber. For this reason, those on a low-FODMAP diet (typically for IBS) are recommended to avoid inulin-rich foods.
Inulin in the diet caused liver cancer in mice, but only in those who had a microbial gut imbalance. It exacerbated microbial imbalance and elevated the risk of liver cancer when combined with a high-fat diet.
Further research on human participants is necessary to support these findings.
When introducing it into your diet, drink plenty of water and start with small amounts. This will help prevent any digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
Adults have traditionally taken inulin supplements in amounts of 10-40 grams per day, taken by mouth for 4-8 weeks. There are a variety of other supplements available.
Do not take a supplement unless you have consulted with a qualified healthcare provider on whether the product is suitable for your individual needs. This will help to determine the optimal product and dosage for a specific problem.
Chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, onions, wheat, garlic, leeks, oats, and soybeans all contain inulin.
Foods can also be fortified with fiber. Some people also use it to replace bad fats and sugar in food, as well as to improve the texture of the dish.
Inulin Prebiotic FAQs
How much inulin is too much?
The recommended amount of inulin per day is 10-40 grams. It's a good idea to start with a smaller dose and gradually increase. Check with your healthcare provider regarding the specific dosage for your individual needs.
Eating inulin-rich meals is unlikely to put you over the recommended limit, but pay attention to how you feel in terms of digestive comfort.
Is Inulin safe during pregnancy?
Do not take any supplement during pregnancy without consulting your healthcare provider first.
What is inulin powder?
These supplements are available in powder form, chewables or as capsules. Agave, artichokes, and chicory root can all be used to make inulin supplements.
Though inulin is beneficial as a fiber source and a prebiotic, the majority of your fiber should come from whole foods that also contain other nutrients. The goal is to consume 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day rather than using supplements.
Concentrate on getting enough fiber in general rather than focusing particularly on inulin sources. Including a variety of plant-based items in your diet will help you receive inulin as well as other types of fiber.
If you're attempting to lose weight or increase calcium absorption, I recommend starting with the basics before including high-inulin foods and beverages or supplements into your daily routine. You may be recommended supplementation unrelated to fiber.
Eat plenty of non-starchy veggies, improve your overall fiber intake, ingest lean protein sources, and drink plenty of water. Then consider whether a fiber supplement is something that could benefit your diet.
Did you find our blog helpful? Then consider checking:
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- Which Probiotic Should I Take?
- Probiotics With Antibiotics
- Probiotics Side Effects
- Difference Between Prebiotic And Probiotic
- Probiotic Foods
- Probiotics For Vaginal Health
- Benefits Of Probiotics For Women
- Probiotics for Kids
- Best Probiotic for Men
- Understanding Probiotics and the Human Microbiome
This blog is for information and education purposes only. This information is not intended to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions in regards to a medical condition. A qualified healthcare professional can best assist you in deciding whether a dietary supplement is suitable based on your individual needs.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.