While you might 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’s not digested in your body, but is used as “food” by your gut’s good bacteria. Sounds promising, right? But should you hop on the inulin train or pass this natural prebiotic on by? Registered dietitian Kendra Weekley, RD, breaks it all down for us.
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What is inulin?
Inulin is a prebiotic fiber that’s produced by plants. It’s found in many fruits, grains and vegetables like:
- Artichokes, specifically Jerusalem artichokes.
- Chicory root.
- Wild yams.
Inulin is frequently used as a fat substitute or sweetener. It can be used as an alternative to eggs in baked goods and added to ice cream to prevent ice crystals and reduce the amount of fat.
Inulin is available in capsule, gummy, tablet and powder forms, too. The inulin that’s used for most of these purposes tends to come 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 is dietary fiber, inulin can stimulate bowel movements,” says Weekley. “Fiber helps keep our bowels regular, which is important for overall intestinal health. Fiber can also help get things moving, prevent constipation and solidify loose stools. So, it is very important to balance of amount fiber and fluid in one’s 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 fuller longer. “Fiber helps keep us full and stabilizes our blood sugars. This can prevent us from over-eating and help us make better food choices,” Weekley says.
It might help prevent several health concerns
According to Weekley, some studies have shown that inulin can help repair the gut microbiome (a network of tiny microorganisms in your intestines that help control digestion and other functions) when it’s been damaged by health conditions like Type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases, obesity and prolonged appetite suppression. She adds that in addition to stabilizing blood sugars, inulin can help lower cholesterol and reduce your risk for certain types of cancers, like other types of fiber can.
It could give your mental health a boost
Some studies have found that adding inulin into 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 stooling patterns can be linked to reduced anxiety and depression,” says Weekley.
Side effects of inulin
Inulin is safe for the most part, but Weekley says that too much of it might cause uncomfortable side effects for some, including:
- Uncomfortable bloating.
She adds that artificial sources of inulin can aggravate some conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. So, before you start taking an inulin supplement, talk to your healthcare provider to avoid any potential problems.