Let’s talk inulin - what is it? (And note it is INULIN - not insulin) Is it healthy for me? Can I add it to my food or coffee? Well first of all, inulin is a starchy substance found naturally in many fruits and vegetables (onion, bananas, leeks, artichokes, and asparagus). When used as an additive in foods it is often extracted from chicory root. It is sometimes considered similar to fiber, however currently it does not fall into this category, per the FDA. It has many similar characteristics leading the researchers to believe it is considered a fiber source. However, that is a topic of discussion for another day.
How Might Inulin or Fiber Affect Me?
Inulin is unable to be digested in the stomach (just like other fiber sources), so when it makes it to the large intestine it can often elicits undesirable gastrointestinal effects (increased bloating, gas, cramping, etc.). This happens because inulin has been found to ferment much faster than other fibers, and through this fermentation process, it produces Bifidobacteria which makes it a prebiotic.
Some People Do Need Extra Fiber in Their Diets
The above information may be overwhelming, hard to decipher, and you may be asking yourself what does this all mean? Americans under consume fiber. The American population is very fast paced making it so anything that is readily available but still “healthy” seem very attractive. Much like the various fiber bars out there which allow you to reach your fiber needs in a convenient way, there are now many inulin powders on the market that can be added to smoothies or even coffee. Is this really as convenient as you may think?
Natural Fibers Give Us the Most Benefits
In reality, you could eat a few extra fruits, vegetables, and whole grains a day and still get the fiber you need! For example, eat a bowl of oatmeal with a handful of fresh or frozen berries while you enjoy your morning coffee. Or, throw spinach into your smoothies! It may change the color of your smoothie but it masks the taste of the spinach itself. Alongside these other fiber sources, you will receive many other key benefits from the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in these fresh foods.
The fiber in our diets should come from a variety of places. When you are in a time crunch reaching for that fiber bar isn’t a bad option, but it shouldn’t be your only option. An overabundance of inulin may cause that gastrointestinal discomfort. It may take more planning on your part but it will be worth it in the end!
If you have additional questions reach out to one of our CHI Health Registered Dietitians.