What is inulin?

Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
With health recommendations pointing to the benefits of increased fiber intake as well as acknowledging those of beneficial bacteria ('probiotics'), much attention is being given to sources of fiber and prebiotic fiber. Inulin is a polyfructose (meaning several fructose chain) or fructan carbohydrate, and from a nutrition standpoint is known for its fiber and prebiotic benefits.

For humans, inulin is known as an indigestible fiber meaning that it passes through the stomach and small intestine into the large intestine which provides for its health benefits. On arrival in the large intestine, bacteria ferment the inulin, a process which produces carbon dioxide (and/or methane) and short chain fatty acids. Many of the short chain fatty acids (i.e., acetic, propionic, and butyric acids) have known health benefits from aiding hepatic cells to cancer prevention (especially for the colon) to cholesterol and insulin optimization as well as increased mineral absorption. The production of carbon dioxide and/or methane can trigger bloating and release of gas and be painful for individuals with sensitive digestive tracts or those that over consume inulin containing foods or supplements.
Inulin is a fiber source added to some food products to increase bulk and improve palatability. Although inulin is found naturally in fruits and vegetables, it is commonly obtained commercially as an extract of chicory root. Inulin can be found in yogurt, high fiber breakfast bars, bread and other similar foods. Additional studies on isolated fibers like inulin will help identify any potential health benefits of dietary fibers like inulin.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.