Head of Healthspan Nutrition, Rob Hobson August 09, 2017

What is it?

Inulin is a type of water-soluble fiber found in certain vegetables and available as a supplement. All plant foods contain fibre, which is found in two forms.

Soluble fibre is found in foods such as oats, barley, lentils, apples and pears. It absorbs water in the gut, swells and helps to soften stools.

Insoluble fibre is found in foods such as oat bran, nuts and seeds. It adds bulk and improves the transit of stool.

Natural Sources of Inulin

Although many plants contain inulin, some foods are excellent sources. The recommended intake for inulin is at least 5g per day.

The list below includes inulin-rich foods and their estimated content per 100g.

  • Asparagus 2-3g
  • Bananas 0.3-0.7g
  • Chicory root 36-48g
  • Garlic 9-16g
  • Jerusalem artichoke 16-20g
  • Onions 1-8g

What are the health benefits of inulin?

As a fibre, inulin harnesses many of the health benefits associated with this nutrient. Inulin’s function as a prebiotic means it also has other unique gut health benefits. Food surveys in the UK have shown that Fibre intake is below the recommended 30g per day with the average person only managing to meet two thirds of this.

Inulin and digestive Health

The gut microbiota is the population of bacteria and other microbes that live in your gut. This community is highly complex, and contains both good (beneficial) and bad bacteria. Beneficial bacteria assist with digestion and absorption of your food in the gut and are involved in making vitamins essential to life. In the gut, inulin is converted into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that are then converted to healthy ketones that feed your tissues.

Having the right balance of bacteria is essential for keeping your gut healthy. Gut bacteria are thought to be closely linked to immunity and emerging research has also begun to explore the potential association between the diversity of your gut bacteria and diseases such as obesity and mental health.

If the gut is over-run with bad bacteria this can lead to bloating, diarrhea and constipation as well as impact on other areas of your health. Inulin can help promote the balance of bacteria in the gut and studies have shown that this soluble fibre can help stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria. For this reason, inulin is considered to be a prebiotic, different to a probiotic, which are strains of bacteria proven to have a beneficial effect on gut health.

Does inulin relieve constipation?

Inulin is thought to help with constipation. Research published in the journal Nutricion Hospitalaria found that people taking inulin experienced more frequent bowel movements and improved stool consistency (1). A further study of older adults found that when given 15g of inulin per day they experienced less constipation and better digestion (2)

Top tips to increase your intake of inulin

There are many ways to incorporate inulin-rich foods into your diet. Here are just a few:

  • Bananas work well in smoothies or to top yoghurt
  • Jerusalem artichokes make great dips, are a good alternative to potatoes make for interesting salad ingredients
  • Onions and garlic make a base for most home-cooked meals
  • A tomato and onion salad is easy but effective
  • Asparagus can be served as a side vegetable or added to salads and stir-frys

You can also add inulin to your diet with a supplement such as Healthspan Easy Fibre Inulin. This supplement contains inulin sourced from chicory root, which can be stirred into shakes, smoothies, juices and breakfast cereal.

Be a little bit careful though as adding a lot of fibre to your diet too quickly may cause bloating. Try and increase your intake over time to help your body adjust and minimise your risk of discomfort.

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25208775
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21091293

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