INULIN / CHICORY ROOT FIBER – GOOD OR BAD?
By Bethany Ugarte (aka @lilsipper)
Something that may be causing you gas, bloating, and severe cramping and diarrhea may be the same thing you’re consuming INTENTIONALLY to help with those issues! Say hello to Chicory Root Fiber (sometimes also referred to as “inulin” or “prebiotic fiber”). I talk about prebiotics being good for the gut, in the past – just stick with me!
Most likely you’ve seen “chicory root fiber” or “inulin” listed in the ingredients of your protein bar, protein powder, high fiber cereals, breads, and even in your supplements.
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS IT?
Chicory root fiber is a special type of plant-based fiber, indigestible in the human body just like all fibers. Inulin is not digested in the small intestine but instead, travels intact to the colon (large intestine) and contributes to the bulk of our stools as well as acts as food for the friendly bacteria in our guts. Inulin naturally occurs in various produce and is commonly extracted from the roots of chicory plants and added to processed foods.
Prebiotics ARE good for the gut, in its natural state (green bananas, jicama, and artichokes are just a few examples of prebiotics), but when they are extracted, broken down, manufactured, manipulated, and concentrated into a powder form, this can cause some serious issues. For example, a green banana is a prebiotic, but the entire green banana isn’t. There are other nutrients composed in it. When inulin (again, most commonly seen as “chicory root fiber”) is extracted and the prebiotic fiber is the ONLY thing left, that’s too much and A LOT for your body to handle… even if put into a bar, cereal, etc. It’s out of its natural state and is now so concentrated that it is causing more harm than good. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing.
It’s important to note, the more fermenting your gut bacteria does, the more gas it produces. So large doses of prebiotic fibers like inulin / chicory root fiber can cause gastrointestinal distress. Individuals with IBS and digestive issues can experience symptoms at even minute dose! People with “normal” digestive function may be able to tolerate 10 grams of inulin without discomfort… but think… many foods contain 15 grams of this stuff in just 1 serving! And how many Americans are eating multiple items containing this in a day?!… and all thinking it’s benefiting them!
Another reason why inulin is added to many manufactured foods and snacks is so that they claim “low carb” on the package. It’s also cheap to manufacture. Adding fiber like inulin to foods bulks up and adds substance to the product, making it:
1. Look bigger (more bang for your buck)
2. Keep the calories low without sacrificing the size.
SO, SHOULD YOU EAT IT?
I certainly cannot say do this or do that, but from my own experience, knowledge, and research, I personally only stick to inulin in its natural state.
Below is a list of a few prebiotic foods that are great to incorporate to help your friendly bacteria flourish. But remember, you don’t need a lot and you don’t need to consume them all at once. Pick 1 or 2, try them and see how you feel.
- Green/unripe bananas
Those who are allergic to ragweed should be careful, and very rarely – there are cases of “renal hypersensitivity” to inulin.
Terms to look out for when scanning the ingredients in an item are: Inulin, chicory root fiber, prebiotic fiber.
Items commonly containing inulin are:
- Energy, protein, meal replacement and granola bars
- Ready-to-drink protein shakes
- Low calorie yogurts
- Low calorie ice creams
- Non-dairy ice creams
- Non-dairy yogurts
- High fiber “anything” (cereals, breads, bars)
- Gluten-free breads, waffles, bread/waffle mixes
- Digestive and herbal teas
- Probiotic supplements, powdered fiber supplements or digestive health supplements
Final Thoughts – Each person is different. For me, chicory root fiber certainly upsets my gut and I can immediately experience the effects after consumption (hence why I don’t). But if you have no problem with it, lucky you! But for many, it’s an ingredient many don’t realize is causing them issues in the first place. My suggestion, remove it from your diet for a week. After that week, buy something (like a bar) and try it for yourself and be mindful after eating it. See what happens and how you feel. That should be your confirmation right there!
DISCLAIMER: THIS POST IS NOT MEANT TO TREAT, CURE, OR DIAGNOSE ANY ILLNESS.