Heart, Weight loss, Constipation | May 22, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Inulin is a carbohydrate, derived from plants, that is not digested or absorbed in the small intestine but instead fermented in the intestines by good bacteria. It functions as a prebiotic—stimulating the growth of bifidobacteria while at the same time modulating the levels of other beneficial bacteria that make up the gut microbial ecosystem.
Inulin has been associated with a number of other benefits which include normalising healthy gastrointestinal function by relieving constipation, preventing colon cancer, reducing absorption of cholesterol and preventing infection from parasites, yeast and bacteria. Inulin helps to provide protection from fatty liver disease and obesity and improves the metabolism of fats. An unexpected benefit of taking inulin is its ability to improve bone mineralization providing protection from osteoporosis.
Inulins belong to a class of dietary fibre referred to as fructans. Inulin is stored in the roots and rhizomes of plants such as chicory, wheat, garlic, bananas, onion and Jerusalem artichoke. They use inulin as a means of storing energy, allowing them to withstand cold and drought. Although these foods are healthy prebiotic foods you would need to eat a lot of them to achieve the same health benefits explored in this article.
If you’re looking at supplementing inulin into the diet, it is usually found in powder form and is commonly extracted from chicory.
Inulin has an extensive range of proven health benefits—here’s the top six.
Inulin is a source of soluble dietary fibre which helps to naturally relieve constipation. It absorbes water easily in the bowel and helps form stool that can be easily passed. Unlike other fibres inulin has a slightly sweet but neutral flavour and it dissolves tastelessly into water or other foods.
When mixed with liquid it forms a white gel with a smooth texture which help to lubricate the digestive system and is ideal for people with haemorrhoids. A recent study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition examined the effect of a chicory-derived inulin fibre supplement on stool frequency in healthy subjects with constipation. After 4 weeks of a daily intake of 12g of inulin, these healthy but constipated volunteers documented an increase in stool frequency and a stool softening affect.
In the intestine, inulins have long been known for their prebiotic activity—providing food for healthy intestinal microflora as they ferment.
They have been found to specifically increase colonies of Bifidobacterium—a well-known inhabitant of the human gut which is also present in the digestive system of an infant at birth.
This species provides various health-promoting benefits including the production of antimicrobial substances that reduce pathogens in the gut—therefore reducing infections. In addition to this, they produce large amounts of lactic acid which decrease the pH in the colon, limiting the growth of opportunistic pathogens such as yeasts, parasites and harmful bacteria which can contribute to digestive problems.
This is why inulins have been found to reduce the risk of colon cancer and improve the management of inflammatory bowel disease.
Fibre has always been hailed as a vital component of any healthy diet, particularly for weight loss or weight management. When inulin is combined with water, it expands and provides bulk in the stomach and slows the process of food emptying to the large intestine. In return this aids in decreasing appetite and cravings, helping you to feel full for longer. For weight loss try adding inulin to each meal to reduce those hunger pangs.
As inulin passes through the digestive system it works as an intestinal broom sweeping away toxins, waste, fat and cholesterol particles. This is why a high fibre diet has been linked to maintaining a healthy heart.
Soluble fibres such as inulin help to reduce many risk factors associated with heart disease and metabolic syndrome. It achieves this by lowering cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and glucose levels in the blood.
Inulin interferes with absorption of cholesterol from the diet, lowering the LDL or bad form of cholesterol. It can also reduce the incidence of fatty liver disease where excess fat molecules accumulate inside liver cells—contributing to visceral fat levels, especially around the tummy. It achieves this by producing short chain fatty acids which increase the metabolism of fats.
There are also some studies that have shown inulin to increase absorption of electrolytes—including magnesium and calcium. This is due to its beneficial effect on increasing populations of healthy bacteria in the gut responsible for various metabolic functions. This is certainly good news for people wanting to improve or maintain bone density.
A 2007 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that 6 weeks of inulin supplementation improved mineral absorption and made a positive impact on other markers of bone turnover in postmenopausal women. Interestingly, a greater response was found in women who initially had lower spine bone mineral density. Another study on adolescent girls reported a similar result, showing benefits for women of all ages.
Inulin can easily be added to foods to improve its taste, texture and health benefits. It can be used to replace sugar, fat and flour in a variety of different foods such as breads, gravy, muffins, soups and yoghurt. This allows you to enjoy lower-calorie versions of all your favourite foods. It can easily be added to hot and cold foods, even a glass of water for easy consumption.
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Micka A, et al. Effect of consumption of chicory inulin on bowel function in healthy subjects with constipation: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2017 Feb;68(1):82-89
Roberfroid MB. Inulin-type fructans: functional food ingredients. J Nutr. 2007 Nov;137)(11 Suppl):2493S-2502S
Holloway L, et al. Effects of oligofructose-enriched inulin on intestinal absorption of calcium and magnesium and bone turnover markers in postmenopausal women. Br J Nutr. 2007 Feb;97(2):365-72