Every other day it feels like a new ingredient is being added to our favorite products. Accompanied with endless news reports, articles, and studies debating the merits of its inclusion.
One such ingredient that has been up for debate recently is inulin.
Inulin is a common, natural ingredient used in many products developed by several keto-friendly, sugar alternative companies like Sukrin USA and Swerve. For example, our Sukrin Milk Chocolates use inulin, mixed with other sweeteners to help get the same sweet taste of regular sugar, but without the aftertaste. It is also available as a supplement or ingredient in protein bars, yogurt, drinks, baked goods, and more.
But what exactly is inulin? And what are the benefits and risks of using such an ingredient?
Let us take a look at the science.
What is Inulin?
Not to be mistaken with insulin, inulin is a soluble fiber usually extracted from chicory root or other plants. Inulin occurs in 36,000 species of plants and can be commonly found in fruits and vegetables. Researchers have found inulin has been a common, naturally occurring ingredient within our food for hundreds of years (source).
As a fructan, inulin boosts good bacteria in the gut, in particular Bifidobacteria.
Bifidobacteria are found in your intestines and their main function is to digest fiber and other carbs your body cannot digest on its own. When it digests fiber it helps to produce important chemicals called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) which help reduce the risk of diseases and can also help control hunger (source).
The shorter chain inulin is what helps give that sweet, sugary flavor that helps reduce the sugar found in food and beverages, or replaces it altogether.
Benefits of Inulin
It is recommended that the average adult should consume about 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber a day. However, only a select few are lucky to get more than 15 to 20 grams of dietary fiber a day (source). Dietary fiber is instrumental in improving digestive health.
As mentioned before, inulin allows a good balance between the good bacteria and bad bacteria living in your gut. By doing this inulin helps relieve constipation, control diabetes, promote weight loss, and have even shown to possibly help with heart health and inflammatory bowl disease (source).
Inulin has also been shown to lower glucose and insulin levels. Some studies suggest inulin can actually help improve blood sugar control and can possibly reverse type 2 diabetes (source). By reducing fat in the liver, inulin can help reduce insulin resistance. More research on the possibilities of reversing type 2 diabetes need to be done, but inulin poses no risk to raising blood sugar levels when digested (source).
Side Effects of Inulin
As with any high fiber ingredient, an excessive amount of inulin can cause stomach pain. A maximum of 20 grams per day is found to be just the right amount to ingest. If higher than that, inulin can have a laxative effect. Some researches suggest aiming for 5 grams of inulin to start and then gradually increase the amount, to give your body a chance to adjust (source).
Those who may also experience a food allergy to inulin should avoid anything involving inulin as an ingredient.
If ever unsure about whether or not your stomach can handle inulin, it is recommended to start with a little at a time to see how your body reacts.
An Impactful and Beneficial Ingredient
Inulin is a great alternative when mixed with other sweeteners. It can help balance out the taste, and replicate the sweet flavor many are looking for in their favorite sugar-free foods.
Inulin can help with weight loss, improve cholesterol, and provide the necessary fibers needed for a healthy diet. While it should not be used as the be all end all in increasing fiber intake, it is a beneficial ingredient to take note of on your next shopping trip.