Inulin is a starchy, soluble dietary fiber found in many fruits and vegetables. It is a chain of carbohydrates (called an oligosaccharide) made by over 36,000 plants in order to store complex sugar and help them deal with adverse weather conditions. In times of drought or cold, these plants can tap into their reserves from inulin to help them survive. It is important for our survival as well.
As it is an indigestible fiber in the stomach, it travels to the colon to feed the friendly bacteria growing there. Inulin ferments in the bowels which cause some consumers It limits the body’s ability to produce some fats, cholesterol, and triglycerides (lipids). Different types of fiber do their work in different parts of the body. Inulin is a fairly complex molecule. Most of its effect is concentrated in the lower part of the colon.
This makes inulin a highly desirable prebiotic. Most people are familiar with the term probiotic – a food or supplement consisting of live bacteria whose job it is to replace or add to the beneficial bacteria in the GI tract (the gut). Prebiotics are fiber-rich foods that feed the existing bacteria which helps the body digest food properly. There are over 400 different types of bacteria that live in the colon. The addition of inulin to the diet has been proven to increase the friendly bacteria, such as bifidobacteria in the gut significantly.
Inulin is a bland to mildly sweet-tasting starch depending on the source. It is used as a food additive as a fiber additive. In some processed foods such as fiber-rich snack bars, inulin is replaced with the phrase “chicory root extract”. Industrial food additive producers extract inulin are made from soaked chicory roots. Inulin is often suggested for elderly patients who need to raise their bowel movement regularity from 2 or 3 times weekly to daily. Dieters often add inulin rich foods to their diet to assist with weight loss, particularly around the belly and hips.
The inulin in dandelion roots taken as dietary supplement has the added advantage of high antioxidant activity and rich sources of vitamins and minerals. The combination of fiber and nutrition make the inulin found in dandelion root highly desirable.
- Inulin is safe when used in appropriate doses. Adding too much inulin to the diet can cause stomach upset or diarrhea.
- Some people are allergic to members of the dandelion family. Be cautious about taking dandelion root if you are allergic to other members of dandelion family such as ragweed.