I’ve been asked, “What is inulin?” a lot lately, so I figured now was the time to address it.
What is Inulin?
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Good, sounds like a bunch of mumbo jumbo, right?
Kind of, until I break it all down for you.
Let’s revisit a little digestive chat 101.
Dietary fiber breaks down into two categories; soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, and includes plant pectin and gums. As it breaks down, it creates a gel-like substance
I’ve already done the major 101 on this via Probiotic Foods vs. Prebiotic Foods.
What is a polysaccharide
It all sounds pretty complicated, right? Let’s break Inulin down by some foods which contain it.
What Foods Contain Inulin?
Inulin naturally occurs in some plants, but it’s also been commercially modified and added to packaged goods.
Here are some examples:
- chicory root
- Jerusalem artichoke
- yacon root
- bananas and plantains (when they are slightly green)
- straight Inulin, as a supplement
- dandelion greens
- general snacks (things like Fiber One Chewy Bars which use Chicory Root)
- energy bars
Chicory root is a source of inulin and a type of soluble fiber.
In fact, 40% of chicory root is inulin, which is an oligosaccharide (and you can read more about oligosaccharides HERE).
Digestive Benefits of Inulin
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While many of you reading this are scared to consume Inulin, let me be clear that most digestive experts find far more benefits than drawbacks to it.
Here are some of the digestive benefits of Inulin:
May reduce precancerous colon growths.
Research isn’t definitive, but it appears inulin may help reduce symptoms of ulcerative colitis and reduce inflammatory markers in Crohn’s disease.
Daily supplementation with 15 grams of inulin improved constipation and quality of life in elderly people with constipation.
Inulin can help promote the right balance of gut bacteria.
For those who are trying to improve gut health by cutting or reducing sugar and flour replacement, Inulin can be a suitable replacement.
Is It Okay for Me to Consume Inulin?
You will hear both, “Inulin is good for gut health,” and “It can cause havoc for your digestive system.”
“Inulin and oligofructose possess several functional and nutritional properties, which may be used to formulate innovative healthy foods for today’s consumer.” And that statement comes from the National Institutes of Health.
Ugh. So what is it?
Based on what Inulin is, my stance is that, unless you have SIBO, it’s not likely to cause a lot of digestive distress in normal amounts.
That said, you won’t find the answer for you lingering somewhere online. You’ll only find the answer by knowing your exact situation and state of gut health. This is where I come in – as always – to empower you to listen to your body and not a textbook, expert, or even my blog.
Here is how I decide whether or not to consume Inulin (for me) / the questions I ask:
- What is the current state of my gut; in particular, the SIBO?
- Where is the Inulin coming from? Is it a whole ingredient (i.e. onion) or a packaged good (i.e. the Fiber One Bar)?
- Finally, if it’s a packaged good, what are the other ingredients contained in the product and do I trust the company?
- What did a TEST say?! See the next part of this post.
Personal Inulin Test
Health technology has made huge advances. You can now test inulin as a solitary experiment to see if you tolerate it.
Via the FoodMarble FODMAP Program test.
I have done an entire review on the FoodMarble Breath Test AIRE device HERE. The company co-founder and CEO has also been on the A Gutsy Girl podcast sharing all about the company, device, and test(s).
Listen in now.
Anyways, as part of their FODMAP Program test, you can determine how you personally tolerate inulin.
Trinity, who is part of the A Gutsy Girl team, did her own FoodMarble Inulin test.
Here is her documentation of the experience:
I prepared for the test the night before by eating an early low FODMAP dinner.
The next morning, after a 12 hour fast, I opened the FoodMarble app on my phone and began the Inulin challenge.
The app told me everything I would need to do to prepare for the challenge and how to make the Inulin formula.
After taking my baseline breath reading with the device, I mixed the full packet of inulin fiber with boiling water to dissolve it, then added cold water to drink the formula.
I was surprised to find that it barely had a taste.
Every 30 minutes for the next two hours I was prompted with a notification on my phone to take a breath test.
It was much easier than a SIBO breath test because the intervals were already measured for me and all I had to do was breathe into the device when my phone dinged.
For the final hour, I took a breath test every 15 minutes. After each breath test, a data point for my fermentation score was recorded and I was able to get immediate feedback on what was happening in my GI tract.
The app also gave me information about inulin specifically and I learned that even though my fermentation scores did rise around the 2nd hour of the challenge, this is normal for some people and not problematic if no symptoms accompany the rise in fermentation levels.
Update 2 days after Trinity took the test
While I thought I was in the clear with no symptoms, I’ve had a flare in SIBO symptoms these past two days.
In retrospect, I wish I would have taken a half dose of the inulin to see how I responded instead of taking on the full dose. This is especially since I know I am sensitive to high FODMAP foods even after healing my SIBO a year ago.
Tips and Tricks for the Inulin Test
Taking the above into consideration, here are two things I might recommend if you are interested in taking this test, but apprehensive due to potential discomfort.
- 5g vs 10g. The total packet contains 10g of inulin. Getting some inulin in your diet would be better than none (remember, REASONABLE SIBO.) So, if you want to do this test, but are worried about the 10g in one sitting, consider testing 1/2 the packet. Then, gather your scores. Wait a couple days. If you’re good to go, test the other 1/2. If not, test 2.5g. Reevaluate. Move forward.
- Journal. Document this all, so you understand what it means moving forward. If you have my journal, use the detailed key to help guide you. By doing so, you’ll better understand which of the inulin-containing foods above you can successfully incorporate back into your daily routine. If you want the PDF version of the journal to use today, you can download it HERE.
SIBO is Gone
Currently, my SIBO is gone (has been for a long time, praise the LORD!) so I’m all about that Inulin life when it comes to whole foods.
I’m always here to help you navigate. I’ve done the research for you. You know what it is, so now you can make the best decision for you.
But please if there is one thing you learned from Reasonable SIBO let it be that we should try to figure out how to eat all the things vs. living a life filled with unwarranted restriction.
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You will heal. I will help.