If you're in the habit of reading food labels, you may have seen inulin on packaged food items listed as an ingredient and questioned what it was. In a nutshell, inulin is a type of fiber. After eating, it can make you feel full and can help regulate your blood sugar levels. It is commonly present in some foods and is incorporated into others in order to improve the fiber content and assist with texture.
Let's dive into how inulin functions a bit more and its possible health benefits.
You probably already understand the fiber is healthy for you. In particular, adults are advised by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to get 25 to 38 grams a day, as there is valuable research to suggest that having enough fiber will help minimize the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
In concrete terms, inulin is a type of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is able to cling onto water, gels up, and becomes viscous in response. Think of oatmeal's dense thickness or the creamy texture of bananas, both of which are rich in soluble fiber.
Although it is a good thing to have lots of soluble fiber, inulin is also known as a fructan, a prebiotic fiber that ferments in your gut and feeds the healthy bacteria. While this is generally a positive thing, consuming too much inulin or other prebiotic fiber will contribute to so much fermentation at one time, causing undesirable gas and bloating in turn.
Inulin can aid with constipation since soluble fiber can hold onto water and gel things up. It's been shown to allow for softer tools as well as that the number of stools a day can increase. .There is also evidence that inulin can be effective in the treatment of diabetes, as it can theoretically raise blood sugar levels (in the short term) as well as help reduce insulin resistance when inulin is administered along with diabetic medications.
Another potential benefit: like many other soluble fibers, inulin, by binding to these triglycerides in your bloodstream, can help lower LDL cholesterol levels.
But of course, there's a caveat: potential side effects (common when eating a high-fiber diet) include stomach pain, flatulence, bloating, and likely belching, so those with IBD will want to stay out of items with this thrown in.
All the possible benefits of inulin can be reaped by eating a few servings of whole foods rich in inulin. If you wish to take a supplement, that is up to you but be mindful that too much inulin will lead to side effects that are unpleasant.