Inulin is not at all related to insulin, but it is closely related to something called fructo-oligosaccharide, which is much more easily referred to FOS. Inulin and FOS are both considered fructans, a type of carbohydrate found in plants. In a nutshell, they are pure fiber, the kind that few among us get enough of. Inulin is also known as prebiotics and is crucial in our digestive health because prebiotics feed the good bacteria popularly known as probiotics.
Where can you get more prebiotics?
Plants use fructans to store energy. Inulin and FOS can be found in approximately one-third of all plants worldwide but is concentrated mostly in the roots of certain plants and herbs that have earned a reputation for being “good for you.” High concentrations of inulin and FOS are found in dandelion, chicory, and burdock roots as well as in jicama, garlic, onions, asparagus, leeks, and Jerusalem artichokes. They can also be found in some grains, legumes, and fruits, as well as synthesized from sucrose, but the main source used for obtaining inulin/FOS for commercial use is chicory root.
Prebiotics and digestion
Inulin and FOS are highly effective “prebiotics” not easily digested by humans. In the upper colon, they pretty much pass right through (some of that “bulk” Granny was always encouraging you to eat!), and in the lower colon, they are digested just enough to help promote the growth of healthy bacteria such as Lactobacillus bifidobacteria, aka probiotics. It is during this partial digestion that they can ferment and cause gassiness, however, so it is recommended that you consume these substances with some bit of caution until you know how they will affect you as an individual.
Benefits of prebiotics
Human and animal research suggests that up to 10 grams per day should be easily tolerated by most people and could provide the following benefits:
- May increase calcium and magnesium absorption
- May improve fat metabolism and function of the gastrointestinal tract
- Satisfies (is filling) like a starchy food, but does not affect blood sugar levels the same way
- May lower fasting blood sugar in type 2 diabetics
- May lower cholesterol levels
- May even help protect against colorectal cancer and some infectious bowel diseases
Prebiotics are good for dieters
In the preparation of commercial foods, inulin and FOS improve “mouth feel” while significantly increasing fiber content and lowering calories — all good things for dieters! They have a neutral, slightly sweet flavor and are typically used to improve the creaminess, stability and overall taste and texture of both low-fat and low-carb foods.
Food products with prebiotics
You can find these fibers added to breakfast bars (such as Atkins Advantage), yogurts (such as Stonyfield Farms), beverages, chocolate (such as Eat Well Be Well) candies, pasta (such as Dreamfields), ice cream, and all manner of low-calorie and sugar-free or reduced-sugar baked goods. Now Foods includes inulin in several different supplements (although the FDA classifies it as a food ingredient, not an additive or supplement.)