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Nutrition > Food Facts

Inulin: All you need to know

Dr. med. André Sommer

Dr. med. André Sommer

Natural diet products are always well received. If you want to skip the chemicals and lose a few kilos with the power of plants, you can use natural fat burners such as green tea or coffee. Açai berries or mate are also very popular. The prebiotic for the intestine stimulates the intestinal bacteria, thus creating a beneficial detox effect and boosting the immune system. If your intestine is working right, then you will be able to lose weight—at least in theory. But does inulin really work and if so, how?

What is inulin?

Inulin belongs to the group of fructans and is composed of polysaccharides and fructose building blocks. It is a polysaccharide, a type of starch or dietary fiber. It occurs naturally in nature, for example in chicory and in Jerusalem artichoke. Inulin has a positive effect on the intestinal flora by serving as food for the intestinal bacteria.

Because of its digestive effect, inulin is mainly used for weight loss. It’s available as a concentrated, water-soluble, and sweet-tasting inulin powder that’s used for nutritional supplements. But how exactly does inulin actually work, and is additional inulin intake really more effective than eating inulin-containing foods?

Especially with weakened intestinal flora, it is advisable to increasingly use inulin-containing foods for support. That's because inulin feeds the good intestinal bacteria and thus strengthens the intestinal flora. In addition, it is believed that inulin has a positive effect on blood sugar levels, which would benefit diabetics in particular. If the consumption of inulin-containing food is not sufficient, an additional inulin boost can be helpful.

Did you know that…

... inulin is contained in Jerusalem artichoke, and the potato-like root vegetable has a beneficial effect on our intestinal flora?

... too much inulin can lead to bloating and diarrhea because bowel activity is increased.

... inulin strengthens the intestinal flora and, according to studies, even reduces colon risks?

... inulin is available as a dietary supplement in powder form, as a capsule, and organically?

Which foods contain inulin?

These foods have a high natural content of inulin and thus strengthen the intestinal flora:

  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Chicory
  • Salsify
  • Parsnip
  • Dandelion
  • Artichoke

Inulin is also added to different processed foods due to its prebiotic effect. Inulin takes on different tasks in the following products.

The effect of inulin in food:

  • Inulin unfolds its prebiotic effect in yogurt and cheese.
  • In dairy products and salad dressings, inulin lowers the fat and increases the fiber value
  • The sweet fiber is also used in baked goods, cereal bars and spreads
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How does water affect your intestinal flora?

The use of inulin promises to strengthen the intestinal flora. But what is healthy intestinal flora? A healthy intestine is characterized primarily by an intact microflora. The right ratio and the presence of important bacteria and microorganisms ensure that our intestines function properly and can perform their tasks. This is of great importance; after all, around 80 percent of our immune cells are located in the intestine and ensure that harmful influences can be warded off before diseases occur. The immune system and microflora (intestinal flora) react in a kind of mutual interaction: The intestinal flora protects the immune system, and the immune system protects the intestinal flora.

This is where inulin comes in: It provides the “good” microorganisms to strengthen an unbalanced intestinal flora. Specifically, primarily lactobacilli and bifidobacteria play a role here.

What is inulin clearance?

Inulin clearance is a procedure that tests the functioning of the kidneys, whereby the blood of the person tested is enriched with inulin. Doctors then measure how quickly the kidney filters the inulin.

Does inulin have any side effects?

It is not a side effect in the real sense, but someone who consumes too much inulin should also expect the enhanced potency of the substance. Bloating and diarrhea can be the result of an intestinal flora that is excessively stimulated by inulin. Inulin also has positive side effects. It increases the uptake and storage of calcium and magnesium—two minerals that are important for our bones and our health.

In addition, inulin is generally well tolerated, but should not be taken in the long term. It is vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free, and yeast-free.

Beware if you have a sensitive digestive system!

Inulin is a FODMAP, and many people with IBS and other digestive disorders are sensitive to FODMAPs. Inulin can aggravate the digestive complaints if one’s individual tolerance threshold is exceeded. For people with a sensitive intestine, a very low dose of inulin should be used initially.

How do I dose inulin?

How much inulin should be consumed per day? Adults should not exceed the recommended daily intake of 5 g. When taking inulin capsules, this corresponds to a maximum daily dose of about 10 capsules. The normal dosage is 420 mg for inulin capsules, for example, at 3x2 capsules daily.

Inulin as a dietary supplement

Commercial inulin is mostly made from Jerusalem artichoke. The digestible fiber can also be made from agaves, chicory, lentils, chickpeas, and high fiber foods. Besides inulin powder, inulin capsules are also available—both serve primarily as a functional food additive. The powder is tasteless and can either be dissolved in water or consumed through food. For example, it can be stirred into yogurt or milk.

Inulin can be added to a variety of food or replace some foods such as flour. When baking, around 10 percent of the flour can be replaced with inulin.

Mix inulin in milk products

Inulin can be mixed particularly well with yogurt and milk. This not only increases the fiber content of the product, it also improves the consistency of yogurt and makes it creamier. How much inulin is dissolved in yogurt depends on your own preference. Usually 1-2 tablespoons per serving are enough. How much inulin should be added to 1 liter of milk can also be decided individually, although 1-2 tablespoons serve as a guide.

Does inulin help with diabetes?

Especially with insulin resistance (insulin intolerance), inulin can have a positive effect by supporting the sugar metabolism, which often causes problems for diabetics. Inulin also has a positive effect on blood sugar levels: Studies have shown that inulin lowers blood sugar levels after just a few months. Inulin also supports weight loss, which is often also problematic for diabetics (type II). However, inulin is not approved for the treatment of diabetes and can therefore only be used to support treatment.

Where can I buy inulin?

A large number of different brands of inulin are available on the market as powders and capsules. The vegan supplement is available online from many different retailers and manufacturers. Offline, inulin can be found in pharmacies, drugstores, and selected health food stores.

Dewulf, E. M., Cani, P. D., Claus, S. P., Fuentes, S., Puylaert, P. G., Neyrinck, A. M., ... & Delzenne, N. M. (2012). Insight into the prebiotic concept: lessons from an exploratory, double blind intervention study with inulin-type fructans in obese women. Gut, gutjnl-2012.

Niness, K. R. (1999). Inulin and oligofructose: what are they?. The Journal of nutrition, 129(7), 1402S-1406s.

Roberfroid. Introducing inulin-type fructans. The British Journal of Nutrition. 2005 Apr;93 Suppl 1:S13-25.

Dr. med. André Sommer

Dr. med. André Sommer

I’m André, a medical doctor from Berlin. Together with a team of medical doctors, nutritionists and data scientists we empower people to understand digestive issues with our app Cara Care.

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