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Inulin Fiber

Inulin Fiber

Inulin is a type of dietary fiber, belonging to the class known as fructans. The following article highlights the various health benefits of this fiber.
Amruta Deshpande
Dietary fiber is broadly classified into two categories: soluble and insoluble fibers. It refers to the complex carbohydrates found in plant foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes) that our body cannot digest. Soluble fiber can be partially broken down by the bacteria present in the colon region of the digestive tract. Inulin belongs to this category of soluble dietary fiber. Chemically, it is a fructan, which is a polymer of fructose units linked to each other. This class of compounds is used by plants to store energy.

Source

Inulin occurs naturally in a number of plants. It is stored in the roots or rhizomes of many plants. Common foods containing this fiber include:
  • Leeks
  • Chicory
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Wheat
  • Bananas
  • Burdock roots
  • Soybeans
  • Rye
Benefits

Since this soluble dietary fiber is considered to be safe by the FDA, it can be freely used as a food additive. Though it is slightly sweet in taste, it is calorie and fat free. It is added to processed foods like yogurts, breads, ice creams, margarine, etc., to add fiber and reduce calories. Most of this commercially used dietary fiber supplement is obtained from chicory roots, and is extensively used to replace fat, flour, and sugar.

Digestion
Like all other dietary fibers, this fiber aids in the process of digestion. It is also considered to have prebiotic properties. Prebiotics are the food ingredients that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) in the intestinal tract. Inulin also stimulates the growth of certain healthy bacteria, which are essential for improving the bowel functions.

Mineral Absorption
This dietary fiber encourages the growth of 'good' bacteria in the intestinal tract, and thus prevents the growth of harmful bacteria in the colon region. This in turn, facilitates better absorption of nutrients like minerals and vitamins.

Diabetes
Though sweet in taste, this dietary fiber has a very low glycemic index. Moreover, the fiber does not add to the glucose level in the blood as it is not digested by the body. Therefore, it can be used in the production of low-calorie sweeteners for people affected by diabetes.

Cholesterol
This fiber is also known to lower the blood cholesterol levels, thereby reducing the risk of heart diseases. However, research is still going on, and the results are yet to be confirmed.

Weight Loss
This fiber is indigestible and slows digestion, thus making the person feel full for a longer period of time. Therefore, it can help in cutting down the calorie intake and controlling the body weight.

There are some minor side effects associated with the use of inulin supplements. Overdose or excessive consumption of this supplemental fiber can cause some gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, vomiting, and diarrhea. Therefore, it is better to consume foods that naturally contain these fibers, rather than taking commercially available supplements.

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.