What is inulin? Inulin is a naturally-occurring type of soluble fiber that has a chemical structure that allows it to make it through the digestive process relatively unchanged.
Once it hits your colon, it can be used by “good” bacteria as a source of nutrients – a prebiotic. Inulin is included in our meal replacement powder because it provides a variety of health benefits as we review below.
Inulin and digestive health
Arguably the most common use of inulin is to allow for improved digestive health. As we already learned, its prebiotic nature can help to nourish beneficial bacteria in the colon (such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria), allowing them to multiply and thrive. These bacteria in turn boost immune health and fight pathogens and infections.
As a soluble fiber source, inulin helps improve bowel function by increasing stool bulk and bowel movement frequency. If you suffer from constipation, inulin may help to improve bowel regularity and relieve uncomfortable symptoms.
Inulin may also provide another treatment option when it comes to inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Prebiotics such as inulin can reduce intestinal inflammation and symptoms associated with IBD flares.
Inulin and weight loss
It’s a pretty well-known fact that dietary fiber is a good thing when it comes to losing and maintaining a healthy weight, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that inulin can help your weight management efforts.
Since inulin is a soluble fiber, it becomes gel-like when it combines with water in the digestive tract, ultimately slowing down the digestive process (in a good way) and allowing you to stay full longer.
Inulin is also associated with decreased levels of ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”) and increased peptide YY (a hormone associated with fullness). Inulin’s prebiotic role also comes into play here. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are created during the fermentation of dietary fiber, part of its digestive process.
In addition to helping rebuild the gut’s microbiome, they may also encourage the growth of certain types of intestinal bacteria that appear to protect against obesity.
Additionally, these SCFAs can actually alter your metabolism by increasing resting energy expenditure, which can help to prevent body fat gain.
Other health benefits of inulin
With plenty of ongoing research surrounding inulin and its possible uses, a variety of other health benefits have also been uncovered. Some of these include:
- Bone health: Inulin has been found to help increase the absorption of magnesium and calcium, both of which play an important role in maintaining optimal bone density. This effect is particularly strong in adolescents and older adults, two groups at risk for fractures related to low bone density.
- Colorectal cancer prevention: Although most research is limited to animal studies at this time, the implications are promising. Butyrate, one of the SCFAs created during inulin fermentation, has a protective effect on cells in the colon. Mouse studies have concluded that inulin may greatly reduce the growth of precancerous cells in the colon as well as decreasing systemic inflammation, both of which can yield reduced colon cancer risk.
- Glycemic control: For people struggling with diabetes or prediabetes, inulin may help with blood glucose management. Inulin supplementation can significantly reduce fasting blood sugar and HbA1c in type 2 diabetics, as well as improving lipid profiles. Inulin has also shown to help reduce the deposition of fat in the liver, which may in turn improve insulin sensitivity and improve (or even eliminate) prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
- Heart health: As mentioned briefly before, inulin can improve heart health markers such as cholesterol (namely LDL) and triglycerides. In turn, these factors reduce the risk of developing heart disease.