I first learned about inulin when I was working in the Meals division at General Mills in 2006 -- because I learned I couldn’t digest it! Our head of R&D also had an inulin intolerance so she would let me know which new products we could and couldn't eat -- it was our own sad little club.
Since then, the demand for “low net carb” and “weight-watching friendly” foods has drastically increased and the number of manufactured food products that contain inulin has exploded. Around 10% of Americans have an inulin intolerance like I do, but are unaware and just chalk it up to “too much fiber makes my tummy hurt I guess!” I wanted to break it down for all of you, and share why I chose to build my fiber from other sources.
What is inulin?
Inulin is a type of soluble fiber found in plants. It is also a prebiotic, meaning that it can feed the good bacteria in the gut. Because inulin is a fructan (polymers of fructose molecules) it cannot be broken down by the small intestine. Instead inulin travels lower into the gut where it feeds beneficial gut bacteria.
Food manufacturers add inulin (often labeled as chicory root fiber) for a number of reasons, including:
Increase the fiber count on nutrition labels
Increase prebiotic content of foods or make prebiotic claims
Replace fat for satiety (the feeling of fullness)
Replace sugar to lower calorie count
Change the food texture (usually increasing density)
Where do I find inulin?
Inulin is found in thousands of species of plants, including vegetables that are high FODMAP foods like garlic, raw asparagus, and raw onion. But it is most prevalent in chicory root.
As I mentioned previously, a lot of food manufacturers use inulin or chicory root fiber to boost the nutrition profile on their products. I first found it in Fiber One Cereal and Progresso Light soups, but you can also find it in baked goods, protein bars, dairy products, desserts, meal kits, and drinks.
Benefits and risks
Studies have shown that inulin can help stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria and may improve digestion and gut health, help with weight loss, and aid in managing diabetes. However, people who are intolerant to FODMAPs are likely to experience uncomfortable and painful side effects. Studies have shown that inulin can cause negative side effects like flatulence and bloating for people consuming as little as 7.8 grams per day.
So moral of this story is that I avoid inulin completely. Good news -- there is absolutely none of it in my Power Veggie Bites. All fiber comes naturally from our fresh veggies, quinoa, and chickpea flour!