This is the first instalment in my blog series ‘Know what you’re eating’ where we will be investigating commonly occurring additives and ingredients that appear in many of the foods we eat today.
First up I have chosen Inulin. Inulin is a carbohydrate that belongs to a class of compounds known as fructans (Fructans are built of fructose residues, normally with a sucrose unit. Naturally it is found in: root vegetables, chicory root, agave, artichokes, asparagus, leek, garlic, onions, spring onions, yacon, jicama and wheat). Inulin is also used interchangeably with fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), although they aren’t exactly the same.
Inulin is not absorbed in the small intestine, rather it arrives to the large intestine intact, therefore it is considered to be a soluble fiber. It is fermented by the native bacteria found in the large intestine, hence why it gets promoted as a pre-biotic (defined as a non-digestible food ingredient that beneficially affects us by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, thus improving our health) essentially serving as fertiliser for the bacteria in the colon.
Unfortunately it does not discern between the good and the bad bacteria, therefore promoting growth of the bad bacteria in our large intestine also. On the good side, the good bacteria fermenting it (bifidobacteria) produces short chain fatty-acids such as acetic, propionic and butyric acids. The first two can be used by the liver for energy production, while butyric acid has been shown to have cancer-preventing properties within the intestine… in studies done with hamsters and rats according to Thorne Research.
Apparently there has only been one trial done with humans, which did not show any such benefits, meaning that inulin is cancer reducing… for animals. There have been trials however that prove the prebiotic effects in infants with inulin fortified formula, which would make sense if they have been breast fed and weaned off onto a formula supplemented with inulin then they wouldn’t have any bad bacteria developed yet for inulin to harbour the growth of. Inulin is slightly sweet in taste and very low GI and has even been used as a sugar substitute for diabetics. You can find it referred to as: Neosugar, Alant Starch, Atlanta Starch, Alantin, Dahlin, Helenin, and Diabetic Sugar. Keep an eye out for it as a filler in products you consume, if you have an upset guts then this may be why. In the natural sources (root vegetables, etc) inulin levels decrease the longer they are stored, whereas manufactured products maintain the same level; hence why the consumption of naturally sourced foods are better for you.
My takeaway from all this reading is that inulin may be good as a prebiotic, so long as one’s digestive system is intact. If leaky gut, parasites or bad bacteria causing digestive issues are present, then inulin will harbour these ailments. All in all it comes back to ensuring that you have a healthy gut. Check for the signs that something is not agreeing with you: bloating, gas, ibs symptoms, nausea, constipation, headaches, the list goes on. If you are experiencing any of these or similar symptoms, check your labels, eat clean and eliminate possible offending foods for 3-4 weeks. Ensure that symptoms have been relieved, and then reintroduce one item at a time to retest whether that is the offending item. This method is quite commonly known as an ‘elimination diet’.
So there you have it, eat real food. Nature’s food is better for you and doesn’t have fillers in it! This brings about the idea of sugar again. Yes, it is in fresh fruits and vegetables, but take it out and refine it and add it to a whole heap of manufactured foods that are mass consumed, we get health problems. Sugar today is even referred to as the modern killer. Our lessons should be learned from sugar, the extraction of a single part of a natural product, refine it, and then use it massively. Looks like inulin will be next.
You can learn more about Inulin by following the following links:
Thorne – Inulin-Type Prebiotic’s
Inulin: Friend or Foe?