What is Inulin and is it a FODMAP?

What is Inulin and is it high FODMAP?

Photo Credit: Clipped Artichoke‘ by Joy licensed under CC BY 2.0. Globe artichokes are naturally high in inulin.

Inulin is a sneaky FODMAP as it likes to hide in foods where you wouldn’t think to look for it! Before we can discuss where you find inulin we need to understand what it is.

What is Inulin?

Inulins are a type of polysaccharide that is found inside many types of plants and they use it to store energy (Roberfoid, 2005). Inulins also belong to a type of dietary fibres known as fructans, which are classified as non-digestible carbohydrates (Monash University App, 2014; Roberfoid, 2005; Shepherd & Gibson 2006). Fructans are classified as oligosaccharides in the FODMAP acronym, and can cause digestive issues in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (Monash University App, 2014; Shepherd & Gibson, 2006). Inulin causes issues because it is not absorbed in the small intestine, which means when it reaches the large intestine it is fermented by gut bacteria and can cause bloating, abdominal pain, wind and diarrhoea (Monash University App, 2014; Shepherd & Gibson, 2006).

Why is inulin consumption recommended?

You may be wondering why inulin consumption is recommended if it causes so many issues. Well in people who do not suffer from IBS, inulin acts as a functional food and can be beneficial for their bodies (Shepherd & Gibson, 2006; Roberfoid, 2005; Saad et al., 2013). Research shows that inulin can have a prebiotic effect on the gut bacteria (Saad et al., 2013; Roberfoid, 2005). Prebiotics are foods or substances that help encourage the growth of healthy bacteria (Sproule-Willoughby, 2013). This means inulin can help increase helpful bacteria in the colon, and reduce or inhibit the growth of pathogenic or bad bacteria (Saad et al., 2013). Inulin as a prebiotic is believed to help with:

  • increasing the amount of calcium and minerals being absorbed from foods
  • supporting a healthy immune system
  • relieving and reducing intestinal problems

(Saad et al., 2013; Roberfoid, 2005)

Inulin can also decrease constipation by increasing the amount of fibre you are consuming. This works by increasing the faecal biomass and water content of the stools, which improves bowel habits (Roberfoid, 2005).

Where is inulin found?

Inulin is naturally found in a variety of fruit, vegetables, and grains such as chicory root, globe and Jerusalem artichokes, wheat, barley, onion, leeks, garlic, asparagus, dandelion root, and bananas (Franck, 2002; Moshfegh et al., 1999; Roberfoid, 2005). Please note that the inulin level in bananas is not a problem on the low FODMAP diet.

What processed food is inulin added into?

Inulin has a neutral taste which means it can be used to replace sugar, fat, flour or fibre in processed foods without changing the flavour (Franck, 2002). Most commercially used inulin is extracted from chicory root (Franck, 2002). Inulin is often added to dairy products, frozen desserts, dietetic products and meal replacers, table spreads, baked goods or bread, breakfast cereals, tablets and supplements, and many other products (Franck, 2002). I have personally found it in rice crackers, gluten free bread, and mixed in with stevia (a natural sugar replacer).

What can inulin be called in food labels?

You need to check product labels for inulin, chicory root, chicory root extract, and chicory root fibre, to make sure it doesn’t sneak into your low FODMAP diet through processed foods. Also be aware that inulin can also be labelled as dietary fibre in some countries (Food Navigator, 2001; GF Gluten Free, 2015).

If you are on the low FODMAP diet how should you deal with inulin?

It is recommended that you reduce the amount of fructans (including inulin) that you consume when you are on the low FODMAP diet (Monash University App, 2014; Shepherd & Gibson, 2006). This means you need to avoid foods that contain high levels of naturally occurring inulin, and avoid products with added inulin (Monash University App, 2014; Shepherd & Gibson, 2006). It is important that after the elimination phase you test FODMAPs to see if some fructans can be added back into your diet.

REFERENCES

1. Roberfroid, M. Introducing inulin-type fructans. British Journal of Nutrition. 2005: Volume 93. 13-25. DOI: 10.1079/BJN20041350. Date retrieved 2014/03/09. Retrieved from http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=922552&fileId=S0007114505000759

2. Monash University App. Reading Labels for FODMAPs & A Short History of FODMAPs. The Monash University Low FODMAP Diet App. 2014: Edition 4. Date retrieved: 2015-03-05. Retrieved from: http://www.med.monash.edu/cecs/gastro/fodmap/iphone-app.html. Accessed: 2015-03-05. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/6Wog73c8B)

3. Shepherd, S., & Gibson, P. Fructose Malabsorption and Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Guidelines for Effective Dietary Management. Journal of American Dietetic Association. 2006: Volume 106: Issue: 10. 1631 to 1639. DOI: 10.1016/j.jada.2006.07.010. Retrieved on 2014/03/09. Retrieved from http://www.andjrnl.org/article/S0002-8223%2806%2901704-4/ppt

4. Saad, N., Delattre, C., Urdaci, M., Schmitter, J., & Bressollier, P. An overview of the last advances in probiotic and prebiotic field. LWT: Food Science and Technology. 2013: Issue 50. 1-16. Retrieved on 2014/03/09. DOI: 10.1016/j.lwt.2012.05.014. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lwt.2012.05.014

5. Sproule-Willoughby, K.. The difference between prebiotics and probiotics. Livestrong. 2013/10/05. Retrieved from:http://www.livestrong.com/article/335114-the-difference-between-probiotic-prebiotic/. Date retrieved: 2015-03-08. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/6WtEt3tAb)

6. Franck, A. Technological functionality of inulin and oligofructose. British Journal of Nutrition. 2002: Volume 87. 287-291. DOI: 10.1079/BJN/2002550. Date retrieved 2014/03/09. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/technological-functionality-of-inulin-and-oligofructose/EE7396DE95754439E07D70092B598746

7. Moshfegh, A., Friday, J., Goldman, J., Chug Ahuga, J. Presence of Inulin and Oligofructose in the Diets of Americans. Journal of Nutrition. 1999: Volume 129: Issue 7. 1407-14011. Date retrieved 2015-03-08. Retrieved from http://jn.nutrition.org/content/129/7/1407S.full

8. Food Navigator. New labelling law for inulin in the UK. Food Navigator. 2001-02-27. Retrieved from :http://www.foodnavigator.com/Policy/New-labelling-law-for-inulin-in-the-UK. Retrieved on: 2015-08-27. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/6b6uRVCzH)

9. GF Gluten Free. Food Labeling Laws – Australia / NZ . GF Gluten Free. 2015. Retrieved from:http://www.gf-glutenfree.com/food-labeling-australianz. Retrieved on: 2015-08-27. (Archived by WebCite® at http://www.webcitation.org/6b6upy2jm)

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Comments

  • Lola Duncan 14/07/2015 7:57pm (19 months ago)

    Hi Alana, I have been avoiding inulin because of being on the FODMAP diet. But I've also read that it is good for constipation. I have IBS-C and wondered if any one else with the same has been eating foods with inulin in them and having better bowel movements? I mean the type of food it has been added to. Not the fruit and veggies where it naturally occurs. Just want to know for future reference. I know to try in the elimination phase is the true way of knowing if it works for me or not.

    • Alana Scott 14/07/2015 10:17pm (19 months ago)

      Hi Lola,
      Inulin is a soluble fibre which is why it is likely to help some people with IBS-C. There are other types of soluble fibre which don't contain FODMAPs (like chia seeds or a soluble fibre supple) which might give you the same benefits without the FODMAPs. Hope that helps :-)

  • shani 13/09/2015 6:16am (17 months ago)

    Hi Alana, I have been making my own yogurt with lactose free milk. i also need a container of yogurt and I can't find any brand here that doesn't contain inulin, so I stopped making it and I miss it. Is it a problem or do you think I should just continue making it. I also couldn't find y. starter

    • Alana Scott 13/09/2015 8:30pm (16 months ago)

      Hi Shani,
      What country are you in? I might be able to find you a safe lactose free yoghurt brand. If you weren't reacting to your homemade yoghurt then you should be fine to continuing eating it - the low FODMAP diet only needs to be as strict as you need it to be to control your symptoms. Also if you use a starter from a yoghurt that is sweetened with inulin and then after that use your own yoghurt as the next starter - there would only be trace amounts of inulin after a couple of batches. This means depending on your tolerance levels and symptoms you might be okay to continue to use the inulin containing yoghurt as the starting culture.

  • Ian Jones 05/07/2016 11:12am (7 months ago)

    Hello, I'm new. I heard tonight that "Inulin" is good to work on internal fat after it arrives in the large intestine. It will release there and take on the fat... is this worth running with and how do I buy this? regards Ian Jones

    • Alana Scott 06/07/2016 1:44am (7 months ago)

      Hi Ian,

      I haven't researched whether inulin helps break down fat. The major reason inulin is recommended is because it helps feed our gut bacteria which can be important for a healthy digestive system. Unfortunately if you have IBS or digestive issues inulin can make those worse. This is because when the gut bacteria ferment inulin it creates gas and causes other gastrointestinal issues. Inulin is naturally found in a lot of high FODMAP foods that I have listed in the article above, so if you want to increase consumption you could consume more of those foods (this is not recommended if your dietitian or doctor has prescribed the low FODMAP diet). I hope that helps.

      Cheers,
      Alana

  • Ian Jones 05/07/2016 11:13am (7 months ago)

    I need a personal Nutritionist.... cheers Ian

    • Alana Scott 06/07/2016 1:44am (7 months ago)

      Where are you based Ian? I might be able to recommend a dietitian in your area. Otherwise your doctor should be able to refer you to one or recommend one in your area.

  • pamela demacon 01/11/2016 10:32am (3 months ago)

    hello,

    I live in France

    I have been suffering with pain in abdomen diagnosis ? IBS ...I am currently on a low fodmaps diet..
    however my dietitian recommended I take a supplement 'Perma regul' which among other things contains 4659mg of inuline chicory..
    I have just read that this may be a negative in managing my ibs
    what is your opinion?

    • Alana Scott 02/11/2016 5:39am (3 months ago)

      Hi Pamela,

      Is your dietitian FODMAP trained? If he/she is then it would be good to double check that they are aware that the supplement contains inulin. I am not a dietitian and I do not know your medical history so I can't give you a recommendation. I would suggest you ask your dietitian if there is a different supplement you could try during the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet, or if you can wait 2 to 3 weeks before starting the supplement. That way it will be clear if it is the low FODMAP diet that is helping or if it is the supplement.

      I hope that helps.

      Cheers,
      Alana

  • Derrick Pohl 18/01/2017 9:53am (2 days ago)

    Stevia on its own is low FODMAP, but it's often sold blended with inulin, which is high FODMAP. However, as noted in this article, bananas contain inulin but only a small amount, so bananas are low FODMAP.

    This leads to the question: in stevia sweeteners which contain inulin, is it enough inulin to be a FODMAP concern? Or is it small enough to be like bananas, & thus the inulin-stevia blend is FODMAP ok?

    How much inulin is in these blends with stevia. Well, a packet with sweetening power equal to 2 tsp sugar contains 0.8 g (800 mg) powder. The only ingredients are inulin & stevia extract. So the most inulin it could possibly contain would be just shy of 800 mg.

    Is that an ok amount of inulin? That is the question.

    • Alana Scott 18/01/2017 10:22pm (44 hours ago)

      Hi Derrick,

      This is a great question. The cut of level for fructans (which includes inulin) is 0.3g (300mg). This is a small amount and unless the stevia product is tested for FODMAPs, we will not know if it is within this cut off limit. This means if you are on the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet we suggest you try stevia that doesn't contain inulin.

      I hope that helps.

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