What is Inulin and is it a FODMAP?
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
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). Unripe common bananas are low FODMAP as the fructan levels are low enough not to cause digestive distress, however as the bananas ripen the fructan levels increase to a high FODMAP level (Monash University App, 2017).
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.
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