Inulin is a non-digestible fibre that can help to improve gut health. Here’s everything you need to know about supplementing with it, according to a dietitian.
Getting enough fibre from your diet can be difficult. In fact, research has found only 9% of people in the UK reach their daily recommended 30g of fibre.
Fibre has a wide range of benefits. Crucially, it feeds your gut bacteria to support a healthy microbiome, which has been shown to boost your mental health and support digestion.
This is why fibre supplements are becoming increasingly popular, helping people hit their daily fibre targets and improving overall nutrition. One of the most well-known fibre supplements is called inulin powder, a type of fibre extracted from agave, artichokes or chicory root.
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“Inulin is a non-digestible fibre that occurs naturally in lots of different plants and foods,” explains Lola Biggs, a registered dietitian at Together Health. Although inulin is present in many foods, usually it’s only in small amounts. So is it really worth supplementing with inulin powder?
What is inulin?
Inulin is a type of soluble fibre that our bodies don’t digest. This means it travels directly to the gut, where it essentially acts as a prebiotic, stimulating the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. “Its role isn’t to be broken down. Its role is to communicate and to be available for other things in the gut, including live cultures and bacteria,” Biggs says.
You get the highest amount of inulin in chicory root (a plant that looks a bit like a parsnip) and it’s also present in garlic, leeks and onions. “You can also find inulin in smaller doses in things such as wheat and bananas,” Biggs explains.
What is inulin powder?
Inulin powder is a type of fibre supplement, which can be helpful if you’re trying to increase your fibre intake. “They can be helpful for people who want to steadily increase their intake of inulin,” Biggs says.
Most inulin powders come from chicory root, but some come from agave.
It’s always best to try and meet your dietary requirements via your diet and healthy wholefoods rather than supplements. But if you’re struggling to do this, alternatives like inulin powder can be helpful.
Particularly if you struggle with indigestion that is triggered by high FODMAP foods like garlic and onion, supplementing with inulin will ensure you still get it in your diet.
You can add inulin powder to your breakfast or to a smoothie, like with protein powder.
What are the benefits of inulin powder?
Adding inulin powder to your diet will help you increase your overall fibre intake, improving gut health, which has a range of benefits, the main one being better digestion. “Taking inulin could enhance the chances of good bacteria surviving in your gut,” Biggs explains. Our bodies use good bacteria to break down food, so this, in turn, will support digestion.
“The good thing about inulin powder is that you can carefully measure the amount you’re taking and keep it consistent, which is really important for gut health,” Biggs says, explaining that consuming too much inulin could lead to flatulence, discomfort and bloating.
Research has found that inulin can help with issues including constipation and a 2015 study also found that it could help to improve blood sugar levels, so it’s beneficial for people with diabetes. On top of this, inulin could also improve calcium and magnesium absorption, which could lead to better bone health.
How to take inulin powder safely
If you want to start supplementing with inulin, it’s best to stick to small doses. “Half a teaspoon of a good quality powder that is 100% inulin for one week is a good way to see how your body responds to it,” Biggs recommends. Try to track your digestion, mood, sleep and any other issues you’re struggling with to see if you notice any improvements.
You may experience bloating or flatulence when you first start taking inulin. Lower your dosage and very gradually build it back up if this is the case to avoid overwhelming your digestive system. Biggs suggests slowly increasing your dosage to five grams per day, which is around one teaspoon.
Make sure you also increase your water intake when taking inulin, as it can make you dehydrated.
For best results, Biggs suggests taking inulin alongside a probiotic. “By taking the probiotic, you’re sending live cultures to your gut and by taking inulin you’re giving them a packed lunch,” Biggs says.
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It’s a good idea to speak to your GP or a dietitian before taking any new supplements or making any significant changes to your diet, especially if you suffer from IBS or any other health conditions.
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