The abundance of fast food and heavily processed foods in our diet, plus our proclivity to eat on the go have made digestion issues incredibly common. We complain of flatulence, pain, and constipation; we are bombarded with advertisements of probiotics, dairy products with bifido- and lactobacteria, and food supplements. But what if a simple but very special fiber could help our digestion woes?Inulin, in spite of its slightly threatening name, is just a type of fiber. Dietary fibers are carbohydrates that cannot be digested by our body, and they come in three broad types: those that can be dissolved in water, those that cannot, and so-called resistant starches. Inulin is a soluble fiber: once you eat it, it forms a gel-like substance in your gut, through which it passes without being absorbed. Now, we’ve all heard that one must eat fiber to help digestion, but why?
- First of all, fiber is necessary for healthy gut macrobiota – our intestines contain about the same number of bacteria as the total number of cells in our body! Most of them are healthy bacteria, essential for metabolism; but stress, antibiotics, and unhealthy diet can cause an increase in the population of harmful bacteria that cause inflammation and bowel infections. Soluble fibers like inulin provide a great source of nutrition to the ‘good’ gut flora, thus preventing inflammation and dysbacteriosis.
- Second, the consumption of inulin can prevent constipation: the gelatinous substance formed by inulin lubricates the inside of the gut, allowing the rest of the food to pass easily and preventing hemorrhoids (here is a recent study.)
- Third, inulin fills the gut and creates a sensation of fullness, thus reducing the desire to eat more. It slows digestion, allowing your body to absorb more nutrients from food. Inulin’s ability to curb appetite safely means that it can be used as a weight control measure (more details here.)