Chicory root fiber is also known as inulin, a soluble, prebiotic fiber that can provide certain benefits for your digestive health and your blood sugar levels. Read on to discover where the chicory root comes from and how inulin works to improve your well-being.
What Is Chicory Root?
The common chicory plant (Cichorium intybus) comes from the Mediterranean region, but today can be found throughout North America where it’s been cultivated and grown as a salad green since the 1700s. A perennial plant from the dandelion family, chicory can be spotted on the side of United States highways by its bright blue daisy-like flowers. The plant is still cultivated for the use of chicory root as a coffee substitute (especially well-known in New Orleans), and as a high-fiber food additive and supplement.
What Is Chicory Root Fiber (Inulin)?
Chicory roots are harvested, baked, ground up, and used for the benefits of the soluble fiber inulin. What functions as energy storage for the plants works as a dietary fiber for humans, and can be found in many other natural whole foods, including:
Inulin used to be a significant part of the ancient human diet, with some researchers speculating that our ancestors ate up to 135 grams of inulin each day.
The Health Benefits of Chicory Root Fiber
We actually cannot digest the inulin fiber found in chicory roots, and that’s the whole point: certain dietary fibers that we lack the enzymes to break down can nevertheless be eaten by the good gut bacteria in our large intestines. That is what makes chicory root fiber a prebiotic: it feeds the microbiota we need to provide immune defense against parasites, viruses, and bad bacteria overgrowth.
Inulin and oligofructose (a subgroup of inulin) are particularly effective foods for the gut, as they are naturally occurring in food we already eat and are just as ready to be consumed by our gut’s beneficial bacteria. Our well-fed good bacteria then produce short-chain fatty acids that help with colon health, metabolic function, and our hunger/satiety balance.
Here are some other ways chicory root fiber intake can benefit our health.
1. Chicory Root Fiber Creates Feelings of Fullness
Inulin is found in many food products, dietary fiber supplements, and weight-loss shakes because it helps create feelings of fullness and satiety. When it comes to weight loss in particular, if you gain too many calories from food that isn’t filling (like sodas, candies, and snacks), your body doesn’t register that it’s had enough. If the stomach feels empty, it yearns for more food, and in obeying that craving you’re more likely to over-consume calories.
This is where a water-soluble fiber like chicory root fiber can help. This fiber soaks up water as it makes its way through your system, which for most people means you feel fuller for longer. Chicory root fiber helps slow down your digestion so you feel less of a need to snack between meals, and it does the extra benefit of picking up cholesterol as it moves through the digestive tract. Lower overall cholesterol levels in your blood is an important aspect of heart health.
2. Increases Nutrient Absorption
Another beneficial side effect of slowing down your digestion is that it gives your body more time to absorb the nutrients you eat, particularly calcium. Scientific findings suggest that the inulin in chicory root enables better calcium absorption, which not only leads to a stronger skeleton but can also protect older adults and postmenopausal women from developing osteoporosis.
3. Helps Stabilize Blood Sugar Levels
Slower rates of digestion also help stabilize blood sugar levels and protect against type 2 diabetes. This is especially vital for those with prediabetes who are attempting to preserve their health and avoid the complications that come with a full-blown diabetes diagnosis.
By slowing down digestion, chicory root fiber helps to delay the rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream. A sudden spike in blood sugar levels alerts the body to produce more insulin. Insulin then ushers blood sugar out of the bloodstream. But when you call on insulin too often, such as with a carb-heavy, high-sugar diet, type 2 diabetes is a likely consequence, even for individuals not otherwise predisposed.
Chicory root fiber can not only save you from diabetes but also help those with diabetes maintain control of their blood sugar levels.
4. Supports Digestive Health
We’ve mentioned that prebiotic fibers like chicory root fiber help feed your good gut bacteria, but did you know you may have as many as 36,000 species of gut bacteria living in your digestive tract right now? You can add to that count with probiotic foods, and you can take care of your native bacteria by feeding them well.
This is important because in situations in which your good gut bacteria gets wiped out (sometimes by infection or from antibiotic medication that kills bacteria indiscriminately), it leaves room for opportunistic gut infections to flourish, like Candida albicans, the leading cause of yeast infections and oral thrush in those who are immunocompromised.
Chicory root fiber increases good bacteria like Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, both of which can help prevent infection by neutralizing harmful pathogens and prompting your immune response before there’s a hostile takeover. There are natural “bad” bacteria within us that need to be held in check, and chicory root fiber aids that effort.
5. Chicory Root Fiber May Lower Risk Factors for Cancer
Studies with inulin and oligofructose show promising indications that they may help prevent the development of certain cancerous tumors, inhibit cancer growth, and decrease the rate of metastasization of cancer to the lungs. Evidence exists for this fiber being especially effective in the fight against breast cancer and colon cancer.
Where Can I Find Chicory Root Fiber?
If you like the sound of these health benefits, you can supplement with chicory root fiber, use inulin as a food additive, or focus on the other natural food sources of inulin and oligofructose. If you want to use products that already have this beneficial fiber baked in, scan the ingredient list on food products for the words chicory root, inulin, or oligofructose.
Chicory plants are non-GMO and gluten free, with the fiber content most people in the modern world so desperately lack. We should be getting between 25 and 38 grams of fiber per day, but most of us fall terribly short of that goal. Insufficient fiber means we lack the above-listed benefits and open ourselves up to health troubles like diarrhea, constipation, and other gut health issues.
Look into ground chicory root fiber for the sake of your gut’s microbiome and your own overall well-being.