Inulin is a supplement that you may have only recently heard of, or not at all. Having recently caught the attention of the BBC featuring in documentaries ‘How to Stay Young’ and The Truth About Sleep’, it’s sparked new investigations within scientific literature.
Inulin’s time in the spotlight is no surprise, as this soluble fibre is said to have a whole host of health benefits including improvements in blood sugar control, weight management, and digestive health.
So, what do the facts say? We’re taking a look at inulin in more detail, investigating the evidence for its use, and the variety of ways it can be added to your diet.
What is inulin?
Inulin is a type of soluble fibre, which absorbs water and is commonly found in a variety of vegetables. It belongs to a class of carbohydrates known as fructans, meaning that they’re made up of fructose molecules that are specifically linked together to prevent digestion within the small intestine. Instead of being digested, inulin travels to the gut, where it acts as a prebiotic. Prebiotics help to feed and increase the number of good bacteria within our digestive system.
Health benefits of inulin
1. Digestive Health
The large intestine is home to more than 400 kinds of bacteria that are commonly referred to as being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bacteria. High quantities of certain bacteria are important for our health, but imbalances can also lead to disease.
Inulin plays an important role in keeping this balance in check by working as a prebiotic, which helps to feed and increase the number of these good bacteria. Keeping these ‘good bacteria’ within the body is important as they play a key role in digesting food amongst many other benefits.
Inulin can also provide benefits to a number of specific digestive issues such as constipation.
2. Improved Sleep
In a BBC documentary titled ‘The Truth About Sleep’, Dr Mosely trialed taking Inulin Powder over a 5 day period and measured the effect it had on his sleep.
Results at day 5 showed that Dr Mosely’s time spent asleep increased, and his time spent restless in bed decreased, in comparison to initial measurements taken before supplementation. Further research found that both REM and NREM stages of sleep were increased through inulin supplementation. The REM sleep stage is associated with restoration and recovery of the body, so this suggests not only an increase in quantity but also in quality of sleep.
3. Weight Loss
Struggle to keep those hunger pangs at bay? Inulin has been regularly shown to help achieve your weight loss goals by helping to regulate your appetite and reduce those common feelings of hunger.
It works by making changes to specific hormones that control your appetite levels, and helps to reduce the number of calories you eat by decreasing your feelings of hunger — and the results appear quite impressive. For example, studies have shown that individuals are able to lose between 1-6 kg across 12-18 weeks through the addition of inulin powder to their diet.
Not only are these individuals potentially able to reduce their body weight with the addition of inulin powder, but they’re also able to reduce ectopic fat storage. Ectopic fat relates to fat that is stored within other areas of the body, such as the liver and muscle tissue.
4. Blood Sugar Control
Inulin could help to improve blood sugar levels in some cases by reducing the amount of fat stored within the liver, which may help improve our sensitivity to a hormone called insulin.
Insulin is a key hormone in controlling blood sugar levels as it helps to remove glucose from the blood into the liver or muscle where it can be stored for energy later. So, if inulin can improve sensitivity to insulin, we become more efficient at removing glucose from the blood and have better control over our blood sugar levels in the long term.
When starting to take inulin, it’s commonly advised to start slow, perhaps by adding foods that are rich in it into your regular diet to begin with. If you decide to begin to supplement inulin, then begin with small doses between 2-3g per day for the first two weeks, followed by small increases of 1-2g per week up until a dose of around 10g per day.
Side effects of inulin
Whilst all individuals will respond differently to increases in inulin intake, those who consume a low FODMAP diet (restricting the amount of certain ‘short-chain’ carbohydrates) will generally experience significant side effects and are advised to avoid it.
Side effects range from slight discomfort to increases in gas and bloating when taken within the range with 7-10g per day.
How to take inulin powder
Inulin powder can be added to any of your meals or drinks and can also be used to bake with. It’s commonly added worldwide to a number of food products as it doesn’t affect the taste or appearance of our food. For those who experience issues tolerating it, it’s advised to consume with meals in smaller divided doses across the day in order to improve tolerance.