Inulin: fiber health halo made easy

inulin: a non-disgestible while powder added to processed foods to create a fiber Health Halo

Inulin, in powder form, doesn’t replace high fiber plant foods

If you buy food products because they’re labeled “high fiber”, chances are good that you’ve been eating a lot of inulin lately.

Inulin is a non-digestible fructan (long string of fructose molecules), extracted mainly from chicory.  So far so good.  It’s a plant substance.  And from a food manufacturers perspective, purified inulin possesses two highly desirable qualities:

  1. it’s tasteless
  2. it dissolves invisibly in liquid.

You can’t say that about wheat bran or oat bran or stringy celery or orange pulp.  If a food company mixed those into yogurt, you’d notice.  And you probably wouldn’t be amused.

Inulin is just one of  the many types of fiber found in plant foods.  Fiber characteristics vary considerably from plant to plant.  Fiber from beans is very different from the fiber in citrus or celery or whole wheat bread or walnuts.  Our digestion can handle all of them, and gut bacteria appreciate the variety.  But only inulin appeals to food manufacturers who want to sell products by giving them a fiber Health Halo.  Inulin can be mixed into yogurt or drinks, or incorporated easily into snack bars, processed cereals, white bread and other products that were never known for fiber content.  High fiber candy or burgers or soft drinks?  Nothing would surprise when it comes to food marketing, except that most people wouldn’t like the sound of high fiber burgers.

What could be the problem with inulin?  Possibly nothing, especially for people who eat a varied diet, with plenty of high fiber plant foods.  The occasional snack bar with inulin just adds a bit to the fiber mix.  But people who rely only on processed food with added inulin for their fiber are limited to one type of fiber.  Inulin-fortified yogurt isn’t the same as a tossed green salad or an orange.

Another problem for some people is that they may not tolerate inulin, or can’t eat that much of it.  They may unknowingly eat a lot of inulin from fortified foods, experience various digestive problems, and not know why.


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