Inulin is a sneaky FODMAP as it likes to hide in processed foods! Before we learn where inulin hides, let’s figure out what it is.
What is Inulin And Is It A FODMAP?
Inulins are a type of polysaccharide that is found inside many types of plants and they use it to store energy (1). Inulins also belong to a type of dietary fibres known as fructans (1 2 3). Fructans are part of the oligosaccharides group in the FODMAP acronym and can cause serious digestive distress for some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (2 3). This is because inulin is not absorbed in our small intestine, which means when it reaches the large intestine it is feasted on by our gut bacteria and this fermentation can cause bloating, abdominal pain, wind, and diarrhoea (2 3).
Why is inulin consumption recommended?
You may be wondering why inulin consumption is recommended if it causes so many pesky issues. Well for normal people without GI issues, inulin acts as a functional food and can be beneficial for their bodies (1 3 4). Research shows that inulin can have a prebiotic effect on the gut bacteria (1). Prebiotics are foods or substances that help encourage the growth of healthy bacteria in our guts (5). Inulin as a prebiotic is believed to help with:
- increasing the amount of calcium and minerals being absorbed from foods
- supporting a healthy immune system
- relieving and reducing intestinal problems (providing it doesn’t cause a FODMAP reaction)
Inulin can also decrease constipation by increasing the amount of fibre you consume. The fibre helps by increasing the volume and water content of your stools, making them easier to pass (1).
Where is inulin found?
Inulin is naturally found in a variety of fruit, vegetables, and grains such as chicory root, globe and Jerusalem artichokes, wheat, barley, onion, leeks, garlic, dandelion root, and bananas (1 6 7). Unripe common bananas are low FODMAP as the fructan levels are low enough not to cause digestive distress, however as the bananas ripen the fructan levels increase to a high FODMAP level (2).
What processed food is inulin added into?
Inulin has a neutral taste which means it can be used to replace sugar, fat, flour or fibre in processed foods without changing the flavour (6). Most commercially used inulin is extracted from chicory root (6). Inulin is often added to dairy products, yoghurts, frozen desserts, dietetic products, and meal replacers, table spreads, baked goods or bread, breakfast cereals, tablets and supplements, protein powders, and many other products (6). I have personally found it in rice crackers, gluten free bread, and mixed in with stevia (a natural sugar replacer).
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What can inulin be called in food labels?
You need to check product labels for inulin, chicory root, chicory root extract, and chicory root fibre, to make sure it doesn’t sneak into your low FODMAP diet through processed foods. Also be aware that inulin can also be labelled as dietary fibre in some countries (8 9).
If you are on the low FODMAP diet how should you deal with inulin?
While on the first phase of the low FODMAP diet it is recommended that you reduce the amount of fructans (including inulin) that you consume (2 3). Avoid foods that contain high levels of naturally occurring inulin, and try to avoid products with added inulin (2 3). After the first phase of the low FODMAP diet you can test your tolerance to fructans and see if you can add them back into your diet.