Food for Thought
Jennie McCary, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and wellness manager for the Albuquerque Public School District. She focuses on childhood obesity prevention and employee wellness. She was New Mexico’s 2009 Outstanding Dietitian of the Year.
I’ve seen inulin listed as an ingredient in more and more food products. What is it, and is it healthy?
Inulin is found naturally in fruits and vegetables and also appears as an added source of fiber in food products such as yogurt and high-fiber snack bars. Inulin that is added to processed foods comes from chicory root extract and is used to increase fiber content and replace sugar, fat and flour. A soluble fiber like that found in oats and apples, inulin passes through the body undigested, and the gel-like substance helps improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Inulin is an oligosaccharide—a prebiotic that can feed the beneficial bacteria found in the gut and that may promote immunity and gastrointestinal health. Food products containing the functional fiber inulin can boost fiber intake for people falling short of their daily needs. Still, because of all the other health benefits that whole foods offer, the best way to fill up on fiber is to eat fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains during meals and snacks.