Inulin—The New Stealth Ingredient

What the heck is inulin? And why does the food industry love it so much?

Have you noticed this new stealth ingredient showing up in so many foods lately?

Check the ingredients in your favourite snacks and I bet you see it buried there… listed as maybe chicory fibre , which is pretty much the same thing. AKA ‘chicory root fibre’, ‘chicory root extract’, ‘oligosaccharides’, ‘oligofructose’, ‘fructooligosaccharides‘, fructan’, ‘fibersure FOS’, ‘prebiotic’. It’ goes under various names and forms and it’s in bars, biscuits, breakfast cereals, meal replacement drinks, protein shakes, even yoghurts and ice cream.

So what the heck is in inulin and why is it there?

Inulin, not insulin dummy!

Inulin—not to be confused with insulin, the hormone that regulates our blood sugar—is a kind of fibre naturally found in a bunch of foods like onions, garlic, asparagus, artichokes, bananas and chicory.

In its raw state, inulin is good for our guts. It’s a source of prebiotic fibre—that’s insoluble fibre to you and me; the kind that doesn’t dissolve in water and travels to our large intestines where it feeds so-called ‘good bacteria’. 

Digestive mayhem

Problem is, as we’ll see, it can also be the hidden source of digestive mayhem for many of us. Especially in it’s factory-made form, which is how the food industry invariably uses it.

We’re talking major league cramps, gas, bloating, burping, diarrhoea, nausea and well… you get the picture.

Among the growing hordes of people who regard gluten as the devil—and let me be clear, I’m talking to those with gluten ‘intolerance’ here, not those with gluten allergies such as coeliac or Crohn’s disease—there may be a significant number whose strife really stems from inulin. Even in it’s natural form, quite a number of people can’t tolerate it (me included!) But industrial inulin is even worse.

Cover ups & quick fixes

Yet inulin has fast become the darling of food manufacturers. Here’s five reasons why.

  1. Cheap, especially the factory-synthesized stuff.
  2. Sweet, but doesn’t count for extra calories and carbs the way sugar does.
  3. Improves ‘mouthfeel’ in otherwise unpalatable formulations.
  4. Glues stuff together that doesn’t naturally stick, especially fat-free/ low-fat ingredients.
  5. Instantly qualifies any old mixture as ‘high-fibre’. (And high-fibre is the food industry’s new holy grail, the ‘new protein’!)

 Bottom Line

The main problem is that our bodies do not process factory-made inulin the same way as inulin in its natural, unprocessed forms, say in fruit and vegetables. Unless we’re especially sensitive to inulin, we’d have to eat a whole bunch of bananas or a load of asparagus to overdose on it.

 Bacterial Bean Feast

Industrial inulin, on the other hand, is refined, concentrated fibre, which ferments unnaturally fast in our guts. This gives our bacteria a bean feast, literally. With all the side effects… gas a-plenty, severe stomach cramps and all the other unmentionables.

 Recent studies show it might also trigger an overgrowth of harmful gut bacteria and candida.

 Just sayin’…

 Just sayin’, but to this day, Joyfuel is pretty unusual in that we shun inulin and all the lab-produced faux ‘stealth’ sweeteners in our recipes. Yet amazingly, our brownies and tiffin are still high-fibre— just from the inherent fibre contained in our 100% natural ingredients. Impressive, huh?

 Anyway, you can read more about this stuff by reading up on the low-FODMAP diet. In the early days of Joyfuel, Lo-Fo was a real focus for us and taught us a lot about how to make tummy-kind snacks and what to avoid.

 For more on low-Fodmap, check out our blog here:

 And watch our website for future blogs on this subject. If you’re gluten-free, you shouldn’t miss it.

 Photo: Courtesy of Unsplash/Sydney Sims