What are the properties and main health benefits of inulin



If you have a kid with frequent tummy issues, you might have been told: Try inulin, it does wonders. OK, but what exactly is inulin? To put it simply, inulin is a water-soluble prebiotic dietary fiber that belongs to a group of non-digestible carbohydrates called fructans. Tens of thousands of plants contain this type of prebiotic fiber, but chicory roots are the richest source of inulin. Chicory roots inulin is a white powder with fine particles and a neutral flavor, leaving no aftertaste, which is why it is used in many food products to replace fats

Let’s have a look at the main properties and health benefits of inulin.

 The role of inulin as a dietary fiber

One key property of inulin is that, as a dietary fiber, it is not digestible. Gastric secretions cannot break it down, so inulin passes virtually unmodified to the large intestine, or colon. It is there that inulin acts. The main role of dietary fibers such as inulin is to feed the good bacteria in the colon. 

When you take a dietary supplement containing probiotics, those are the good bacteria that your digestive tract needs. Prebiotics like inulin is what helps them grow into colonies.

Inulin is fermented by the good bacteria, which transform it into short-chain fatty acids, lactate, bacterial fuel and gases. The good bacteria thrive upon this type of nourishment, their colonies grow, leaving little space for the bad bacteria, those that cause diseases.

Since it is not-digestible, inulin has very little calories, 1.5 cal/g.

Now, let’s have a look at what inulin does. 

Combats constipation

The main benefit of eating a diet rich in inulin or taking supplements is that dietary fibers fight constipation. 

Studies on patients suffering from intestinal irregularity showed that an increased inulin intake not only helps re-establish the microbial balance in the gut, but also promotes regular stools.[1] As dietary fibers cannot be digested they add bulk to the stools which favors elimination at regular intervals.

For instance, one study showed that people taking 20-40g of inulin daily for one month reported having more frequent bowel movements and less trouble with other symptoms associated with constipation.[2]

The mechanisms through which inulin alleviates constipation symptoms are not yet fully understood. However, it is believed that chicory inulin lowers the pH of the intestines, particularly the colon, and increases stool load and rate, a phenomenon known as the bullying effect.

Reduces the risk of gastrointestinal diseases

Inulin helps decrease of many diseases of the intestinal tract, particularly irritable bowel dis-

eases (IBD) and colon cancer. Ulcerative colitis  and Crohn’s disease are both classified as inflammatory bowel diseases and their prevalence in the Western world has increased significantly during the past few decades.

Taking both prebiotics and probiotics can alter the intestinal microflora, restoring the balance between good and bad bacteria and this can prevent chronic intestinal inflammation.

Enhances absorption of calcium, magnesium and iron

The role of inulin in increasing the absorption of essential minerals is essential for children and teenagers. You can feed a child the best diet in the world, but if there’s an imbalance in their intestinal microflora, many of the essential nutrients in that food will be wasted as their bodies cannot process them.

Inulin helps the body absorb more calcium, iron and magnesium, and all these minerals are vital for a growing child. 

According to research, the daily recommended dietary intake of magnesium is 350 to 420 mg/day for males and for females from 280 to 320 mg/day. As for calcium, boys need 800 mg/day, and girls 800–1000 mg/day.

The presence of fermentable substances such as dietary fiber favors attaining calcium equilibrium. [3] The minerals that cannot be absorbed in other parts of the GI tract will be absorbed in the colon with the help of

Stimulates appetite

Appetite is regulated by a variety of factors. It’s not that your child is a picky eater, well maybe he is, but often enough it’s the body that sends the wrong signals to the brain. 

The procedure to regulate appetite includes the interaction between several hormones that are secreted by the GI tract and peripheral tissues of the body, as a food feedback. The brain interprets the signals it receives, as either hunger or satiety.

Studies on the role of inulin in this complicated process show that it regulates appetite through the short chain fatty acids (SCFs) produced by the fermentation in the colon. A child taking a dietary supplement containing inulin will have a normal appetite. 

Boosts immunity

There are several research trials on the immune-modulating effects of inulin. One important conclusion is that inulin stimulates T cell functions, NK cells and phagocytic activities through alteration in concentration of lactic acid bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. 

One study found that volunteers taking a dietary supplement containing inulin reported less infections.[4]

Also, by keeping bad bacteria at bay and protecting the intestinal lining, dietary fibers prevent pathogens from entering the bloodstream. 


[1] Bosscher, D., Van Loo, J., & Franck, A. (2006). Inulin and oligofructose as prebiotics in the prevention of intestinal infections and diseases. Nutrition Research Reviews, 19(2), 216–226.

[2] Fernández-Bañares, F. (2006). Nutritional care of the patient with constipation. Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology, 20(3), 575–587.

[3] Scholz-Ahrens, K. E., & Schrezenmeir, J. (2002). Inulin: oligofructose and mineral metabolism—experimental data and mechanism. British Journal of Nutrition, 87, S179–S186.

[4] Bunout, D., Barrera, G., Hirsch, S., Gattas, V., de la Maza, M. P., Haschke, F., et al. (2004). Effects of a nutritional supplement on the immune response and cytokine production in free-living Chilean elderly. Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, 28(5), 348–354.