“Inulin is a type of fiber most found in plants like Jerusalem artichokes and chicory root, and it can act as a prebiotic since it [can be] easily fermented by the bacteria that live in our gut,” says Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD, a registered dietitian and gut health nutritionist. “As a result of that fermentation, short-chain fatty acids are produced, which can lead to positive changes to the gut microbiome.” Short-chain fatty acids have an array of positive effects on the gut, with the main ones being protection against inflammation, mucus production, and maintenance of the intestinal barrier integrity.
The positive changes to the gut microbiome can be attributed to the prebiotic nature of inulin, which can feed the bacteria in our gut that can produce butyrate—a form of postbiotics that helps maintain a healthy gut, adds Sauceda. A 2017 comprehensive review also points out that inulin is associated with improved gut microbiota, increased mineral absorption, stimulation of immune functions, reduced risks of irritable bowel diseases, and constipation. There’s been some research on how inulin consumption can help with other health concerns like type 2 diabetes and high blood sugar, but Sauceda says the research isn’t necessarily there yet to validate those claims.
- Amanda Sauceda, RD, registered dietitian and gut health expert
What experts do know is that inulin can help maintain a healthy gut, which can support our overall well-being. It’s important to note that inulin is high in FODMAPs, which are short-chain carbohydrates that may cause intestinal distress, so this type of fiber may not be everyone’s cup of tea. “If you’re sensitive to FODMAPs or have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), then you may experience bloating, gassiness, and overall discomfort when consuming inulin-rich foods or inulin supplements, so consult with a physician beforehand,” Sauceda says.
There is currently no Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for inulin, but the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics does recommend eating around 14 grams of fiber per 1,000 calories consumed per day.
8 inulin-rich foods that can aid in gut health
Getting more inulin through your diet can be a great way to naturally support gut health and reap the gut-boosting benefits of this fiber. Sauceda shares eight great sources of inulin per 100 grams (or 3.5 ounces).
1. Chicory root: 41.6 grams
Chicory root offers the highest source of inulin and can be used as a coffee alternative or in salads. Similar to dandelion greens, it's naturally bitter, but you can soften the flavor by soaking the root in water or sauteing it.
2. Jerusalem artichokes: 18 grams
Jerusalem artichokes can be cooked similarly to russet potatoes—they can be roasted, sauteed, or pureed. The white flesh of Jerusalem artichokes has a nutty, yet sweet flavor that makes it easy to add to your favorite dishes.
3. Dandelion greens: 13.5 grams
“Dandelion greens can be sauteed, used in herbal teas, and sometimes added to pesto,” Sauceda says. Dandelion greens are also a great source of important vitamins and minerals like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, calcium, and potassium. But they have a strong bite to it (similar to arugula), so feel free to experiment with a cooking method that works best for your palette.
4. Garlic: 12.5 grams
If you regularly cook with garlic in your meals, then you’re already adding inulin-rich food to your meals without knowing it. Garlic not only adds great flavor to dishes, but it can also promote the growth of bifidobacteria, which is considered good bacteria in the gut.
5. Leeks: 6.5 grams
Leeks are a great source of inulin, as well as important vitamins and minerals such as vitamins B6, vitamin K, vitamin C, copper, iron, and manganese. Often considered the sibling of onions, leeks offer a sweeter and milder taste that can be added to an array of dishes. You can add leeks to pizzas, casseroles, and soups. Keep in mind that leeks may require a thorough cleaning before eating, as their roots and outer leaves can have hidden soil.
6. Asparagus: 2.5 grams
Asparagus is an example of prebiotic-rich food that contains inulin, and can also help in the production of postbiotics. While the inulin components in asparagus are a bit lower than some of the other foods on this list, it’s still a great vegetable to cook with that offers tons of gut-boosting benefits.
7. Wheat bran: 2.5 grams
“Wheat bran can be used for coatings on chicken or with baking, depending on your preference,” Sauceda says. “It’s also available as a cereal to eat as is, which can serve as a fiber-rich breakfast.” Whole grains generally offer tons of essential nutrients in addition to inulin, such as B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, antioxidants, and phytochemicals.
8. Bananas: 0.5 grams
Bananas don’t offer the highest count of inulin per 100 grams, but they are a super versatile fruit that’s not only delicious, but offers vitamin C, vitamin B6, magnesium, and potassium.
Final notes on inulin
“Inulin is definitely a nice fiber to add [to your diet], especially if you struggle meeting the recommended fiber intake, but know that not eating inulin isn’t going to necessarily negatively impact your gut health,” says Sauceda. If you enjoy any of the listed foods, then that’s great! However, if you don’t, then Sauceda recommends finding other sources of fiber or prebiotic-rich foods you do enjoy.
On the cooking front, Sauceda also advises having a recipe in place if you’re cooking with a new ingredient, such as one of the foods mentioned above. “Pick one, then find a recipe to make with it so it doesn't just sit in the kitchen,” she says. Not sure where to start? Explore our delicious list of healthy recipes to try.
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