Meeting fiber guidelines has proven to be a challenge for a large part of the population. This creates an opportunity for food manufacturers who are looking to service those consumers who want to increase their fiber intake. If you are one of those consumers who is consciously looking for, and buying foods that claim to be ‘high in fiber’ there is a fair chance this contains chicory root fiber or inulin.
The ingredient chicory root fiber is commonly used in a large amount of products, such as bread, cereals, bars, to increase the fiber content. Or used in dairy products to enhance creaminess, or in sugar reduced products in a broad range of applications. Also, if you have been reading up on intestinal health, you probably came across inulin.
Next to being added as an ingredient, inulin occurs naturally in a large number of plants and vegetables. It is used as an energy reserve within the plant and helps the plant to withstand cold and drought in winter. You can find inulin in foods you eat every day like bananas, garlic, onion, artichokes, asparagus, leeks and wheat.
Natural stimulants of good health
Vegetables that are naturally high in inulin, i.e. onion, garlic and leek, have been regarded as "stimulants of good health" for centuries. Some traditional diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, contain over 20 gram of inulin per day. According to Roberfroid (1993) the intake of inulin from plants was as high as 25 to 32 grams per day. However, due to the decreasing consumption of plant foods, this intake from natural sources now ranges from 2 to 11 gram per day in most European countries, and 2 to 8 gram per day in the United States , where most of the inulin intake (>90%) originates from wheat and onions. In the southern European countries, the daily intake is estimated between 5 and 18 gram, due to consumption of relatively high amounts of garlic.
The ingredient inulin is mainly sourced from chicory roots and is therefore also known was chicory root fiber. With only hot water, the inulin is extracted from the roots in order to produce Frutafit® inulin and Frutalose® oligofructose. Chicory root fiber is used for various reasons: to add fiber, for its prebiotic effect, to reduce sugar, reduce fat and/or calories, or any combination of those. The flavor of inulin (ranging from bland to relatively sweet) allows for it to be used in all kinds of applications.
Next to being a very versatile ingredient, inulin is a soluble fiber which can be considered a prebiotic, helping to improve bowel habits and health as it promotes the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria. It also provides various health benefits like increasing calcium absorption and possibly magnesium absorption, it may also have a positive effect on satiety, which could lead to a reduction in energy intake and thereby help in weight control.