Stealth fibre targets tummies

Inulin is a naturally occurring substance found in foods including bananas, wheat, onions, and garlic. It is a carbohydrate fibre and does good things for you but it is now being added to many processed foods and when you have too much it can cause real digestive problems.

Unlike many carbohydrates which are broken down in the small intestine, inulin acts like a fibre and makes it through to the colon. In the colon it behaves like a “prebiotic” acting to stimulate the growth of good bacteria and also being fermented by some bacteria.

As well as the foods listed above inulin is highly concentrated in chicory root, a plant part that is often used as a coffee substitute. In fact chicory root is such a good source of inulin that it can be extracted for commercial use. The major use of inulin is in the food industry as a food additive. As manufacturers have to reduce calories, fat, and salt in their products it has been found that inulin gives food a taste and texture that is very pleasant.

Inulin can be found in foods including breakfast bars, ice creams, chocolate bars, and more. Inulin will not always appear on the packaging; it may be listed as inulin, chicory root extract, oligosaccharide, or oligofructose. This means that many people will be consuming a lot of inulin and while it is a good thing, too much can cause gas, bloating, flatulence, stomach cramping, gastrointestinal rumbling, nausea, and diarrhoea.

To test if this is true and to see how much inulin is a bad thing researchers got a group of people to fast once a week for five weeks. The subjects were fed a breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese and orange juice. The orange juice was mixed with either a placebo or five grams or ten grams of inulin products; either natural inulin or short chain oligofructose. All of the intestinal symptoms were worst in the group that had ten grams of the oligoructose. The conclusion was that healthy people can withstand up to ten grams of natural inulin and five grams of “sweet” inulin daily.

The thing about this to remember is that it is very difficult to consume too much inulin if you consume it naturally in foods. Even drinking beverages made from ground chicory root will not be problem. It is when you start to consume foods unnaturally “spiked” with inulin that it becomes a problem.

So if no other cause can be found, unless you are part of a Vaudeville act where bloating, flatulence, nausea, tummy rumbling, and diarrhoea are part of your comic schtick, then cutting down on processed foods may well ease those tummy troubles.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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