Updated: Oct 1, 2020
The nutrition topic of the year must surely be gut health. We have all been drilled with messages of increasing fibre in the diet to increase the number and variety of bacteria and other tiny organisms living principally in our colons which it seems have a major impact on health both mental and physical.
What kind of fibre?
But is all fibre equally as helpful? And do I need to chew on endless celery sticks? As usual the answer is that variety is key. Just eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables (including legumes) is a great first step to better gut health.
Photo by Louis Hansel
Today I am focussing on Inulin. Inulin is a soluble type of fibre, so it will dissolve in water. In the stomach it forms a kind of gel that does several things:
-it slows down digestion (which helps with blood sugar control). Due to this effect research is also suggesting that it can be helpful in weight loss.
-It increases fullness (so you won't go looking for chocolate biscuits)
-It removes cholesterol as it passes through the digestive tract and then you get rid of that cholesterol in faeces.
-It adds bulk to your stools and so reduces constipation.
Inulin is good for your microbiome
Inulin also stimulates gut bacteria to grow and increases populations of the beneficial bacteria bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. These bacteria are important for stimulating the immune system, competing with pathogenic (bad!) bacteria species, and preventing infection.
A recent study showed that inulin fibre was more effective than cellulose in reducing inflammation and in helping to regulate blood sugars in overweight and obese people.
There is research which suggests that inulin also helps the body to absorb calcium, which is essential for strong bones and teeth.
What's the catch?
There are no downsides to eating foods with inulin in them. You may notice looser stools or more wind initially but drinking plenty of water will help. Certainly it is not a known allergen, although people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome can be sensitive to it.
Which foods contain inulin?
The following foods are good sources of inulin fibre:
Obviously some of those are a little hard to source regularly. I'm not sure you'll find wild yams at your local supermarket! So focus on trying to include those that you can get your hands on:
How about a ..
Wintery warming onion soup
Pureed Jerusalem artichokes under grilled fish?
Chargrilled asparagus with shaved parmesan and balsamic vinegar?
Banana smoothie, bananas on porridge, banana pikelets, or just a banana!
Garlic in everything you cook! (Maybe not that chocolate cake...)
Leek Tart or leeks cooked with rice, tomato paste and olive oil
Onions in lots of curries, soups and stews
The Bottom Line
Include some inulin rich foods in your duet every day to be kind to your guts and enjoy multiple health benefits.