Inulin on a flatlay

10 min read

What Is Inulin and What It’s Doing in OLIPOP


When you are reading a food label, you may notice the word inulin showing up in many of your “healthier” foods, especially those with low net carbs. While you may have heard this buzzy word over and over again, do you really know what it is? If you don’t, read on to learn all about what is inulin and how this key ingredient may support a healthy lifestyle in a super-simple way.


What Is Inulin?


Inulin is a type of fiber found naturally in certain plants, with roots containing the highest concentrations. Some of the foods that contain the highest concentrations of inulin per gram include chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, garlic, onion, and leeks.


You probably have heard that fiber is something you want to eat enough of in your diet. Good news: if you’re eating inulin, you’re getting more fiber in your diet.


Sometimes referred to as roughage or bulk, fiber is the component of plant foods your body can neither digest or absorb. Instead of being broken down and absorbed like other food elements, fiber passes through your stomach and colon relatively intact. Our nation’s leading health experts agree that people should aim to eat between 25-38 grams of fiber daily, depending on age, gender, and other factors.1


There are two types of fibers: insoluble and soluble fiber.


  • Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water. Instead, it passes through your small intestine into the large intestine, where it draws water into your stool for aided bowel regulation.
  • Soluble fiber dissolves in water; the result is a gel-like substance that slows down the digestive process and makes you feel full. Underneath the umbrella of soluble fiber, there is a type known as prebiotics, or indigestible starch. These types of fiber act as “fuel” for the live beneficial bacteria, or probiotics that live in your gut.

Inulin is a soluble prebiotic fiber that helps feed your “good” bacteria, and thus, aids in supporting a healthy gut microbiome.2


Background On Inulin


While it was isolated in the early 1800s it has been eaten for centuries. You’ve likely been eating inulin throughout your life, without being consciously aware you were doing so. In fact, it is estimated that inulin is found in over 36,000 species of plants as storage for carbohydrates.3


While it is pretty widespread in foods, inulin is found in high concentrations in whole wheat, garlic, leeks and onions, and also asparagus and artichokes. It is found in the highest concentrations in chicory root.


Other Names For Inulin


Inulin is often extracted from chicory root and then added to foods to boost fiber content. However, because inulin is found in such high concentrations in chicory root, occasionally, they are used interchangeably. In addition to inulin and chicory root extract, you may see oligosaccharides and oligofructose on a food ingredient label referring to inulin.


Do you ever look at a food label and wonder how a product that wouldn’t normally be so high in fiber boasts about its fiber content? The food industry uses these compounds to boost the fiber content and also as a replacement for sugar or fat.


How Inulin Works And Supports Health


Inulin, like all other dietary fibers, is not digested or absorbed in the stomach or small intestine. Its prebiotic properties work magic in the large intestine supporting a healthy microbiota—the bacteria use it as ‘food’ to grow and multiply. Inulin is unique because it targets specific ‘good’ bacteria that support regularity and bowel function.4 Inulin also absorbs water which helps to soften stools.


In addition to supporting gut health because inulin isn’t digested and absorbed, it helps stabilize blood sugar in both people with prediabetes and with diabetes.5 Inulin may also support calcium absorption, and lower cholesterol and triglycerides.6 Like other dietary fiber, inulin also provides a feeling of fullness and satiety that can support weight loss and management.


Possible Side Effects Of Inulin


While inulin does offer many positive benefits to our health, too much of a good thing can be not-so-great. If you are increasing the amount of fiber in your diet, you could have some unexpected and uncomfortable side effects like bloating, gas, cramping, and possibly either diarrhea or constipation.


When it comes to increasing your fiber intake, slow and steady increase always wins the race! One pro tip is increasing your water consumption along with your fiber consumption. Long-term inulin and fiber intake aids in preventing you from “getting backed up” (aka constipated), which in turn, requires water.


What To Look For


Because inulin is abundantly found in plants, we suggest starting with a food-first approach. The easiest thing is to pick a few food items that are high in inulin content. Foods like garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, asparagus, and artichokes, will do the trick!


To get the recommended 25-38 grams of fiber per day, focus on eating various fruits and vegetables. You’ve heard it before (your mom was right!): eat your fruits and vegetables! They are nutrient powerhouses and are jam-packed with inulin and other fibers. They also contain vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals (active compounds found in plants that have health benefits), and water—so you get a lot of nutrition bang for your buck.


You can also increase inulin and overall dietary fiber by choosing products made with 100% whole wheat. But, make sure you double-check the nutrition labels of bread, cereal, and cracker products before consuming! The best products with the most amount of whole wheat will list it as the first ingredient, and it should be 100% whole wheat flour.


Today, you can find many processed foods like cereals, granola bars, and even dairy products like yogurt and ice cream that have added chicory root to boost the fiber content. Depending on your nutrition and calorie needs, you will need to determine whether or not adding these types of products to boost fiber is the right choice. Just because a food has boosted its fiber content, doesn’t mean it is a food that you want to be eating more of.


What about supplements? Inulin supplements are available as powder, capsules, and gummies. Powders can be added to shakes and beverages as well as baked goods.


Experiment to see what works for you—start slowly by adding fruits, vegetables, and 100% whole wheat products—maybe introduce one a week and see how you feel. Add one cup of water per week to help your body adapt to the increase in inulin and over fiber. In no time you will be reaping the health benefits of inulin.


Inulin in OLIPOP


If you’ve looked at the ingredient list of a can of OLIPOP, you may be wondering what the heck a veggie extract like inulin is doing in a can of soda! But, as you might have noticed, OLIPOP boasts a whopping 9g of fiber. This is, in part, thanks to the inulin added to its ingredients. Cracking open a can and enjoying an OLIPOP is something you can do that will help you meet your fiber needs and load your body up with beneficial inulin -- especially if your diet is lacking in foods like garlic, chicory, and Jerusalem artichoke. Do something good for your gut and your taste buds at the same time -- it’s a win-win, right?


Sources


  1. American Heart Association. “Whole Grains, Refined Grains, and Dietary Fiber.” Reviewed September 20, 2016. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/whole-grains-refined-grains-and-dietary-fiber Accessed June 3, 2021.
  2. Vandeputte D, Falony G, Vieira-Silva S, Wang J, Sailer M, Theis S, Verbeke K, Raes J. “Prebiotic inulin-type fructans induce specific changes in the human gut microbiota.” Gut. Vol. 66, no 11, 2017, pp. 1968-1974. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2016-313271.
  3. Niness KR. “Inulin and oligofructose: what are they?” J Nutr. Vol. 129, no. 8, 1999, pp. 1402S-6S. doi: 10.1093/jn/129.7.1402S
  4. Carlson JL, Erickson JM, Hess JM, Gould TJ, Slavin JL. “Prebiotic Dietary Fiber and Gut Health: Comparing the in Vitro Fermentations of Beta-Glucan, Inulin and Xylooligosaccharide.” Nutrients. Vol. 9, no. 12, 2017, pp. 1361. doi: 10.3390/nu9121361
  5. Wang L, Yang H, Huang H, Zhang C, Zuo HX, Xu P, Niu YM, Wu SS. “Inulin-type fructans supplementation improves glycemic control for the prediabetes and type 2 diabetes populations: results from a GRADE-assessed systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of 33 randomized controlled trials.” J Transl Med. Vol. 17, no. 1, 2019, pp. 410. doi: 10.1186/s12967-019-02159-0
  6. Gao T, Jiao Y, Liu Y, Li T, Wang Z, Wang D. “Protective Effects of Konjac and Inulin Extracts on Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes.” J Diabetes Res. Oct 2019 eCollection. doi: 10.1155/2019/3872182.
Cheat Sheet
  • Inulin is a soluble prebiotic fiber that helps feed your “good” bacteria, and thus, aids in supporting a healthy gut microbiome.
  • This prebiotic fiber is found naturally in popular foods like onion and garlic, but the inulin most commonly used in processed foods is an extract made from chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, or blue agave.
  • OLIPOP uses inulin from chicory root and Jerusalem artichoke to contribute to the 9 grams of fiber in each can of soda.
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