Most likely, you’ve heard about probiotics. Those healthy microorganism-rich foods and supplements that keep your gut bacteria teaming and happy. Yet, have you heard of prebiotics? These non-digestible components of your food find their way through the small intestine, into the large colon, and are fermented into incredibly nutritious gut bacteria feed. While many foods contain prebiotic elements, specifically fiber, there is one that outranks all the rest: chicory root. This prebiotic powerhouse is a great addition to any plant-based balanced diet!
What are Prebiotics?
Let’s back up a moment and take a look at prebiotics.
Prebiotics are high-fiber food products “that act as food for human microflora,” also referred to as microbiota or healthy bacteria within the body. While probiotics are used to keep gut microbiota healthy, prebiotics are generally used “with the intention of improving the balance of these microorganisms.” Naturally sourced prebiotic components are found in “whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, soybeans and artichokes,” but, in these health-conscious times, prebiotics can also be found in non-GMO, organic, and vegetarian supplement form, such as this NatureWise 450 Billion Max Prebiotic for Men and Women.
Yet, if you’re looking to get some natural prebiotic in your diet, look no further than chicory root!
What is Chicory Root
Chicory root fiber is the source of prebiotic power. Yet, where does it come from? Simple enough, a chicory plant. The chicory plant is a beautiful perennial with bright blue flowers and is part of the dandelion family. It is native to Europe, but has also been naturalized to North America, Australia, and China. Along with being a fiber-rich resource and leafy green for salads, chicory root is also baked and then ground down, the resulting substance used as a coffee substitute and food additive.
Yet, the true prebiotic benefits come from a component of chicory root called inulin. This chicory root extract is high in fiber and has been widely used in sweeteners, gluten-free breads, as an additive in high-fiber processed foods, in probiotic and digestive supplements, and is used for its creamy texture in foods such as ice cream and yogurt. Yet, inulin also “occurs naturally in some veggies such as artichokes, onions, and garlic.”
Health Benefits of Prebiotic Inulin Sourced from Chicory Root
Fiber is a well-recognized key component to a healthy and balanced diet. Not only does fiber feed your gut bacteria, but it is also known to ease digestive issues and help maintain a healthy weight. Let’s take a closer look at the health benefits of fiber-rich inulin.
Improves Gut Health
While this is expected from a prebiotic, how and why does inulin keep your gut healthy?
It all comes down to time, absorption, and fermentation. Inulin is made of simple sugars linked together to create a fructan, which means this substance is “a non-digestible prebiotic, which allows it to pass through humans’ small and large intestines unabsorbed.” Given the length of time inulin has to pass through the digestive system undisturbed, it’s able to ferment. This fermented compound “feeds the healthy intestinal microflora (bacterial organisms, including Bifidobacterium) that populate the gut.”
Aids in Sugar Detox
Consumption of sugar, especially highly-processed high fructose corn syrup and table sugar, has been linked to weight gain, increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, as well as acne, depression, and even an increase in cellular aging. Therefore, any technique employed to help reduce your consumption of sugar is important.
Chicory root is a great natural and fiber-rich substitute for that table sugar in your pantry. The chicory plant “has chemical similarities to the sugar beet plant that’s often used to derive sugar. While that sweet flavor may not be as strong as the sugar you’re used to, it’s a great way to help you slowly detox. Try supplementing chicory root in recipes that ask for sugar and flour. Not only will you avoid sugar, but it will also boost your fiber intake without adding unwanted calories.
Boosts Calcium Absorption
One of the many benefits of inulin is it’s stimulating effects on intestinal bacteria. Studies have shown that inulin “helps the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria that are needed for various metabolic functions.” This provides a trickle-down effect within the body: healthy gut and intestinal bacteria help the body improve its ability to absorb electrolytes, such a calcium. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study in 2005 showing that inulin “significantly increased calcium enough to enhance bone mineralization during pubertal growth.”
Decreased Metabolic Syndrome Risk
A diet that helps regulate the secretion of insulin is incredibly important. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that “regulates many metabolic processes that provide cells with needed energy.” When you consume inulin-rich chicory root, insulin is not secreted. Therefore, your blood sugar doesn’t go up. Due to inulin’s blood sugar stabilizing characteristics, chicory root is “potentially helpful in managing metabolic syndrome risk factors and blood sugar-related illnesses,” such as diabetes.
High-Protein Vanilla and Cashew Smoothie/One Green Planet
Alright, now you know the positive effects of this plant-based food, yet how do you integrate it into your diet?
For those of us who are too busy to cook every day, you may want to consider using powder inulin, such as this LC Foods All Natural Inulin Fiber (Chicory Root), or even the granule form of inulin, such as this one pound package of Frontier Bulk Chicory Root Granules. The powder and granules can be added to smoothies, such as this Vanilla Spiced Breakfast Smoothie, protein shakes, such as this High-Protein Vanilla and Cashew Smoothie, or even supplemented for flour or sugar in recipes, such as in this Triple Decker Carrot Cake.
Yet, inulin naturally occurs in other foods besides chicory root including sugar beets, leeks, asparagus, onion, garlic, dandelion root, bananas, and even wheat. Experiment with a combination of these veggies along with a dash of chicory root powder and you’ve got a prebiotic strong meal!
Get started with your experimentations by downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
Lead Image Source: Kalcutta/Shutterstock