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What Is Inulin? | Benefits, Dosage & Side Effects

Inulin is a supplement that you may have only recently heard of, or not at all. Inulin has recently taken centre stage with its appearances in BBC documentaries which sparked new investigations within scientific literature.

Inulin’s time in the spotlight is no surprise, as this soluble fibre is said to have a whole host of health benefits including improvements in blood sugar control, weight management, and digestive health.

So, what do the facts say? Here, we take a look at inulin in more detail, investigating the evidence for its use, and the variety of ways it can be added to your diet.

What is inulin?

Inulin is a type of soluble fibre commonly found in a variety of vegetables. It belongs to a class of carbohydrates known as fructans, meaning that they’re made up of fructose molecules that are specifically linked together to prevent digestion within the small intestine. Instead of being digested, inulin travels to the gut, where it acts as a prebiotic. Prebiotics help to feed and increase the number of good bacteria within our digestive system.

 

Is inulin classed as a fibre?

Inulin is a low-calorie soluble fibre containing 1.5 calories per gram. Although inulin is a form of carbohydrate, given it is made up from fructose molecules, it contains significantly fewer calories than carbohydrates as the fibre can’t be broken down or absorbed by the digestive system. When consumed, soluble fibre absorbs water and subsequently turns into a gel-like substance.

 

Health benefits of inulin

Impact of Inulin on Weight Loss 

Feeling forever hungry along every step of your weight loss journey? Inulin has been regularly shown to help achieve your weight loss goals by helping to regulate your appetite and reduce those common feelings of hunger. (1, 5, 13, 14)

Inulin works by making changes to specific hormones that control your appetite levels, and helps to reduce the number of calories you eat by decreasing your feelings of hunger — and the results appear quite impressive. For example, studies have shown that individuals are able to lose between 1-6 kg across 12-18 weeks through the addition of inulin powder to their diet. (5, 14)

Not only are these individuals potentially able to reduce their body weight with the addition of inulin powder, but they’re also able to reduce ectopic fat storage. (5) Ectopic fat relates to fat that is stored within other areas of the body, such as the liver and muscle tissue. Fat storage in these areas being particularly worrying given its close link to the development of type II diabetes. (5)

 

Impact of Inulin on Blood Sugar Control

Inulin could help to improve blood sugar levels in those with type II diabetes or pre-diabetes. (3, 4, 6) This is important as spiralling blood sugar levels can lead to a number of other metabolic disorders and ill health. One of the ways inulin does this is by reducing the amount of fat stored within the liver which may help improve our sensitivity to a hormone called insulin. (9)

Insulin is a key hormone in controlling blood sugar levels as it helps to remove glucose from the blood into the liver or muscle where it can be stored for energy later. So, if inulin can improve sensitivity to insulin, we become more efficient at removing glucose from the blood and have better control over our blood sugar levels in the long term.

 

Impact of Inulin on Digestive Health

The large intestine is home to more than 400 kinds of bacteria that are commonly referred to as being either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bacteria. High quantities of certain bacteria are important for our health, but imbalances can also lead to disease.(16)

Inulin plays an important role in keeping this balance in check by working as a prebiotic which help to feed and increase the number of these good bacteria. Keeping these ‘good bacteria’ within the body is important as they play a key role in digesting food amongst many other benefits.

Inulin can also provide benefits to a number of specific digestive issues such as constipation and could potentially be used for improving symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.(8, 12, 17)

 

Best inulin sources

Whilst inulin can be found in over 3000 vegetables, the primary sources of it come from foods such as garlic, asparagus roots, Jerusalem artichoke and chicory root, which all possess a 15-20% inulin content. It can also be found in a range of more commonly consumed foods such as bananas, onions, leeks, and barley although many of these only possess a 1-5% inulin content.

However, given that the average fibre intake within the UK is 10-15g lower than recommended values, many will find it difficult to obtain enough soluble fibre within their diet.(7) As such, it may be beneficial to consume inulin in the form of a supplement.

 

Inulin dosage

When starting to take inulin, it’s commonly advised to start slow, perhaps by adding foods that are rich in it into your regular diet to begin with. If you decide to begin to supplement inulin, then begin with small doses between 2-3g per day for the first two weeks, followed by small increases of 1-2g per week up until a dose of around 10g per day. Although some studies have used intakes of between 20-30g per day, intakes within these ranges are more likely to result in greater side effects.(5, 14)

 

Side effects of inulin

Whilst all individuals will respond differently to increases in inulin intake, those who consume a low FODMAP diet (restricting the amount of certain ‘short-chain’ carbohydrates) will generally experience significant side effects and are advised to avoid it.

Side effects range from slight discomfort to increases in gas and bloating when taken within the range with 7-10g per day.(15)

 

How to take inulin powder

Inulin powder can be added to any of your meals or drinks and can also be used to bake with. It’s commonly added worldwide to a number of food products as it doesn’t affect the taste or appearance of our food. For those who experience issues tolerating it, it’s advised to consume with meals in smaller divided doses across the day in order to improve tolerance.(11)

 

Take home message

Inulin provides several important health benefits including improvements in glucose control, weight management and digestive health. It’s safe for most people although those following a low FODMAP diet should likely avoid its consumption. For everyone else, when starting supplementing with inulin, start out with small doses (2-3g per day) and gradually increase to reduce potential side effects.

Our articles should be used for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to be taken as medical advice. If you’re concerned, consult a health professional before taking dietary supplements or introducing any major changes to your diet.


  1. Arora T, Loo RL, Anastasovska J, Gibson GR, Tuohy KM, Sharma RK, Swann JR, Deaville ER, Sleeth ML, Thomas EL, Holmes E, Bell JD, Frost G. Differential Effects of Two Fermentable Carbohydrates on Central Appetite Regulation and Body Composition. PLoS One 7: 1–10, 2012.
  2. Casellas F, Borruel N, Torrejon A, Varela E, Antolin M, Guarner F, Malagelada J-R. Oral oligofructose-enriched inulin supplementation in acute ulcerative colitis is well tolerated and associated with lowered faecal calprotectin. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 25: 1061–1067, 2010.
  3. Dehghan P, Pourghassem Gargari B, Asgharijafarabadi M. Effects of high performance inulin supplementation on glycemic status and lipid profile in women with type 2 diabetes: a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Diabetes Metab J 3: 55–63, 2013.
  4. Gargari BP, Dehghan P, Aliasgharzadeh A, Jafar-Abadi MA. Effects of high performance inulin supplementation on glycemic control and antioxidant status in women with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Metab J 37: 140–148, 2013.
  5. Guess ND, Dornhorst A, Oliver N, Bell JD, Thomas EL, Frost GS. A randomized controlled trial: The effect of inulin on weight management and ectopic fat in subjects with prediabetes. Nutr Metab 12: 1–10, 2015.
  6. Guess ND, Dornhorst A, Oliver N, Frost GS. A Randomised Crossover Trial: The Effect of Inulin on Glucose Homeostasis in Subtypes of Prediabetes. Ann Nutr Metab 68: 26–34, 2016.
  7. Kaczmarczyk M, Miller M, Freund G. The health benefits of dietary fiber: beyond the usual suspects of type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Metabolism 61: 1058–66, 2012.
  8. Leenen CHM, Dieleman LA. Inulin and Oligofructose in Chronic Inflammatory Bowel Disease. J Nutr 137: 2572S–2575S, 2018.
  9. Lim EL, Hollingsworth KG, Aribisala BS, Chen MJ, Mathers JC, Taylor R. Reversal of type 2 diabetes: Normalisation of beta cell function in association with decreased pancreas and liver triacylglycerol. Diabetologia 54: 2506–2514, 2011.
  10. Lindsay JO, Whelan K, Stagg AJ, Gobin P, Al-Hassi HO, Rayment N, Kamm MA, Knight SC, Forbes A. Clinical, microbiological, and immunological effects of fructo-oligosaccharide in patients with Crohn’s disease. Gut 55: 348–355, 2006.
  11. Marteau P, Flourié B. Tolerance to low-digestible carbohydrates: symptomatology and methods. Br J Nutr 85: S17, 2008.
  12. Marteau P, Jacobs H, Cazaubiel M, Signoret C, Prevel JM, Housez B. Effects of chicory inulin in constipated elderly people: A double-blind controlled trial. Int J Food Sci Nutr 62: 164–170, 2011.
  13. Morrison DJ, Thomas EL, MacDougall K, Murphy KG, Mt-Isa S, Bloom SR, Dhillo WS, Viardot A, Preston T, Frost G, Psichas A, Zac-Varghese SEK, Ashby D, Bell JD, Blundell JE, Chambers ES, Gibson GR, Clegg S, Morley W, Kolida S, Tedford C, Finlayson GS. Effects of targeted delivery of propionate to the human colon on appetite regulation, body weight maintenance and adiposity in overweight adults. Gut 64: 1744–1754, 2014.
  14. Parnell J, Reimer R. Weight loss during oligofructose supplementation is associated with decreased ghrelin and increased peptide YY in overweight and obese adults. Am J Clin Nutr 89: 1751–1759, 2009.
  15. Ripoll C, Flourié B, Megnien S, Hermand O, Janssens M. Gastrointestinal tolerance to an inulin-rich soluble roasted chicory extract after consumption in healthy subjects. Nutrition 26: 799–803, 2010.
  16. Sekirov I, Russell S, CM A, BB F. Gut Microbiota in Health and Disease. Physiol Rev 90: 859–904, 2010.
  17. Yurrita LC., Martín ISM. b, Ciudad-Cabañas MJ., Calle-Purón ME., Cabria MH. Effectiveness of inulin intake on indicators of chronic constipation; a meta-analysis of controlled randomized clinical trials [Eficacia de la ingesta de inulina sobre los indicadores del estre{ñ}imiento cr{ó}nico; un meta-an{á}lisis de ensayos cl{í}nicos. Nutr Hosp 30: 244–252, 2014.

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Mark Hearris

Mark Hearris

Writer and expert

Mark is a current PhD researcher at the Research Institute for Sport & Exercise Science (Liverpool John Moores University) where his research focuses on the role of nutrition in skeletal muscle adaptation to training.

Mark also holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Sport & Exercise Science and a Master’s in Sport Nutrition and has published work in a range of scientific journals, professional magazines and has presented at both national and international conferences.

Alongside his research profile, Mark also practices as a performance nutritionist within professional football.

Find out more about Mark’s experience here.