Health Benefits of Inulin (A Prebiotic Fiber)
Inulin is a type of fermentable, prebiotic fiber that is indigestible by your body. When you eat foods that contain inulin, your body transports the inulin to the large intestine where it is used by microflora. Inulin, like many other dietary fibers classified as fructans, can offer numerous health benefits due their prebiotic and other effects on intestinal health. The purpose of this article is to present some of the key health benefits of inulin fiber, including its ability to stimulate growth of health promoting bifidobacteria, its beneficial effect on mineral absorption, and its ability to stabilize blood sugar levels and thus reduce risk of type 2 diabetes. After reading this article, be sure to also check out the Best Natural Food Sources of Inulin.
Inulin Stimulates Growth of Bifidobacteria
Research indicates that inulin can have a beneficial effect on intestinal and digestive health. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted by researchers from the Institute of Bacteriology and Mycology, University of Leipzig, suggests that inulin can stimulate the growth of bifidobacteria in the intestines. This study used Jerusalem artichoke inulin and chicory inulin in the form of snack bars and involved forty five volunteers. Bifidobacteria have been shown to exert numerous beneficial health effects. For example, they have been found inhibit pathogens and harmful bacteria in the gut, boost the immune system, prevent constipation, inhibit procarcinogenic enzymatic activities in the body, and synthesize certain vitamins.
Inulin Improves Calcium and Magnesium Absorption
A large body of scientific evidence shows that calcium and magnesium are absorbed to a large extent from the large intestine. In fact, magnesium is mainly absorbed from the large intestine. Fermentable carbohydrates, such as inulin, are used in the large intestine by the local microflora. These microflora release short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) during fermentation. Short-chain fatty acids alter the pH balance in the gut, which in turn helps improve the absorption of minerals like calcium and magnesium. Studies proving that inulin can have a beneficial effect on mineral absorption have been conducted both in animals and in humans.
Inulin Keeps Blood Sugar Levels Stable
The human body does not break down inulin into monosaccharides, and as a result, inulin does not elevate blood sugar levels. Consequently, inulin may be helpful in the prevention and management type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, also known as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM), is a chronic metabolic condition that affects an increasing number of people in the United States, Europe and Australia. In people with type 2 diabetes, the body either does not produce enough insulin, or its cells ignore the insulin it produces. Insulin is an important hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood by promoting the utilization of glucose by cells, especially muscle and fat cells, for the purpose of satisfying cells' energy needs. Besides causing havoc on the body's metabolic processes, diabetes can put you at risk of several secondary complications if not treated correctly through effective lifestyle modification, such as switching to sound dietary habits and being more physically active, and through the use of effective diabetes drugs. Such secondary problems may include heart disease, kidney damage, impotence, and leg ulcers. If not controlled, diabetes may even lead to death.
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