I was a child when I first heard of inulin. We grew a lot of our own foods and when we purchased store bought foods, my Mom always tried to find things that were close to natural. One of those was a coffee that contained chicory. It was strong and dark, but very good tasting. I read that it contained inulin and researched it to find out just what it was.
What is Inulin?
Inulin is a naturally occurring polysaccharide. It converts to fructose in the stomach in the presence of hydrochloric acid. Fructose then forms glycogen in the liver without requiring insulin. The result is a slower rise in blood sugar, often referred to as having a lower glycemic index. This makes inulin rich foods a good choice for diabetics and hypoglycemics.
Sometimes medicalese can be hard to follow, so basically it means that the blood sugar wont go up quickly as it does with sucrose-type foods, or sugar-based, like doughnuts and soda. Eating or drinking these things can result in a sharp spike in blood sugar, and if there is no protein to hold it steady, it can fall rapidly, or crash. Keeping the blood sugar even is good not only for diabetics, but for those trying to lose weight as well.
Inulin Rich Foods
Many things you eat contain inulin. Some 3,600 of the foods we eat contain it. But what are the best sources of it? Here’s a list of some of the foods that naturally contain the highest amounts of inulin:
- Artichoke (globe)
- Burdock Root
- Chicory (the herb, not the lettuce)
- Coneflower (including echinacea)
- Dandelion root
- Jerusalem Artichoke
- Wild Yam
This is by no means an exhaustive list, there are many more. Some are available as teas or coffee substitutes, such as coneflower and chicory, and even roasted dandelion root. Some are available raw in health food stores such as agave leaves and Jerusalem Artichokes. And some can be found in the wild such as burdock root and wild yam. However you get them, be sure they are not from an area where pesticides and herbicides may be used. Pick dandelions and chicory from a field, not the roadside.
Using and Preparing Inulin Rich Foods
For some, foods high in inulin can produce gas and bloating, especially when cooked. Use these items sparingly if cooking them or use them raw. I love sunchokes (another term for Jerusalem Artichoke) washed and cut into pieces served raw with other vegetables and dill dip. Or slice them and toss them in salads. Jicama can be treated the same way. Or they can be sliced and then topped with squeezed lime juice and a mixture of salt, cayenne pepper and dehydrated lime juice. This is great over fruit, too. Coneflower and burdock can be made into tinctures and taken daily for improved digestion.
Making an Inulin-Rich Coneflower (Echinacea) or Burdock Tincture
- Clean the root you’ll be using and chop it well. (find organic Echinacea root here or organic burdock root here)
- Place about a cup of chopped root into a quart jar and cover it with alcohol. You can use anything with over 40% alcohol, so I use vodka. It has no color, taste or smell, so it will take on the flavor of whatever I’m doing.
- Cover and shake well. Leave this mixture in the sun for a few weeks, or until the mixture turns a darker color.
- When it’s ready, strain out the plant matter and compost it. The resulting liquid is your tincture.
- Transfer this to a glass amber bottle with a dropper. Label well and store in a dark, cool place. This tincture is good for a few years.
Take 5-6 drops a day. I just place them on my tongue and swallow, but if it’s really bitter I’ll put a little coffee in a cup, add the tincture and drink it quickly.
Recently the food industry has been catching up with inulin. I’ve seen the coffee substitutes made from chicory and dandelion root, teas and tincture made from all kinds of inulin-containing herbs and today I saw a box of pasta that said “made with Jerusalem Artichoke flour.” What will they think of next?
Grow Your Own!
Inulin-rich foods can be grown quite easily. Sunchokes are native to the Appalachian Mountains, but will grow just about anywhere. I remember them growing in the yard we had in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota, which was in zone 4. I am in zone 6b/7a right now and I know they’ll grow farther south into South Carolina and Georgia. They can be invasive, so give them plenty of room to run. Last spring I got over 20 pounds of sunchokes from 3 plants. I dug them up and took them with me and now I’m planting them all over my 6 acres. I seem to have a lot of them!
Sunchokes aren’t the only thing you can grow. Burdock is a nasty weed, producing burr seed pods with hooked spines on them. To solve this problem, and put more energy into the root, cut off the purple flower heads when they are done blooming. Harvest the root in the fall. Chicory is a pale blue flower that grows on the side of the road. Dig some up (with the land owner’s permission) and place them in full sun in your garden. Harvest these roots in the fall too. And any gardener knows you can grow onions, garlic and leeks easily in the garden. Harvest them anytime.
Safety Considerations for Inulin
We are not doctors, so be sure to check with your health care practitioner before using any foods to fight disease. Most doctors are aware of the risks and benefits of herbal medicine, but you may need to consult an herbalist for advice, especially if you are pregnant or nursing. While inulin is listed as GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe), not all plants react the same with all bodies, and some people may experience undesirable reactions when consuming inulin. And in the case of inulin, it would be a good idea to go slow and increase consumption as you go along, the same as with any new foods.
Have you tried inulin to control blood sugar?
What do you think of inulin rich foods that you’ve tasted?