Inulin belongs to a class of carbohydrates called fructans. A fructan acts like a prebiotic. Many have heard of probiotics, which are healthy bacteria related to a healthy gut. Prebiotics, on the other hand, serve as food for probiotics, which in turns promotes a healthy gut flora. In addition to promoting a healthy gastrointestinal tract and reducing constipation, inulin can stimulate your bone health by enhancing calcium absorption, and lower the risk of atherosclerosis by decreasing blood triglyceride levels.
The Jerusalem artichoke comes from a species of sunflower mainly cultivated for its tuber and used as a root vegetable. The Jerusalem artichoke is also called sun root or topinambur, and 14 to 19 percent of its weight is composed of inulin fiber. Traditional artichokes provide the equivalent of 3 to 10 percent of their weight as inulin.
Chicory root, along with Jerusalem artichoke, is one of the main source of inulin fiber used by the food industry. Fifteen to 20 percent of chicory root's weight corresponds to the fiber inulin. Chicory root may be difficult to use for cooking, but look for foods that contain this root, such as supplement snack bars, as part of their ingredients to get the benefit of inulin.
Leeks, Onions and Garlic
The bulbs of leeks, onions and garlic are good sources of the prebiotic inulin. Three to 10 percent of the weight of leeks, 2 to 6 percent of the weight of onions and 9 to 16 percent of the weight of garlic correspond to inulin. Try to use these flavorful vegetables whenever you cook vegetables, stews, soups or sauces to increase the amount of inulin in your diet.
Bananas provide small quantities of inulin, or about 0.3 to 0.7 percent of a fresh banana's weight. Although the prebiotic content of bananas is relatively small compared to chicory root and Jerusalem artichoke, they can also contribute to increasing your inulin intake if you eat them on a regular basis.
Rye and Barley
Rye and barley are grains that contain small quantities of inulin. For example, about 0.5 to 1 percent of rye is inulin, and there is 0.5 to 1.5 percent in barley. Choose bread made with rye flour, and accompany your meals with barley instead of rice to obtain the benefits inulin has to offer.