You're snacking on a bar or yogurt and while perusing the ingredients, you see chicory root listed. OK, so it's a root, but what is chicory, exactly — and why is it in your snack bar or yogurt?
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"Chicory root fiber is often added to low-carbohydrate products such as protein bars, ice creams and yogurts to boost the product with added fiber," explains Kara Landau, RD, prebiotic expert dietitian and founder at Uplift Food.
"It's useful for decreasing sugar while increasing fiber in the final product."
Because of emerging research on the health benefits of fiber and the glaring need to limit our sugar intake, consumers are looking for foods that help reach these goals. The food industry is innovating new products to help meet this demand, hence finding chicory root in more and more processed foods.
What Is Chicory Root?
The blue flowering chicory plant is a member of the dandelion family. While the leaves are edible, it's the root that has made waves in the food industry.
"Chicory root is made up of over 60 percent inulin, a soluble prebiotic fiber that can feed the gut bacteria, assist with bowel motions and potentially support healthy blood lipid (fat) levels," explains Landau.
You may see inulin listed as an ingredient in a food product. The source could be chicory root, but it's not a guarantee. While chicory root is the richest source of inulin, according to an August 2016 paper in Carbohydrate Polymers, it's found in some vegetables as well.
The Health Benefits of Chicory Root
1. It's a Prebiotic
The chicory root inulin you find in products is a prebiotic, which is essentially food for the microbiota in our guts.
Prebiotics, like inulin, help to feed and create an optimal environment for probiotics, or the good bacteria, to grow. We know gut health isn't isolated to our GI tract — it can affect our mood and mental health, as well as our immunity, as explained by Harvard Health Publishing.
2. It Helps Keep Us Regular
As a soluble fiber, inulin helps to relieve constipation, according to the August 2016 review. It's also effective in preventing constipation from the get-go.
It's being a soluble fiber that makes it so effective, along with its prebiotic effect on gut bacteria and overall gut health.
3. It Supports Healthy Cholesterol and Blood Sugar Levels
Aside from inulin, chicory root also contains pectin, cellulose and hemicellulose fibers.
In concert, these fibers help to reduce cholesterol levels — and pectin, specifically, has been shown to improve blood sugar control, as explained in a July 2020 study published in Advances in Nutrition.
Chicory Root Side Effects
As we know, chicory (or inulin) is a type of fiber — and fiber affects everyone differently.
"Inulin is a soluble fiber, which swells in the stomach when consumed in high doses," explains Landau. "This may lead to digestive distress in some individuals. As such, consuming smaller amounts and gradually building up is the best way to determine tolerance levels, and to ensure you attain the benefits the ingredient can provide, whilst minimizing the side effects."
Landau also shares that those who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) may be particularly sensitive to inulin and should be mindful of adding it to their diets.
How to Use Chicory Root
Yes, chicory root is commonly found in packaged "high-fiber" foods, but it's also available as an ingredient on its own. Landau explains, "You can purchase chicory root inulin on its own as an isolated fiber — in a powder or liquid form."
It's also available as a syrup or coffee, as well as in a capsule or gummy form.
How to Use Powdered or Liquid Chicory
The powder or liquid can be mixed into a variety of dishes and drinks. You can add it to:
- gravies or sauce.
How to Use Chicory Syrup
- Add a drizzle to yogurt
- Add to oatmeal
- Use it as a sweetener for tea or coffee
Remember to start slow. “I always recommend people start slowly with no more than a teaspoon — about 4 to 5 grams — and build up slowly.
Chicory Root Products to Buy
Here's a variety of products, from coffee to gummies, that can help you add chicory root fiber to your diet.
1. Teeccino Chicory Root Herbal Coffee
Who doesn't love coffee? A 10-ounce cup has 6.5 grams of inulin from chicory root. There's no shortage of flavors either: The herbal chicory drink is available in Almond Amaretto, Chocolate Mint, Hazelnut, Vanilla Nut, Java, French Roast and more.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $9.08
2. Yuve Prebiotic Gummies
Aren't supplements just easier to swallow (literally) when they're in gummy form? The Prebiotic Gummies have 3 grams of chicory root inulin per serving and are gelatin- and gluten-free.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $17.88
3. NOW Foods Organic Inulin Powder
Using a powder gives you a lot of options when it comes to adding inulin to your diet. NOW Food's powder would mix well with foods like a smoothie or yogurt.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $6.37