If you’ve ever munched down on a high-fiber cereal, protein bar, yogurt or ice cream, you’ve probably eaten Cichorium Intybus. That’s a fancy way of saying chicory, a plant cultivated in the US and Europe for its leaves and roots. Some restaurants add the chicory leaves to salads in order to add some color, tart flavor and a hint of ‘fancy’. But let’s focus on the ‘root’ of the topic; in specific, the chicory root.
The History of Chicory Root
The use of chicory root dates back thousands of years, when ancient Egyptians used to consume chicory for its found health benefits (1). However, chicory root became popularized in the US during WWII, when the peoples of New Orleans used the plant as a coffee substitute. When grounded and cooked properly, chicory root has a neutral, slightly sweet taste, with a texture and color that’s similar to coffee.
With its rise in popularity, there was a newfound spotlight on the hidden benefits of chicory root. People were saying that it was helping with their stomach health, control their weight, relieve constipation and more. It was later unearthed that most of those health benefits could be attributed to one thing in particular that’s naturally found in chicory root… inulin!
Chicory root fiber mainly consists of inulin, which is a soluble prebiotic fiber characterized as an oligosaccharide… let’s break that down, shall we?
An oligosaccharide is another fancy way of saying a carbohydrate fiber, which is a good thing for your stomach. Unfortunately, the average American isn’t consuming nearly enough fiber as is recommended (2). This is where the fiber in chicory root comes in handy, but more on that later.
We also mentioned that inulin is a ‘soluble fiber’… and this is a good thing! Soluble fiber helps with regulating blood sugar, reducing cholesterol, and slowing down digestion, which then makes us feel full for longer. The fiber also helps with relieving constipation by promoting regular bowel movements, maintaining a healthy, clean gut lining.
Finally, the underrated buzzword on the block: prebiotic! Inulin is a prebiotic fiber, which is fermented and acts as food for the probiotic bacteria in our gut. The probiotic bacterias in our gut aid in maintaining our gut health, improving cardiovascular health, boosting our immune system and much more!
The health benefits of chicory root are mainly due to inulin, and there are many to list!
Benefits of Chicory Root
Improved Bowel Health
As the inulin in chicory root is mostly soluble fiber, it passes through the small intestine undigested and lands in the large intestine. It’s here that the chicory root fiber aids the gut microbiome bacteria and helps with regulating bowel movements, while relieving any constipation.
Studies have seen that 10 grams of chicory root fiber can aid in improving bowel movements and softening stool (3, 4). This is crucial for a healthy lifestyle as irregular/infrequent bowel movements have been linked to colon cancers and other health declines (5).
It’s important to note that our bodies take time to adjust to any newly added fiber in our diets, so give it time! Most people can consume up to 10 grams (or more) of chicory root fiber with ease, so make sure to drink enough water to help your stomach with moving that fiber along!
Better Gut Health
As we’ve mentioned above, inulin is a prebiotic fiber, which is essentially fuel for beneficial probiotic bacteria. Having a balanced amount of needed probiotic bacteria in your gut flora is crucial to keeping your overall health in check.
One study has even shown that prebiotics are as equally important, if not more, as probiotics, as the prebiotics increased bifidobacterial populations without changing other bacteria species in the gut flora (16). Bifidobacteria is a beneficial bacteria in your gut that helps boost your gut health while getting rid of bad bacteria in your gut flora (17, 18).
The prebiotic composition that is found in chicory root’s inulin also helps boost beneficial immune responses and improve digestion (21, 22, 23). And by fueling good probiotic bacteria, the inulin helps with the prevention of pathogenic bacteria. The prebiotics help with the growth of bifidobacteria, which reduces pathogenic bacteria that could have eventually lead to colon cancers (20).
Greater Mineral Absorption
Although we might be eating enough vitamins and minerals, that doesn’t necessarily mean that our bodies are absorbing them properly. Luckily, chicory root has been found to help with mineral absorption. Better mineral absorption, especially calcium and magnesium, can lead to better bone density and organ function.
Two studies have shown that inulin consumption is linked to increased calcium and magnesium absorption (9, 10). Other studies have also linked inulin, that’s found in chicory root, to help with mineral absorption, leading to increased bone density/strength (11, 12). Increased mineral absorption has also been linked to increased daily energy performance/function.
Helpful for Diabetics
Diabetes is prevalent in today’s day and age, with excess sugar found in almost everything that we pick up. It’s important to be able to control diabetes, without letting it control you. A study was done that shows when chicory root is eaten with a meal, there’s a reduction in glucose absorption (13). Reduced glucose absorption means a reduced insulin response, which is key for diabetics.
Not only is chicory root helpful for diabetics, but it can help prevent/delay diabetes all together. A study showed that the inulin contained in chicory root helps decrease hemoglobin A1c, which is linked to lower overall blood sugar (14). This decrease links inulin with helping regulate blood sugar and prevention/delay of diabetes, as well as those who already struggle with type 2 diabetes (15).
Improved Weight Control
As mentioned before, the inulin inside chicory root is mostly soluble fiber. This means that the fiber remains intact as it passes through your stomach and your small intestine before it reaches the colon. As the inulin remains intact, it causes food to digest slower and increases GLP-1, which makes you feel full for longer periods of time (6).
Along with feeling full for longer, inulin helps with the decrease ghrelin, which is a hormone that increases appetite. A study showed that this decrease in ghrelin helped with weight loss in adults (7). Another study had found that chicory root helped with increasing metabolism (19), which improved burning more calories at rest and, subsequently, increased weight loss (8).
Reduced Disease Onset
Lastly, chicory root fiber has been studied to help with numerous health conditions, including obesity. One study had seen that an increase in dietary fiber helped with the decrease of obesity and diabetic conditions (24). Another study linked increased dietary fiber, like chicory root fiber, to significantly decreasing the risk of heart disease (24).
Another benefit of chicory root fiber is its anti-inflammatory traits. Multiple studies have linked chicory root to decreased inflammation, as well as aiding other biological molecules in anti-inflammatory processes (25, 26, 27). Another study linked prebiotics, just like inulin, to their general anti-cancer properties, specifically targeting colon cancers (28).
How Much is Too Much?
As we’ve established, chicory root has many benefits going for it, but that doesn’t mean that you should eat as much as you can of it! There’s that age old expression: “too much of a good thing”… The average person is supposed to consume between 25 grams to 38 grams of fiber daily. However, the average American seems to be having only 14 grams to 18 grams a day, which is about 53% less fiber than we should be having (2)!
This is where chicory root comes in to save the day! Studies have shown that up to 10 grams of inulin, present in chicory root, was well tolerated amongst healthy adults (29). Another study linked taking 10 grams of inulin daily helped with overall gut health and bowel movements (30).
As a lot of us aren’t getting enough of the fiber our bodies truly need, it sometimes takes time to adjust. When you introduce more fiber, like chicory root, into your system, it can take a few weeks for it to adjust to it’s healthier addition of dietary fiber! During that time, you might experience some gas, slight bloating or discomfort, but it’s normal! We need that fiber to keep our stomachs healthy, our guts healthy, our minds healthy… heck, our entire body healthy!