Most people know, by now, that eating a high fiber diet may improve digestion and prevent blood sugar spikes. But, what you may not know is that there is a little root that has heaps of fiber and is found in some of your favorite foods. We’re talking about chicory root. Perhaps you’ve seen it on the ingredient list on your cereal box or favorite protein bar, but may not have given it much thought.
Well, we’re going to give you all the deets on this pretty little plant, and how it can benefit you (and also what to look out for).
WHAT IS CHICORY ROOT?
Chicory root consists mostly of inulin fiber, and comes from a plant in the dandelion family. It is commonly ground and often used as a coffee substitute due to its subtle coffee-like woody and nutty flavor.
Other foods high in inulin fiber are leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, and garlic.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
Chicory root is primarily composed of inulin, a fiber known for its prebiotic properties. You’ve probably heard about probiotics, the microorganisms that keep your gut happy. Prebiotics are essentially fuel for probiotics a.k.a. good bacteria. In other words, prebiotics feed the beneficial microbes in your gut—and almost half of chicory root fiber comes from the prebiotic fiber, inulin.
The most well-known benefit of inulin is that it aids digestion and helps with bowel movements. It has a mild laxative effect which relieves constipation and increases stool frequency without causing diarrhea. It also helps balance blood sugar and even lowers cholesterol. You can find other prebiotics in the skin of apples, bananas, onions, and beans.
And on top of all that, it’s also high in antioxidants.
HOW DO YOU EAT IT?
While the root is technically edible, it’s not something you would want to cook and eat straight up; rather, the bitter root is typically ground, roasted, and used as either an additive or a substitute for your traditional caffeinated cup of coffee.
The powder form can be added to protein shakes or even used as a flour supplement for baking. It’s important to remember not to overdo it as eating too much can lead to excess gas and bloating (read more about the side effects below).
WHERE TO FIND IT?
You can find organic chicory root in ground or powdered form at most health food stores, and from many online retailers. However, you will most likely see chicory root on the ingredient list of processed foods like your favorite cereals, cookies, or bars (that’s how manufacturers increase those fiber grams on the nutrition facts panel).
ANY SIDE EFFECTS?
There are loads of benefits with chicory root which has been regarded as safe by the FDA, but it’s not for everyone. In some cases, eating too much has been found to lead to excess gas and bloating. People with IBS may be more likely to suffer from those GI side effects, especially if they have a lot at once. There are also some rare cases of people with a chicory allergy.
So how much is too much? Studies have shown that having up to 10 to 15 grams of inulin per day can increase populations of beneficial gut bacteria without causing bothersome side effects.