Farting Fiber – The Story of Inulin

Chicory Root - source of Inulin

“Get more fiber in your diet.” Consumers have been hearing this key nutrition message for years. So they start scanning nutrition facts panels of products they buy, looking for fiber content.

And the food industry, always one step ahead, starts pumping fiber into everything, even candy.

In many  products, the fiber is from whole grains that are the main ingredient – bread for example. But in many cases, you’ll see inulin is the main source of fiber, tacked on to an otherwise fiber poor energy bar or fiber-less yogurt.

In a short article picked up by Reuters, Rachael Myers Lowe writes:

“Normal fiber foods like wheat bran and legumes are self-limiting, it’s hard to over eat them,” Joanne Slavin, a registered dietitian in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota at St. Paul, told Reuters Health.

Inulin, she explained, may be in chocolate bars, drinks, and snacks around the house, and “before you know it, you may eat more than you can tolerate and have gastrointestinal issues you wouldn’t necessarily associate” with those foods.

What you need to know:

(Dietary) fibers are carbohydrates (carbs) that do not get absorbed by our digestive system. They help us feel fuller, so we eat less, and they fill an important role in intestinal chemistry, or what some people call “keeping regular”. It’s important to get enough fiber into our system in order to keep the pipes flowing. Unfortunately, modern diets have depleted fiber from most people’s meals, through highly refined foods.

Adding fiber to foods after we stripped them out just makes sense. If we can add vitamin C to Orange Juice, and fortify cereals with 9 vitamin and minerals, why not find a similar fiber solution?

Enter inulin.

Inulin is a naturally occurring fiber found in high concentrations in chicory roots. What makes it popular with food manufacturers is its ability to successfully mix with other ingredients without ruining their flavor. It’s slightly sweet, about a quarter sweet as sugar.

However,too much of a good thing may not be so good, as a recent study of 26 healthy men and women aged 18 to 60 showed:

After a night of fasting, once a week for five weeks, participants were fed a breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese and orange juice. The orange juice was mixed with a placebo or with 5- or 10-gram doses of two commonly used inulin products.

After their “fiber challenge,” participants were called several times over two days and asked about symptoms such as gas/bloating, nausea, flatulence, stomach cramping, diarrhea, constipation and GI rumbling.

Flatulence was the most common symptom reported by all subjects who got fiber although symptoms were “highly variable” among individuals and many subjects did not experience any, the investigators say.

Conclusion: some people have a more sensitive digestive system than others. The next time flatulence strikes you, try to recall if you’ve had any super doses of fiber from a processed food.

What to do at the supermarket:

As in many cases, best sources of fiber are from unprocessed foods. Buy whole grain breads, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

When buying something in a box or wrapper, read the ingredient list to see what the source of fiber is. Inulin can also appear as  chicory root extract, oligosaccharide, or oligofructose.

If you’re trying a new source of fiber, don’t overdo it all at once. It takes time for the digestive tract to get used to all that fiber.

  • http://foodtrainers.blogspot.com Lauren Slayton

    While I agree (and hope most people would) that whole foods trump packaged foods and natural fiber is superior to added fiber I question inulin being portrayed merely as a “farting fiber.” In the study described above it’s likely that an increase in fiber whether from any source, even beans or whole grains, wouldn’t initially led to some GI discomfort. Additionally inulin is interesting because it’s a prebiotic which can increase our probiotics and improve GI health. I think it’s good that consumers know inulin is an added fiber and they do try to connect how they feel with the food they consume.

  • Monica

    to much of a good thing is bad. I get GI discomfort even if i overeat fruits and vegetables.

    My parents recently bought a box of fiber plus cereal. The nutrition facts label said that each serving provided 40% of the recommended daily fiber intake. Now considering that each serving is about 3/4 cup and most people eat more than that then people are consuming probably about 120% of the recommended daily fiber intake in one sitting! Don’t most people get diarrhea with this?

    • shauna


  • tzuzan

    Monica, it sounds like you have low stomach acid. That’s probably why you are experiencing a lot of GI discomfort, not because of the increase in fiber intake. If you have low stomach acid than you will not be able to digest food properly. I would look into that because that can cause a whole host of other problems.

  • emily

    @tzuzan…I have high stomach acids…can you explain why I have GI issues. If you are not a Doctor…in particular, if you are not Monica’s doctor, you should not be passing out diagnostic info. People in this world take things at face value. The best thing to say is to tell them that it “might be” low stomach acid (or something else) and that they should go see a Gastrointestional Docor (or other related professional). Too many people use the internet to get health related info and self treat. This can cause all sorts of problems in and of itself. Always refer someone to a professional who knows generally what to look for. Its good to find info and ask your Doctor to look into it…over the years I have found several issues before the doctors did…like my Ulsers (from high stomach acids)and now I investigate through books and the internet. This bugs my Doctor to no end but he undestands that the best patient is one that self advocates.

  • http://usefuldissident.blogspot.com/ dissident

    I think you mean constipation…

    • tammy

      I believe Monica was correct. Asking if too much fiber would cause diarrhea as it certainly would not cause constipation.

  • Howellfamilyemail

    Wow. I never considered the fiber in the prepackaged food to be a fake additive. Makes you think twice about what you eat.

    • teleute1313

      I wouldn’t call inulin “fake”. It’s not synthetic; it’s a naturally occurring type of soluble fiber that’s present in other foods, such as bananas, onions, asparagus, and wheat.

  • Trinity585

    So other than flatulence would this be considered bad for you?

    • teleute1313

      Not at all! Inulin is still a soluble fiber, naturally occurs in a number of foods, and is a pre-biotic–meaning that it helps cultivate healthy gut bacteria. Just be mindful of how much you’re consuming, and you should be fine.

  • LMC

    I think “whole grain bread” would qualify as a processed food. Do others agree?

  • Dana

    I tried a fiber one bar with extra fiber and I thought I was going to explode. I was in so much pain. So, no, it is not just gas.

  • Disgusted

    It’s sad that they still are out to fool the public naked just lost a costumer…PepsiCo should stop selling anything…..

  • http://www.asoulconnection.com Dsaunders

    I don’t see the evidence that it was the inulin that “caused” the gas and bloating. Bagels alone give me gas.

    • jwoolman

      I’ve had the trapped gas response to inulin in bread, nondairy ice cream (without inulin, no problems at all even if I pig out, such as with the Ben & Jerry nondairy line), cereal bars. It’s the inulin all right. I have a threshold, if I keep under that I seem to be ok. But they just overdo it today so they can scream “high fiber!” on the label. Google for fiber one bars make me fart for many sad tales collected in one amazing archive. The company that makes those is in denial and thinks it’s because people are not drinking enough water or aren’t used to fiber or are eating too many bars at once (if it’s plural, it’s too much). But that doesn’t explain it for me or many other people. I do fine with high fiber from regular foods. Inulin just isn’t meant to be ingested at such high levels as an additive.

  • jwoolman

    I get reproducible trapped gas in one area from too much inulin in different foods. Very painful, can take several days to resolve. I wish they would put grams of inulin and other such fiber additives separately on the label so I can tell how risky it is to eat…. (Get problems from others as well, but not from normal fiber in food). I try to avoid inulin as much as possible, but they put it in so many foods today. Just trying to find good bread without it is a chore.