If you've done any searching for low-carb food products in stores, you've noticed chicory root fiber in the ingredients section of the labels of some low-carb dessert-type items. If you haven't heard of it before, chicory root fiber, also known as inulin, can seem like another "hidden" ingredient used by the food industry - but lucky for us, it's actually quite healthy!
What is chicory root fiber?
Chicory root fiber comes from the chicory root plant, a plant that has been used in Europe for a long time for a range of edible purposes. If the fiber of the chicory root is extracted, you get a nice sweet fiber powder. In packaged form it is light and fluffy, with a very light sweet flavor. It is noted to be up to 35% as sweet as sucrose.
Other common uses of the chicory root plant are to make a bitter drink similar to coffee, but with no caffeine. Parts of the chicory root plant have bitter flavors similar to coffee, so they are quite a nice substitute if you don't like coffee or can't have caffeine.
Does Chicory Root Fiber contain Carbs?
Lucky for low-carb dieters, chicory root fiber does not contain net carbohydrates. Inulin does contain a lot of fiber, at around 9 grams of fiber per tablespoon. The type of fiber in chicory root fiber is resistant to digestion and absorption in the small intestine[i], which basically means that by bypassing the small intestine, the body cannot use it as energy aka it's not a source of calories or net carbs.
So in one way inulin is similar to keto approved sweeteners like erythritol that don't contribute to caloric intake. This makes chicory root fiber a great sweetener for the keto diet, other low-carb diets, or for people with type-2 diabetes.
Is Chicory Root Fiber healthy?
Awesome news to the low-carb community - chicory root fiber is pretty darn healthy. It is labeled as a prebiotic and is also known as inulin.
This prebiotic can help with digestion because it causes a bulking effect in the colon and help with bowel movement. [ii],[iii] They are actually being recommended as supplements for people with Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD). [iv]
The best part of chicory root fiber for people on the ketogenic diet may be this last benefit: in some studies it has shown to lower fasting blood glucose levels. This is really helpful for people on keto who also have pre-diabetes. People in that study only took 10 grams of inulin per day for 2 months. You can get 10 grams on inulin in a little over 1 tablespoon of chicory root fiber!
Just remember, that similar to erythritol, tons of fiber can cause digestive issues - so don't go too crazy with it.
How to use Chicory Root Fiber
It's a great sweetener to add to keto dessert foods that need a more fluffy texture - so substituting in recipes that normally ask for powdered sugar is a good idea. For example, we used chicory root fiber in our keto peanut butter balls recipe - where the non-keto version calls for a lot of powdered sugar. This is the chicory root fiber we use (affiliate link disclaimer here):
It can also be added to morning breakfast smoothies for a light sweetness plus prebiotic benefits. When blended, inulin enhances the texture of foods and drinks, similar to making it frothy...bulletproof coffee addition anyone?! Add 1 tablespoon of chicory root fiber to your morning drink to get the benefits of lowering fasting blood glucose levels too!
If you don't like the bitter taste of stevia, but find that erythritol hurts your stomach, try out chicory root fiber as a change for a sweetener! There's nothing wrong with adding a little fiber to your diet, especially when on keto - where constipation can be an unwanted side effect.
[i] "Inulin and oligofructose as dietary fiber: a review of the evidence." Flamm G1, Glinsmann W, Kritchevsky D, Prosky L, Roberfroid M.
[ii] "Inulin and oligofructose as dietary fiber: a review of the evidence." Flamm G1, Glinsmann W, Kritchevsky D, Prosky L, Roberfroid M.
[iii] "Effects of the extract from roasted chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) root containing inulin-type fructans on blood glucose, lipid metabolism, and fecal properties." Mie Nishimura, Tatsuya Ohkawara, Toshiyuki Kanayama, Kazuya Kitagawa, Hiroyuki Nishimura, and Jun Nishihira
[iv] Prebiotics in Chronic Intestinal Inflammation." Mirjam A.C. Looijer–van Langen, MD and Levinus A. Dieleman, MD, PhD