Chicory Root Extract
My first instinct when picking up any packaged food item while grocery shopping is to inspect the nutrition label and read the list of ingredients. Like most consumers, I do my best to make good choices based on what I see, but I don’t always know what all of the mystery ingredients on the food label really are. Chicory root extract is one of those curious ingredients that I have seen on the popular labels of FiberOne, FiberPlus, Kashi, K.I.N.D., Activia, and Clif/Luna products, as well as the diet dessert, Arctic Zero.
Chicory root is a common source of inulin, a type of carbohydrate that is unable to be broken down by the body, and thus passes through the digestive tract undigested. It acts as a prebiotic by synthesizing healthy bacteria in the colon and decreasing growth of other undesirable bacteria. Inulin is naturally present in foods such as onions, garlic, wheat, and bananas, although at lower levels than chicory root.
Our foods contain many different types of fiber, which all differ in their effects. Chicory root is extracted from the roots of the wild chicory flower, which is blue in color, and found throughout North America and Europe. It is a common natural food additive due to the fact that inulin provides fiber without altering the taste or texture of the food to which it is being added. Inulin has a smooth and creamy mouthfeel, similar to fat, which allows it to be used as a fat replacement in foods, which otherwise would not contain fiber, such as ice cream, yogurt, dressing, or margarine.
Added fiber in the form of chicory root may help those with Type 2 diabetes by keeping insulin levels steady, and may aid weight loss by increasing feelings of fullness. Some studies have indicated that chicory may not be safe for pregnant women. Individual tolerance to chicory root varies. Gas and bloating may occur with servings greater than 5-10 grams. Because fiber is added to many processed foods to make up for the absence of fiber in highly refined foods, people may not be aware of the amount of chicory root they are consuming throughout the day, increasing the risk of intestinal discomfort. Moderation is key!
As always, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are the most important part of a balanced diet. These whole foods provide fiber naturally, along with disease-fighting antioxidants and phytonutrients, which are absent in fake, overly-processed products.