Chicory is a plant in the dandelion family that usually has bright blue flowers. The root of the chicory plant is commonly ground to be used as a coffee substitute or additive, or it is filtered into chicory root extract. The leaves and seeds are also used in culinary dishes. All parts of the chicory plant have been shown to have positive health benefits due to the high levels of polyphenols and soluble dietary fiber contained in the plant.[1] This article is going to focus on the root of the chicory plant, as it contains soluble fiber which serves as a prebiotic.

Chicory root composition

When dried, fresh chicory root is composed of 68% inulin, 14% sucrose, 6% protein, 5% cellulose, 4% ash, and 3% other materials.[2] Chicory root extract, however, is composed of 98% inulin and 2% unidentified compounds.[3] Much of the commercially available inulin extract is actually taken from chicory root.

Most of the health benefits of chicory root have been attributed to the prebiotic-nature of inulin. Inulin is a soluble fiber which cannot be broken down by our digestive enzymes.

How to add it to your diet 

The carbohydrate and fiber content of a raw chicory root is highly influenced by the planting and harvesting dates. Therefore, it is difficult to determine the exact amount of carbohydrate and fiber content in the raw chicory roots that you may purchase in a grocery market. To reduce sugar in-take but get the benefits of the prebiotic from the chicory root (i.e., inulin), it may be best to add chicory root extract to your ketogenic diet rather than raw chicory root. Chicory root extract should not be included in your daily carbohydrate allotment and therefore, should be considered guilt-free on a ketogenic diet.

9 health benefits of chicory extract

1. Reduces absorption of glucose in the intestines

The sugar glucose is absorbed in the small intestines. Research studies have shown that when glucose is consumed with chicory root extract, glucose absorption in the small intestine is reduced. The reduction in glucose absorption is attributed to the increased viscosity in the intestines from the chicory root extract.[3] Therefore, when taking in food that has glucose on a ketogenic diet, it may be beneficial to pair it with chicory root extract to reduce glucose absorption and therefore, an insulin response.

2. Increases beneficial bacteria and reduce pathogenic bacteria

The inulin in chicory root has been shown to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in the large intestines called bifidobacteria.[4,5] In addition to many health benefits not discussed in this article, bifidobacteria acts as an antigenotoxic in the colon which helps reduce tumor growth there.[6] Chicory root has also been shown to suppress the growth of bacteria that may be pathogenic, such as Bacteroides/Prevotella and Clostridium histolyticum/C. lituseburense group.[5]

3. Decreases hemoglobin A1C[7]

Hemoglobin A1C is a marker used to identify blood glucose concentrations over a 3-month period. Lower A1C levels indicate lower blood sugar over the past 3-month period. This may be especially important for those struggling to control high blood sugar levels, like type 2 diabetics.

4. Improves adiponectin levels[7]

Adiponectin is a hormone that is secreted from adipose tissue and helps regulate glucose levels. It has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity possibly by increasing fat breakdown/utilization and suppressing glucose production in the liver.

5. Increases serum high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol[8]

HDL cholesterol is considered “good” cholesterol because it picks up cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream and carries it back to the liver for possible removal.

6. Lowers serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol[8]

LDL cholesterol is typically considered “bad” cholesterol because it may accumulate in the arteries and possibly turn into plaque. Plaque leads to clogged arteries and if too much builds-up, complications may occur like stroke or heart attack.

7. Lowers serum apolipoprotein B/apolipoprotein A-1 ratio[8]

Chicory root extract has been shown to significantly reduce apolipoprotein B (ApoB) which is the primary protein in LDL cholesterol. Apolipoprotein A-1 (ApoA1) is the primary protein in HDL cholesterol. The ratio of ApoB: ApoA1 is indicative of risk for coronary artery disease – the lower the ratio, the less risk.

8. Anti-inflammatory properties[9]

Chicory root extract has been shown to reduced inflammation in inflamed human colon cells.

9. Anti-carcinogenic properties[6]

Chicory root extract has shown to reduce the risk for colon cancer. This reduced risk for cancer has been attributed to the increased growth of the beneficial bacteria, bifidobacteria, in large intestine,

Conclusion

Ultimately, chicory root extract is an excellent prebiotic addition when following a ketogenic diet. Chicory root extract has been shown to improve the gut microbiome as well as other health variables. The gut microbiome and our health are inter-linked—so typically improving the microbiome will also demonstrate downstream health benefits, like many of those mentioned in this article.

References:

1. Juśkiewicz, J., Zduńczyk, Z., Żary-Sikorska, E., Król, B., Milala, J., & Jurgoński, A. (2011). Effect of the dietary polyphenolic fraction of chicory root, peel, seed and leaf extracts on caecal fermentation and blood parameters in rats fed diets containing prebiotic fructans. British journal of nutrition, 105(5), 710-720.

2. Pazola, Z. (1987). The chemistry of chicory and chicory-product beverages. Coffee. Related beverages, 5, 19-57

3. Kim, M., & Shin, H. K. (1996). The water-soluble extract of chicory reduces glucose uptake from the perfused jejunum in rats. The Journal of nutrition, 126(9), 2236-2242.

4. Kleessen, B., Schwarz, S., Boehm, A., Fuhrmann, H., Richter, A., Henle, T., & Krueger, M. (2007). Jerusalem artichoke and chicory inulin in bakery products affect faecal microbiota of healthy volunteers. British Journal of Nutrition, 98(3), 540-549.

5. Menne, E., Guggenbuhl, N., & Roberfroid, M. (2000). Fn-type chicory inulin hydrolysate has a prebiotic effect in humans. The Journal of nutrition, 130(5), 1197-1199.

6. Pool-Zobel, B., Van Loo, J., Rowland, I., & Roberfroid, M. B. (2002). Experimental evidences on the potential of prebiotic fructans to reduce the risk of colon cancer. British Journal of Nutrition, 87(S2), S273-S281.

7. Nishimura, M., Ohkawara, T., Kanayama, T., Kitagawa, K., Nishimura, H., & Nishihira, J. (2015). Effects of the extract from roasted chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) root containing inulin-type fructans on blood glucose, lipid metabolism, and fecal properties. Journal of traditional and complementary medicine, 5(3), 161-167.

8. Kim, M., & Shin, H. K. (1998). The water-soluble extract of chicory influences serum and liver lipid concentrations, cecal short-chain fatty acid concentrations and fecal lipid excretion in rats. The Journal of nutrition, 128(10), 1731-1736.

9. Cavin, C., Delannoy, M., Malnoe, A., Debefve, E., Touché, A., Courtois, D., & Schilter, B. (2005). Inhibition of the expression and activity of cyclooxygenase-2 by chicory extract. Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, 327(3), 742-749.

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