For Teens Only: The Bone-Building Benefits of Inulin

If you are a teenager, you’re building bone 24/7. Your body is drinking in all the bone-building nutrients you can throw its way. While you enjoy a serving of salmon, your body grabs vitamin D and zinc. Serve up a spinach salad, and your body banks vitamin K. Munch on a handful of nuts, and your body seizes magnesium, copper and manganese.

To be sure, an optimal intake of these nutrients (and others) is critical for achieving peak bone mass. We provide all the details in our post For Teens Only: Better Bones Now (or Never). Yet, one nutrient — calcium — still reigns supreme as the king of teenage bone-building.

Trouble is, many teens, especially girls, fail to meet the most current recommendations from the Institute of Medicine: a daily intake of 1,300 milligrams.

Calcium booster to the rescue

There’s no doubt about it, consuming plenty of calcium-rich foods is essential for achieving peak bone mass. But, you can also get more out of the calcium-containing foods you’re already consuming. How? By boosting your body’s ability to absorb calcium with a type of soluble fiber called inulin.

In the body, inulin has a special function. It works as a prebiotic — a compound that can promote the growth of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) in your colon. It’s resistant to digestive enzymes, so it passes through the stomach and small intestine intact. When it arrives in the colon, inulin and other prebiotics are fully metabolized by gut bacteria. It’s a fermentation process that produces lactic acid and other byproducts, encourages beneficial Bifidobacteria species to multiply and lowers the pH of the colon. Researchers believe these changes, especially the shift to a more acidic environment, helps to increase your body’s ability to passively absorb calcium in the colon.

In search of inulin

Inulin naturally occurs in some plant foods, so you may already be consuming some in your diet. Root vegetables including Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, leeks and onions are especially rich sources.

For calcium-boosting benefits, however, the key is to add enough inulin to your daily plate to encourage the friendly Bifido bugs in your colon to start multiplying. Researchers believe that sweet spot is an intake of at least 2.5 grams per day up to 10 grams per day.

For comparison, here’s a breakdown of the amount of inulin found in common foods:

  • 6.7 grams – Sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke) (1/4 cup, cooked)
  • 5.6 grams – Globe artichoke (one medium, cooked)
  • 3.7 grams – Dandelion (1/2 cup, fresh)
  • 1.5 grams – Leeks (1/4 cup, fresh)
  • 1.4 grams – Onions (1/2 medium, cooked)
  • 1.3 grams – Asparagus (5 medium spears, cooked)
  • 0.7 grams – Chicory root (1 rounded teaspoon, cooked)
  • 0.6 grams – Banana (one medium, fresh)
  • 0.4 grams – Garlic (1 clove, fresh)
  • 0.2 grams – Barley (1/2 cup, cooked)
  • 0.1 grams – Wheat Bran (1 tablespoon)

A word of caution

If you’re ready to increase your intake of inulin-containing foods or beverages, be sure to do so gradually. This will help your digestive tract adjust to the added fiber without excessive bloating or gas. You can also spread your intake over the day to help limit any potential digestive upset. For example, you could eat a banana on your breakfast oats, onion soup at lunch and asparagus with garlic at dinner.

Nutrition Nugget

Inulin is added to prepared and packaged foods to boost the total fiber content or replace some of the fat or sugar in a food. It doesn’t change the flavor or texture of a food, so you’re unlikely to notice a taste difference, but you can find it listed on the label. Look for inulin or inulin sources such as chicory in the Ingredients statement. Inulin is also available as a dietary supplement.

Here’s to building strong bones!

Kathleen

Co-author of Eating for A’s

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