Unless you’re a food manufacturer or dietitian, chicory is likely one of those ingredients you’re familiar with in name only. Chicory is a blue-flowered plant that grows primarily in Europe and North America, but for the purposes of consumption, it’s the root we’re concerned with.
Chicory root has many purported health benefits and has been used for centuries in cooking and natural medicines. You may actually eat more of it than you realize, as it’s often found labeled as “inulin,” a prebiotic fiber extracted from chicory root that’s a popular addition to high-fiber energy bars and cereals. When roasted, ground and brewed, you get a dark, caffeine-free coffee alternative that can be enjoyed on its own or blended with coffee. The latter method is employed, perhaps most famously, at the storied Café Du Monde in New Orleans.
5 BENEFITS OF CHICORY ROOT
Here are five reasons you may want to consider adding chicory root to your diet.
1. IT CAN IMPROVE DIGESTIVE HEALTH
Chicory root is loaded with inulin, and this type of fiber is a key component to digestive health. In fact, studies show inulin can stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut, promote bowel regularity and reduce constipation. Additionally, a high-fiber diet is associated with lower calorie intake and greater feelings of satiety.
2. IT’S ANTI-INFLAMMATORY
Inflammation is known to negatively affect your cells, organs and tissues. And, according to Harvard Medical School, “chronic inflammation plays a central role in some of the most challenging diseases of our time, including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and even Alzheimer’s.” To combat inflammation in the body, some people choose to eat anti-inflammatory diets. Chicory root, which contains antioxidant-rich polyphenols, can be a valuable addition to such diets. It has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in animals, and a human study performed by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found chicory root can reduce pain and stiffness in those suffering from osteoarthritis.
3. IT CAN HELP CONTROL BLOOD SUGAR
Maintaining blood sugar levels keeps you feeling good through the day, but long-term, it can help you avoid chronic health problems like diabetes. A Chinese study found inulin may be beneficial for patients with Type 2 diabetes, while another study published in the Diabetes & Metabolism Journal came to a similar conclusion. It showed inulin supplementation may improve blood glycemic levels in women with Type 2 diabetes.
4. IT MAY EVEN PROMOTE WEIGHT LOSS
Because high-fiber foods can help regulate appetite and lead to reduced calorie consumption, chicory root is already a contender as a weight-loss aid. But a Canadian study found an even more direct link between chicory root and dropping pounds. It looked at how supplementing with oligofructose — a chicory-derived polymer that’s very similar to inulin — impacted weight loss. The research showed it has the potential to promote weight loss and improve glucose regulation in overweight adults, even when other lifestyle factors remain the same.
5. IT’S CAFFEINE-FREE
While many people can’t function without their morning coffee, not everyone drinks the popular pick-me-up, and many don’t tolerate caffeine well, reporting side effects like nausea, jitteriness and trouble sleeping. So, if you’d like to reduce your caffeine intake or add a new, flavorful drink to your day, chicory could be the answer. Brewed chicory root can be consumed in place of coffee, or it can be blended with coffee to lower the beverage’s total caffeine content. The taste isn’t exactly the same, as chicory is typically earthier and nuttier than coffee, but it may be similar enough to do the trick, even for regular coffee drinkers.
POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS
Before experimenting with chicory root, it’s always a good idea to do your own research or consult your doctor. While chicory is safe for and well-tolerated by most people, side effects are possible and may include allergic reactions or digestive distress, and it may be unsafe to consume during pregnancy.