Though I always aim to eat whole foods, I’ll sometimes grab a granola bar when I’m on the run. I thought their fiber was supposed to be gut-healthy, helping to manage weight and good digestion, but it seems like I’ve been bloated since I started eating them. Why might this be?
Bloated & Bummed
Dear Bloated & Bummed,
It’s very possible your granola bar is guilty as charged. While foods like beans, Brussels sprouts and milk are the most recognized for causing bloat and gas, if your granola bar contains a certain high-fiber additive called inulin, it could be causing that flatulence instead of a flat belly.
Chicory root extract, a type of inulin, is one of the most popular ingredients in “high-fiber” products like granola bars. Inulin is a polysaccharide, which means it has long-chained sugar units that are hard for the body to break down. In addition, inulin is made of fructan, an indigestible molecule that feeds off the bacteria in the bowels. Between the body’s difficulty in breaking down inulin’s complex chemical makeup and the byproducts of fructan-feasting bacteria, it’s no wonder your belly feels (and shows!) some unhappy side effects.
And that inulin-induced discomfort isn’t just limited to granola bars. Foods such as Fiber One Cottage Cheese and Yoplait Light with Fiber each contain five grams of fiber, the majority being inulin. Fiber One Chewy Bars can have up to nine grams.
All this being said, the addition of inulin to foods is actually well intentioned. A good source of soluble fiber and a prebiotic (it helps to grow healthy bacteria in the colon), inulin is considered a nutrient-booster. Many foods contain inulin naturally, such as leeks, bananas, and asparagus. So just be aware of where your inulin is coming from. Plus, being a processed food, granola bars might have other additives working in tandem with inulin to cause that gas and bloating. Artificial sweeteners and coloring, sugar alcohols and other additives may be to blame, as well.
There is no RDA for inulin. We recommend you tune in to how specific foods make you feel after eating them, and eliminate the ones that cause discomfort. Stick to whole foods as often as possible, and next time you grab a granola bar, reach for a brand with as few dubious ingredients as possible before biting in.