Chicory Root: The Coffee Substitute Loaded with Fiber

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Chicory root - Dr. Axe

Do you love your morning of cup of nutrition-rich coffee but find yourself worried about a caffeine overdose? Chicory root may be just the answer you’re looking for.

This popular coffee substitute does so much more than just take the place of your favorite breakfast beverage. In addition to providing a boost of extra dietary fiber, chicory root adds a smooth, creamy texture to foods, which makes it a great fat replacement in ice creams, margarines and dressings for those looking to effortlessly increase weight loss.

While this doesn’t necessarily replace all the high-quality fiber found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other high-fiber foods, there are many potential health benefits of chicory root, making it a valuable addition to your daily diet.

What Is Chicory Root?

Chicory root comes from a perennial herbaceous plant of the dandelion family, which usually has bright blue flowers. Many varieties are cultivated for salad leaves, including endive or chicons, but ground chicory root is also used for baking or swapped in for coffee.

Chicory root is a bit wood-like and, due to its fibrous composition, it’s not digested in the small intestine but instead maintains its forms as is travels to the colon or large intestine.

The chicory root (Cichorium Intybus) has been around for quite some time and has been cultivated since ancient Egypt. It has also been a popular addition to coffee in France since the 19th century, where it was commonly roasted and ground.

Health Benefits

1. Reduces Stress

Caffeine is one of the main ingredients found in coffee, and even small amounts are found in the decaffeinated versions. Consuming caffeine can exacerbate stress, so cutting back on your intake can really help lower levels of epinephrine and cortisol, both of which are released during stressful situations.

A 2006 study published in Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior showed that regular consumption of caffeine combined with stress caused a significant elevation in cortisol levels. Since chicory contains no caffeine, it’s a great substitute to help reduce your caffeine consumption and keep cortisol levels in check.

2. Contains Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Chicory is a great source of plant polyphenols, which are natural compounds that have the ability to help combat inflammation.

A study conducted at the University of Pécs Medical School in Hungary found that consuming caffeine-free chicory coffee for one week led to significant improvements in red blood cell deformability, which describes the body’s ability to respond to inflammation by restoring cells to their original condition.

This means that chicory can reduce inflammation, which is incredibly important. Why? Because inflammation is the root of most diseases, so reducing inflammation can help stave off many chronic health conditions before they even start.

Although more research is needed to evaluate the effects of chicory root for thyroid health, it could also potentially relieve symptoms caused by autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s disease, which is a thyroid condition that causes symptoms like weight gain and fatigue.

3. Protects the Liver

Some research shows that chicory root extract can help protect against free radical formation to prevent possible toxicity to the liver. According to one review, treatment with chicory extract was able to significantly reduce oxidative stress and block cell damage to promote liver health.

These impressive results demonstrate that chicory extract is rich in natural antioxidants and effective at scavenging harmful free radicals. Therefore, it could potentially boost the defense system of the body while also cleansing the liver.

4. May Prevent or Delay the Onset of Diabetes

There are many natural ways to manage and treat diabetes, and it all starts with diet. Chicory may be a good addition to a diabetic diet plan to help prevent or treat this common condition.

In one study published in the Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine, the effects of roasted chicory extract were examined in 47 healthy adult participants. Chicory root extract was found to improve levels of of adiponectin, a protein that regulates blood sugar levels as well as fatty acid breakdown, which suggests that chicory root extract could delay or prevent the early onset of diabetes as well as improve bowel movements due to its fiber content.

5. Helps Manage Osteoarthritis

Interestingly enough, a clinical trial conducted by the Rheumatic Diseases Division at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s Department of Internal Medicine concluded that the extracts of chicory root may have anti-inflammatory properties that could help treat osteoarthritis.

In the study, 18 participants over the age of 50 with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee were treated with chicory for one month. Of the 18 patients who completed treatment, at least 13 patients showed a 20 percent improvement in response to pain and stiffness, showcasing chicory’s ability to help treat this joint pain.

6. Aids Gut Health

Chicory root contains inulin, which is a prebiotic. In fact, a 100-gram serving of fresh chicory roots contains about 68 grams of inulin, making it one of the best food sources of prebiotics available.

Prebiotics can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This is why you’re likely to see inulin, or chicory root fiber, in many probiotic supplements.

Not only can promoting the growth of your good gut bacteria help enhance digestive health, but it may also boost immune function, optimize nutrient absorption and reduce inflammation as well.

7. Relieves Constipation

Chicory root fiber has been shown to relieve constipation, thanks in large part to its content of inulin. For example, research published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition examined the impact of daily consumption of chicory in older adults with constipation over a period of 28 days.

The study revealed that “volunteers in the inulin group reported increased satisfaction about digestion and reduced defecation difficulties during the supplementation… Daily supplementation with 15 grams inulin improves constipation and quality of life in an elderly population with constipation.”

Chicory root vs. psyllium husk - Dr. Axe

Nutrition Facts

Chicory is a great source of several key nutrients, including fiber, vitamin B6 and manganese. Plus, it also contains a small amount of other micronutrients, such as vitamin C and potassium.

One raw chicory root, which is about 60 grams, contains approximately: (9)

  • 44 calories
  • 10.5 grams carbohydrates
  • 0.8 gram protein
  • 0.1 gram fat
  • 0.9 gram fiber
  • 0.1 milligram vitamin B6 (7 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligram manganese (7 percent DV)
  • 3.0 milligrams vitamin C (5 percent DV)
  • 74 milligrams potassium (5 percent DV)

Uses

Chicory root fiber contains inulin, a type of plant-based carbohydrate that cannot be broken down by digestive enzymes. It is typically produced by pulling the inulin from the roots of chicory plants, which creates chicory root extract.

Inulin is classified as both a soluble fiber and a type of prebiotic. Soluble fiber can hold water and thicken, which can add bulk to foods. It’s one of the reasons that it’s widely used in recipes, along with its ability to retain moisture and create a creamy texture.

Inulin is frequently found in low-fat or dairy-free yogurt, ice cream and ready-to-drink protein shakes. Breads and baked goods may contain inulin to replace gluten as well. Soluble fibers also help slow down the time it takes for food to travel through the body, which can help you feel fuller for longer while also stabilizing blood sugar levels.

Ice cream, yogurt, protein shakes, high-fiber/low-carb energy bars, cereals, breads and granola products often contain chicory root fiber. In addition to adding bulk to foods, it also makes products a bit healthier by boosting their fiber content, without adding extra calories.

In addition, it’s cheap to manufacture and has a naturally sweet taste. This is yet another attractive characteristic for food manufacturers, as using a chicory root sweetener can bump up the flavor of foods without added sugar, calories or carbs. It also makes it a great addition to a ketogenic diet for those looking to quickly boost weight loss while also cutting back on carbs.

Inulin’s pleasant taste and low cost are reasons why it’s been used in combination with coffee during times of shortages. In fact, that discovery led to what is still known today as New Orleans-style coffee or chicory root coffee, which is a blend of regular or decaffeinated coffee and chicory root powder.

Wondering where to buy chicory root fiber? Thanks to its growing popularity, it can often be found at many supermarkets and health food stores. It’s also widely available online, either ground or in supplement form.

Chicory Root vs. Psyllium Husk

Chicory root and psyllium husk are both rich in fiber, which can be useful for maintaining blood sugar control and supporting regularity. Psyllium husk comes from a shrub-like herb called Plantago ovata, which grows worldwide but is most common in India. Meanwhile, chicory root fiber is the root of the chicory plant and has a pleasant, sweet taste.

Both are commonly used as supplements in tablet or capsule form. Ground chicory root and psyllium husk can also be added to smoothies or shakes as well.

Here’s a closer look at how the two stack up:

Chicory Root

  • Natural, plant-based starch
  • Treats diabetes
  • Relieves constipation
  • Improves cholesterol levels
  • Prebiotic
  • High-fiber
  • Remedies IBS
  • Treats diarrhea
  • Treats eczema
  • Relieves gas and bloating

Psyllium Husk

  • Natural, plant-based starch
  • Treats diabetes
  • Relieves constipation
  • Improves cholesterol levels
  • Prebiotic
  • High-fiber
  • Treats diarrhea
  • Helps eczema
  • Relieves gas and bloating
  • Reduces colon cancer risk and heart disease
  • Treats hemorrhoids, hypertension and inflammatory bowel diseases

Interesting Facts

It’s thought that the coffee mixed with chicory concoction probably began in Holland and spread across other parts of Europe in the 1800s. Chicory root has traditionally been used in tea or in medicinal remedies to treat issues like jaundice, liver enlargement, gout and rheumatism.

While chicory became an American interest, coffee became the beverage of choice, and New Orleans became the second largest importer of coffee in the United States. However, it was during the American Civil War that Louisianans considered adding chicory root to their coffee due to the Union naval blockades cutting off shipments to the port.

In fact, chicory root was often used in times of shortages of coffee and was even used in prisons to help stretch out the coffee supply. Acorns and beets were later used in place of coffee as well. However, chicory had a more similar flavor profile, making it a much better and more cost-effective match.

Regardless, any Louisiana native will tell you that it’s not only one of the best and most delicious traditions, but it’s also a must-have when visiting. Known as the chicory in a café au lait, which is chicory coffee with hot milk, it has become an essential part of the history of New Orleans. You can find chicory a the grocery in the coffee aisle, and most claim that the few brands available all originated right in New Orleans.

Risks and Side Effects

There are numerous studies that still need to be conducted regarding chicory root fiber and chicory root extract. While research shows that there are several health benefits of chicory root, it’s always best to get fiber from whole foods whenever possible.

If you  have any underlying health conditions, be sure to check with your doctor before consuming chicory or taking a chicory root supplement. Chicory coffee is not recommended for women who are pregnant as it may trigger menstrual bleeding or miscarriage.

Some people may also be allergic to chicory, which can cause chicory root side effects like hives, rashes, itching and swelling. If you experience these or any other side effects after consuming chicory, discontinue use immediately and talk to your doctor.

Final Thoughts

  • Chicory root is a type of fiber called inulin, which is a plant-based carbohydrate that cannot be broken down by human digestive enzymes.
  • Chicory root fiber is a common ingredient in many high-fiber and gluten-free products, which is produced by pulling the inulin from the roots of chicory plants.
  • Some of the potential chicory root benefits include reduced stress, decreased inflammation and better gut health. It may also help protect the liver, promote blood sugar control and help manage osteoarthritis.
  • Inulin is also classified as soluble and as a prebiotic. Soluble fibers can hold water and thicken or gel up, which can add bulk to foods. It’s one of the reasons that chicory root fiber is widely used in many products, along with its ability to retain moisture and provide a creamy texture.