Chicory coffee mixes are loved all around the world, and if you’re from New Orleans, chicorée café au lait is a part of your city’s culture.
While its original appeal was simply affordability, chicory coffee can be delicious and it’s not surprising that many people prefer it to the ‘real’ thing. It’s made from the root of the chicory plant, a tall pale blue wildflower you can find on roadsides.
The roots get harvested in the autumn and then they’re roasted, ground, and brewed into a beverage. In many recipes, the ground chicory is mixed with regular coffee, and the resulting mix has a unique, woody aroma.
But there’s much more you can do with this plant. The root can also be boiled as a tea, and you can add the bitter leaves to salads.
Chicory root fiber is also used as a food supplement, and for good reason. It turns out that this humble plant can improve your health in many different ways. Here are some of the benefits you can expect by consuming chicory root fiber (as a supplement or in any other form):
1. Improved Metabolism
In traditional medicine, tea made from chicory root was used to improve liver health.
Laboratory trials show that it has anti-inflammatory effects and probably does have a positive impact on the liver (Lepczynski et al. 2017). It decreases swelling and bile production, which is why chicory root is a popular option for detoxes.
Note: People with gallbladder issues can benefit from consuming chicory root but they should consult with an expert first.
2. Better Blood Sugar Control and Weight Control
According to the Defeat Diabetes Foundation, “replacing sugars with chicory root fiber (found in the roots) helps significantly to reduce both blood sugar and insulin levels, delaying or preventing early onset of diabetes mellitus.”
The beneficial effect of chicory roots on blood sugar comes from a dietary fiber called inulin. Chicory root fiber is one of the most significant natural sources of inulin, and scientists are still researching the ways this fiber can benefit our health.
Consuming inulin helps keep your blood sugar in balance. It can also help you lose weight. A medical trial conducted on prediabetic people showed that inulin promotes weight loss more effectively than other fibers, such as cellulose.
Research suggests that inulin is an appetite suppressant (Salmean 2017) and so it can help you decrease your daily calorie intake. But that’s not the only way it can impact your eating habits and digestive health.
3. Improved Gut Health and Energy Levels
The inulin found in chicory roots has a prebiotic effect, which means it has a positive impact on the balance of gut microbes (Flamm et al. 2001).
Having a healthy balance of gut microbes can help you lose weight in a safe and long-lasting way. It also improves cholesterol and blood sugar levels and it aids heart health as well. Impressively, gut health may even impact your brain and mental state.
So, getting enough prebiotics is extremely important if you’re looking for ways to gradually change your habits. It can help you feel more energized and less prone to the blood sugar fluctuations that sharpen your appetite and put you in a bad mood.
Note: If you choose to consume chicory coffee (made without coffee beans), you’ll have a wholly caffeine-free drink that offers some of the same energy-boosting benefits as a regular cuppa joe.
4. Improved Bone Health
Studies show that chicory root fiber can increase calcium absorption. Moreover, it could actually make your body more responsive to absorbing all minerals.
This could mean that consuming chicory root helps with preventing age-related conditions such as bone density loss. However, this hasn’t been proved yet (and disappointingly, chicory likely doesn’t help with osteoarthritic pain, in spite of some promising initial results.)
5. Healthier Digestion – But with a Caveat
Fiber improves your digestion and eases problems with constipation. Yet again, inulin has especially good effects.
“A blend of short- and long-chain inulin has been shown to reduce discomfort and help with constipation. The fiber increases the amounts of beneficial Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli bacteria in the gut. The European Food Safety Association has approved the claim that consuming at least 12 grams of chicory inulin or FOS a day eases constipation.” (Brissette 2019)
Chicory fiber inulin is a long-chain form of inulin, which means that its molecules are shaped like pieces of string. For the best digestive effects, you also need FOS (fructooligosaccharide) – this is a short-chain form of inulin, and it’s also contained in chicory roots.
All in all, you can use chicory roots to improve your digestion, as long as you’re careful. Some people can’t digest it as easily.
For one thing, the laxative effect may not agree with you. Even if you stick to the guidelines and consume far less than 12 grams (2.4 teaspoons) of chicory root fiber in a day, you may still have problems with diarrhea, bloating, and gas.
Taking too much is guaranteed to cause those adverse effects. So when you first add chicory root to your diet, start with small dosages, and never go overboard with it.
Other Health Concerns
For the most part, chicory is safe to consume, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
- Some people are allergic to it
If you find yourself having significant digestive issues (flatulence, cramps, diarrhea), you may be allergic to chicory roots. In this case, it’s best to cut it out of your diet and seek alternatives. People with birch pollen or ragweed allergies are especially at risk.
- It could cause problems during pregnancy
There is a small chance that chicory root could cause miscarriage or bleeding during pregnancy (Ernst 2002). As this root is used in some herbal teas, it’s best to check the labels thoroughly. There’s no hard evidence yet that chicory could cause problems during breastfeeding, but experts advise not to risk it.
Try It Out in a Few Different Ways
The chicory root craze is well-founded in science and you should absolutely give this plant a chance (unless you’re pregnant or breastfeeding).
There are many different ways to improve your blood sugar levels and digestion, and you shouldn’t rely on one food or supplement above all others. But chicory roots could be the perfect addition to your diet, and there are countless delicious recipes you can experiment with.
- Is Chicory Coffee Healthier Than Regular Coffee?
- Identifying Chicory in the Wild (video)
- What Makes Inulin So Great?