The Health Benefits of Chicory Root—and How to Use It
If you’re not familiar with chicory, then you may not be aware of the health benefits of this plant's roots. The root of chicory, a blue flowering plant in the dandelion family, has been used medicinally going as far back as ancient Egypt. It is often roasted, ground, and consumed as a caffeine-free coffee alternative. But there’s more to chicory root than a faux cup of Joe. Here are three health benefits of this trending plant, and a few things to keep in mind if you decide to give it a try.
Chicory root can improve gut health
Chicory is one of the top sources of inulin, a fiber known for its prebiotic properties. In a nutshell, prebiotics serve as food for beneficial microbes in the gut—microbes that are tied to better digestive health, anti-inflammation, immunity, and mood. Prebiotics also boost the absorption of key nutrients, including calcium and magnesium.
Another digestive benefit chicory root offers is its ability to relieve constipation, a condition that affects up to 30% of the population. In one study, chicory helped improve bowel function, reduce straining, and increase stool frequency without resulting in diarrhea.
It can help regulate blood sugar
Chicory root has been shown to help regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, and may improve diabetes control. In one study in women with type 2 diabetes, one group was given inulin daily, and the other a placebo. The insulin group experienced increases in blood antioxidant levels, as well as reductions in weight and HbA1c, a measure of blood sugar regulation.
Chicory root contains antioxidants
In addition to vitamins, minerals, and fiber, chicory root contains several types of antioxidants, including those known to reduce inflammation and protect artery function. In animal research, chicory antioxidants were shown to protect against liver damage—an interesting finding, as the liver serves as one of the body’s primary detoxifying organs.
Fresh chicory root isn’t commonly found in the US. But endive, a leafy green sometimes used in salads, is commonly referred to as chicory. While related, they aren’t the same thing. Ground chicory is famously blended with coffee in New Orleans. You can purchase cans of Café Du Monde chicory coffee on Amazon. You can also buy ground chicory by itself to add to your own brew.
With its earthy or woody flavor, dried, ground chicory root isn’t commonly used in other recipes. If you try it, either to add to coffee or as a coffee replacement, just be sure not to overdo it. Consuming too much may lead to unwanted side effects, including excess calcium absorption, low blood sugar, menstrual bleeding, or for pregnant women, miscarriage.
Also, if you’re allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies, and other flowers or herbs, you may be allergic to chicory. Finally, chicory is a high FODMAP food, so if you have irritable bowel syndrome, it may trigger bloating and gas. In other words, chicory root isn’t for everyone. But it may be an interesting way to boost fiber and curb caffeine, without sacrificing your overall intake of antioxidants.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.
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