Chicory: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Chicory: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Chicory (Cichorium intybus), sometimes called blue daisy or blue sailor, is a perennial herb grown and used worldwide. It’s characterized by its tough, spiky stems and light blue flowers.

You can use almost every part of the chicory plant, making it a versatile ingredient in both cooking and herbal medicine. Historically, the primary use of chicory was supplementing livestock feed. However, the plant offers many health benefits that also extend to humans.

Research has shown that chicory is a good source of antioxidants and prebiotics, meaning it can support healthy digestion, blood glucose control, and immune function, among other benefits. In some areas of the country, like New Orleans, people commonly include chicory in coffee.

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Chicory is an excellent source of inulin, a prebiotic fiber that supports a healthy gut microbiome. When you ingest inulin, it passes through your stomach into your large intestine, where bacteria break it down. Inulin acts as a food source for these good bacteria in your gut.

An increase in beneficial gut bacteria offers many health benefits, including reduced inflammation, enhanced mineral absorption, and improved protection against harmful bacteria.

Fresh chicory root is approximately 68% inulin by dry weight, while dried chicory root is 98% inulin. Adding chicory root to a well-balanced diet is an efficient way to increase your dietary fiber intake and support a healthy digestive system.

The inulin found in chicory may also support blood sugar control through its role in carbohydrate digestion. The prebiotic fiber slows down glucose absorption in the intestines, helping to prevent blood sugar spikes after eating.

One study examined the effects of inulin and oligofructose, another fiber found in chicory, on the body’s glycemic response to food. The researchers linked the fibers to a reduced glucose response, meaning chicory can help support blood sugar control when incorporated into meals.

While chicory may help support diabetes management, it should not replace routine medical care. People with prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, or type 2 diabetes should discuss potential implications with their healthcare provider before incorporating chicory into their diet.

Research indicates that chicory may help regulate appetite, supporting long-term weight loss efforts. The herb’s high fiber content forms a gel-like substance when it reaches the stomach, promoting feelings of fullness and reducing hunger cues.

Also, as inulin breaks down in the large intestine, it produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that stimulate glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). GLP-1 is a hormone in the gut that reduces appetite and releases insulin. Chicory’s role in stimulating GLP-1 in the body can be a valuable addition to sustainable weight loss efforts, as it can help reduce overall calorie intake by prolonging feelings of fullness.

Chicory has high antioxidant properties due to its many bioactive compounds, like phenolic acids and flavonoids. Antioxidants can protect against various diseases by offsetting free radicals—compounds that can build up and cause oxidative stress, damaging healthy cells. Among chicory’s many bioactive compounds, chlorogenic acid has strong anti-inflammatory properties and is key in reducing free radicals throughout the body.

In addition to chlorogenic acid, chicory contains caffeic acid derivatives, ferrulic acid, caftaric acid, and chicoric acid. Together, these antioxidants help reduce inflammation that can contribute to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and liver issues.

Incorporating chicory into a well-balanced diet can be a helpful way to boost your antioxidant intake.

Chicory is a nutrient-dense plant known for its various health-promoting compounds. The herb is low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. However, one standard serving of chicory root provides less than 10% of the recommended Daily Value (DV) for most nutrients.

One chicory root (approximately 60 grams) provides:

  • Calories: 43
  • Fat: 0.12 grams (g)
  • Sodium: 30 milligrams (mg)
  • Carbohydrates: 10.5 g
  • Fiber: 0.9 g
  • Protein: 0.84 g
  • Manganese: 0.14 mg, or 6.1% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 36.6 mg, or 5.2% of the DV
  • Potassium: 174 mg, or 5.1% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 3 mg, or 3.3% of the DV

One serving of chicory provides trace amounts of vitamins and minerals essential for overall health, such as manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamin C.

Manganese is an essential mineral that assists in many bodily processes, including metabolism, bone formation, reproduction, and immune response. It also helps fight free radicals. Phosphorus is an essential mineral in your bones, teeth, and DNA. It’s involved in several chemical processes in the body.

Potassium supports your heart, kidney, and muscle function, along with other cellular functions, while vitamin C supports your immune system and acts as an antioxidant.

Many people intrigued by chicory’s purported benefits consume the herb in supplemental form. Chicory root is available in capsules or as a powdered supplement that you can mix into various recipes. Often, chicory is the primary ingredient in a powdered inulin supplement.

Consuming concentrated forms of chicory may benefit digestion, blood sugar levels, and weight management efforts. Dosages may vary depending on your desired benefit as well as the product brand and type. There is no current standardized dose of chicory.

Factors like age, sex, and medical history can influence a supplement’s effectiveness and safety. Talk to your healthcare provider about the proper use and dosing of a chicory supplement.

Although a chicory allergy is rare, it is possible. People with a birch pollen allergy may be more likely to have a chicory allergy, as the plants’ protein structures are similar.

Consuming large amounts of chicory root may also lead to gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal discomfort, and flatulence (gas). Start with a moderate amount of chicory and gradually increase your intake as tolerated unless otherwise directed by your healthcare provider.

Research has not established a safe threshold for chicory intake during pregnancy. People who are pregnant should talk with their healthcare providers before incorporating chicory in any form into their diet.

Adding chicory to a well-balanced diet offers many health benefits. Like any other vegetable, you can eat chicory leaves, buds, and roots. Consider these tips for consuming chicory:

  • Mix raw chicory leaves with other lettuces, nuts, and fruits for a refreshing salad
  • Sauté chicory leaves with olive oil and garlic for a savory side dish
  • Brew chicory root alone to enjoy in place of traditional coffee, or mix it with coffee grounds for an added rich, earthy flavor
  • Add chicory root fiber to various baking recipes to increase the fiber content and add a touch of sweetness

Store fresh or fresh ground chicory in an airtight container in the refrigerator to stay fresh for up to one week.

Chicory is a highly versatile plant with a robust flavor and many purported health benefits. Most known for its inulin content, chicory root can support a healthy gut microbiome, blood sugar control, and appetite management. The plant is also rich in antioxidants that help fight oxidative stress in the body.

People with a birch pollen allergy may be at risk for an allergic reaction when consuming chicory and should take caution. There is a lack of research surrounding chicory intake during pregnancy. It’s best to discuss potential adverse effects with your healthcare provider before consuming chicory or a chicory supplement for health purposes.

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