Spontaneous and widespread vegetable, chicory is a concentrate of beneficial substances for our body, able to purify our body and guarantee the well-being of our bacterial flora. Let’s discover all the benefits and properties of chicory.
Cichorium intybus, commonly known as common chicory, is a plant belonging to the Asteraceae or Composite family. It is a herbaceous plant that grows spontaneously throughout the year and produces very characteristic blue flowers.
There are several varieties of chicory that are distinguished from each other by the size, color and shape of the leaves. In most cases chicory has large green leaves, but in some cases they can be variegated or red, such as those of the red chicory of Chioggia or the red chicory of Treviso.
In the kitchen, chicory leaves are mainly used, which have a strong and bitter taste. In phytotherapy, on the other hand, both the leaves and the roots are used. It is the root that contains most of the beneficial substances for our body.
This same root is also used for the production of chicory coffee: an alternative to the classic coffee, with a decidedly bitter taste but without caffeine. Let’s now examine the nutritional characteristics of this food.
Chicory: characteristics and nutritional values
On a nutritional level, chicory is a food suitable for anyone following a low- calorie diet as it contains little sugar and very little fat. The calories of chicory are reduced: 100 grams provide about 17.
Instead, it is rich in micronutrients and in particular in some minerals such as iron, calcium and potassium (100 grams of chicory contain 6-7% of our daily requirement of these minerals) and some vitamins, such as vitamin C and vitamin E. Five servings of chicory a day would alone be able to meet our daily needs for these vitamins. Furthermore, it contains chicoric acid (which gives the characteristic bitter taste to chicory) and has a good fiber content, useful for improving our intestinal regularity.
Nutritional values per 100g of chicory:
- Waterfall: 93.4 g
- kcal: 17
- Proteins: 1.4 g
- Fat: 0.3 g
- Carbohydrates: 0.7 g
- Fibers: 3.6 g
- Potassium: 236 mg
- Iron: 0.7 mg
- Soccer: 74 mg
- Phosphorus: 31 mg
- C vitamin: 17 mg
- Vitamin E: 2.26 mg
- Beta-carotene: 1314 ugr
- Folate: 16 mg
- Glycemic index: 15
- Cholesterol: 0 g
Chicory: nutritional properties
Chicory, thanks to its high fiber content, has excellent purifying properties and also has an important antioxidant activity, exerted by the carotenoids and the two main vitamins contained in it:
- Vitamin C: with its antioxidant function, it is essential for our immune system, it is also involved in the synthesis of collagen and is important for the assimilation of iron by red blood cells;
- Vitamin E: another fundamental fat-soluble antioxidant, essential to reduce free radicals and to ensure the maintenance of cellular integrity. Its deficiency can cause erythrocyte hemolysis, muscle and neuronal problems.
Chicory roots are rich in inulin, a polysaccharide that we cannot digest but is important for our bacterial flora. Inulin, in fact, is a prebiotic: a substance capable of being used as nourishment by the microorganisms that inhabit our body so as to be able to produce substances that are beneficial to us, as we will deepen in the next paragraph.
Chicory: health benefits
As we have anticipated, the inulin present in chicory roots is not digested in our small intestine, but continues to the large intestine where the bacteria present there ferment it, producing lactic acid and short-chain fatty acids.
Inulin, in particular, seems to stimulate the growth of only some bacterial strains (bifidobacteria and lactobacilli), maintaining the balance of the various microorganisms and thus promoting our health. Furthermore, the presence of antioxidants gives chicory numerous beneficial properties. Let’s see below the main benefits of chicory on our health.
✓ Effect on lipid metabolism
Consumption of non-digestible polysaccharides, such as those present in chicory, has been shown to decrease the risk of a high blood level of triglycerides. A positive, but less pronounced effect is also visible on cholesterol levels.
✓ Beneficial in case of constipation
Inulin, as well as other soluble fibers, is able to improve the frequency of bowel movements and the consistency of the stool, thus making it an important ally for anyone suffering from constipation.
✓ Reduction of the risk of developing intestinal diseases
Chicory exerts beneficial activities on our intestines, reducing the risk of certain diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, colon cancer and chronic inflammatory bowel diseases.
✓ Appetite regulation
The presence of short-chain fatty acids (as we have seen produced by bacteria following inulin fermentation) has been linked in several animal models to a lower intake of food and calories and, therefore, to a reduction in body fat.
✓ Stimulation of the immune system
The consumption of chicory can also help to stimulate the immune system. In fact, several studies have shown that supplements containing inulin are able to act on our immune system, raising our defenses against pathogenic microorganisms.
✓ Antimicrobial activity
According to some studies, dried chicory extract and chicory seed extract possess antimicrobial activities. In particular, chicory seeds have been used successfully against some very widespread microorganisms: Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomona aeruginosa, Escherichia coli and Candida albicans.
✓ Hepatoprotective activity
The hepatoprotective property of chicory has long been recognized, especially in Indian medicine. It is one of the main components of Liv52, a formulation capable of improving the health of the liver.
✓ Prevention and treatment of diabetes
Chicory, thanks to its benefits, seems to be able to lower blood glucose levels, making it a useful food in case of diabetes.
✓ Antioxidant properties
The presence of different polyphenols and carotenoids, according to some studies, gives chicory antioxidant properties capable of acting against free radicals.
Chicory: some usage tips
Chicory is a very popular ingredient in our kitchens. With a characteristic and bitter taste, however, it does not satisfy everyone’s tastes. It can be eaten both raw in salads and cooked as the main ingredient of tasty soups or quiches. We wish to emphasize that the consumption of raw chicory allows you to fully enjoy all its properties. In fact, with cooking, both vitamin C and vitamin E are easily degraded.
Chicory: contraindications and potential negative effects
There are no particular contraindications to a moderate consumption of chicory. However, since the Asteraceae family of which this vegetable is a part is known as a source of allergens, a hypersensitivity to this food must be carefully evaluated. If the consumption of chicory causes you discomfort, we recommend that you contact your doctor.
Furthermore, an exaggerated use of this food, precisely because of the high amount of fiber, can lead to intestinal discomfort, bloating or flatulence. Its consumption therefore remains recommended within a balanced and varied diet.