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J Nutr. 1999 Jul;129(7 Suppl):1398S-401S.

Concepts in functional foods: the case of inulin and oligofructose.

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Université Catholique de Louvain, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, B-1200 Brussels, Belgium.


Recent advances in biosciences support the hypothesis that diet modulates various body functions. Diet may maintain well-being and reduce the risk of some diseases. Such discoveries have led to the concept of "functional food" and the development of the new discipline, i.e., "functional food science." A practical and simple definition of a "functional food" is a food for which a claim has been authorized. The food components to be discussed as potential "functional food ingredients" are the inulin-type fructans, i.e., chicory inulin and oligofuctose. The targets for their effects are the colonic microflora, the gastrointestinal physiology, the immune functions, the bioavailability of minerals, the metabolism of lipids and colonic carcinogenesis. Potential health benefits include reduction of risk of colonic diseases, noninsulin-dependent diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and cancer. The documentation of such benefits requires scientific evidence that must be evaluated in terms of "health claims." Previous assessments have concluded that, in terms of "functional claims," strong evidence exists for a prebiotic effect and improved bowel habit. The evidence for calcium bioavailability is promising, and positive modulation of triglyceride metabolism is undergoing preliminary evaluation. Scientific research still must be done to support any "disease risk reduction claim," but sound hypotheses do already exist for designing the relevant human nutrition trials.

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