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Br J Nutr. 2002 May;87 Suppl 2:S159-62.

Inulin and oligofructose in the dietary fibre concept.

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Human Nutrition and Gut Function Department, INRA, BP 71627, 44316 Nantes cedex 03, France.


Dietary fibre consists of remnants of edible plant cell polysaccharides and associated substances resistant to hydrolysis by human alimentary enzymes, which may benefit health through a wide range of physiological effects. Inulin and oligofructose are storage carbohydrates found in a number of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. They resist digestion and absorption in the stomach and small intestine of humans, as shown by their almost full recovery at the end of the ileum of healthy or ileostomised volunteers. Inulin and oligofructose thus enter into the large intestine where they are available to fermentation, as demonstrated by increased breath hydrogen. Fermentation of both substrates is complete and no residue is found in human stools. Inulin and oligofructose improve laxation. Their bulking capacity comprised between 1.2 and 2.1 g of stool per g of ingested substrate, results mainly from increases in microbial biomass in the colon. As water content of bacterial cells is high, stools are softer and easier to expulse. Stool frequency is thus increased, particularly in slightly constipated individuals. In addition, likely due to their fermentation properties, inulin and oligofructose also affect the intestinal epithelium (trophicity, mucin expression, etc.), that may strengthen mucosal protection and reduce the risk of gastrointestinal diseases. In summary, inulin and oligofructose are plant carbohydrates, resistant to digestion in the human small intestine and fermented by colonic bacteria. They exert several intestinal physiological effects contributing to maintenance of health. Therefore, inulin and oligofructose fit well within the current concept of dietary fibre.

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