Applications of inulin and oligofructose in health and nutrition.
Inulin and oligofructose belong to a class of carbohydrates known as fructans. The main sources of inulin and oligofructose that are used in the food industry are chicory and Jerusalem artichoke. Inulin and oligofructose are considered as functional food ingredients since they affect the physiological and biochemical processes in rats and human beings, resulting in better health and reduction in the risk of many diseases. Experimental studies have shown their use as bifidogenic agents, stimulating the immune system of the body, decreasing the pathogenic bacteria in the intestine, relieving constipation, decreasing the risk of osteoporosis by increasing mineral absorption, especially of calcium, reducing the risk of atherosclerosis by lowering the synthesis of triglycerides and fatty acids in the liver and decreasing their level in serum. These fructans modulate the hormonal level of insulin and glucagon, thereby regulating carbohydrate and lipid metabolism by lowering the blood glucose levels; they are also effective in lowering the blood urea and uric acid levels, thereby maintaining the nitrogen balance. Inulin and oligofructose also reduce the incidence of colon cancer. The biochemical basis of these beneficial effects of inulin and oligofructose have been discussed. Oligofructose are non cariogenic as they are not used by Streptococcus mutans to form acids and insoluble glucans that are the main culprits in dental caries. Because of the large number of health promoting functions of inulin and oligofructose, these have wide applications in various types of foods like confectionery, fruit preparations, milk desserts, yogurt and fresh cheese, baked goods, chocolate, ice cream and sauces. Inulin can also be used for the preparation of fructose syrups.