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What Are Fructooligosaccharides?

The root of the chicory plant contains fructooligosaccharides.
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  • Written By: Brandon May
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2014
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Fructooligosaccharides is a group of oligosaccharides, or a group of connected simple sugars. These simple sugars, also termed carbohydrates, are fructose molecules. Fructooligosaccharides are commonly used as a sweetener and as a prebiotic dietary supplement. They have been shown to have minimal effect on blood sugar levels when used as sweeteners for those who have diabetes. Also, they can be used to ferment certain good bacteria in the intestines.

These simple sugars are not digested by the human body, so they can be classified as fiber carbohydrates. After they are consumed, fructooligosaccharides move to the large intestine to stimulate the production of beneficial bacteria, particularly bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. This might be beneficial in cases of intestinal inflammation and digestion. Beneficial bacteria also help strengthen the immune system. Fructooligosaccharides are commonly used as a dietary supplement to stimulate beneficial bacteria in the colon in order to aid in proper absorption and assimilation of nutrients.

Sources of naturally occurring fructooligosaccharides include onions and chicory root. Other sources include garlic, barley and asparagus. They are built from fructose, so fructooligosaccharides are often found in most fruits as well. Naturally occurring fructooligosaccharides in fruits and vegetables are usually present in small amounts. Inversely, supplemental fructooligosaccharides or sweeteners are extracted and are thus present in larger amounts.

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Some studies have shown that using fructooligosaccharides as a supplement or sweetener can be beneficial for those who have diabetes. This oligosaccharide is a non-digestible carbohydrate, so blood sugar levels do not rise in response to consumption. Blood sugar levels stay steady after using the sweetener but don't take into account other foods consumed during fructooligosaccharides consumption. This sweetener is half as sweet as sucrose, or regular table sugar, so certain alterations are made when it is used in recipes.

Side effects of excessive fructooligosaccharide consumption include intestinal problems or diarrhea. It is an indigestible carbohydrate, so excessive intake can cause trouble in processing it through the body and into the waste system. Other side effects include bloating and gas. There is some scientific literature showing that fructooligosaccharides also feed the bad bacteria, so over-consumption might hinder the ability of the beneficial bacteria to survive.

Fructooligosaccharides can be purchased as a dietary supplement or as a sweetener at most health-food stores. They also can be purchased at various online health stores. The current intake recommendation of these substances is less than 10 grams. Anything beyond this limit might stimulate abdominal pain or cramps. Fructooligosaccharides appear to be safe in small amounts for diabetics and the health conscious, and adding them to the diet as a sweetener might prove to be a healthier alternative.

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