Avid readers of ingredients may find labels full of long words that are not easily understood. One ingredient being found more and more frequently, particularly in healthful or low-sugar dairy products, is oligofructose. It may also be seen under the names FOS, Fructo-Oligosaccharides, and Raftilose. While long names may lead the reader to suspect a synthetic food additive, oligofructose is actually a natural plant-derived substance. It is naturally present in both fruits and vegetables, some of which are widely consumed in the American diet such as wheat, bananas, onions and garlic. It is also added to many foods to sweeten or improve their texture.
Inulin is a plant-derived carbohydrate that contains dietary fiber. Oligofructose is actually a derivative of inulin. While inulin has basically no taste, oligofructose has a mildly sweet taste. Inulin and oligofructose are both great food additives, because they are a carbohydrate that does not raise blood sugar or generate an insulin response. In addition to this, oligofructose is not broken down until after it passes through the upper regions of the digestive tract, which means that it is low in calories. For this reason, it is often added to low-sugar or low-calorie foods as a sugar substitute. Those who have complications with blood sugar, such as hypoglycemia and diabetes, may find this a useful ingredient to search out.
Use in Probiotic Foods
Oligofructose is considered a probiotic food, that is, it is consumed by beneficial intestinal bacteria such as acidophilus and lactobacillus, causing them to multiply quickly. Beneficial bacteria are important for digestive health, which in turn benefits the immune system. A healthy digestive system and immune system also lead directly to healthier skin, having plenty of energy, and an overall better sense of well being. It is presumably for this reason that oligofructose is added to probiotic dairy products such as yogurt, kefir and bottled smoothie drinks. These items already have the benefit of probiotic bacteria, and the oligofructose multiplies that benefit.
There is some evidence to indicate that probiotics are helpful in preventing cancer, or even preventing the further growth of cancer cells, the only exception seeming to be persistent recurring tumors. The presence of probiotic bacteria actually works to reduce levels of cancer-friendly enzymes that might be present. This is especially true for intestinal cancers such as colon cancer. While few studies have been done in humans, the results conclusive from animal studies have been consistent with the human results. Oligofructose, because it acts as a catalyst for the growth of these cancer-fighting probiotics, is then a promising ingredient for a cancer prevention lifestyle. Making sure that oligofructose and the probiotics it accelerates are present in an individual's diet is a good way to minimize risk for cancers of various kinds.
Additional Health Benefits
Probiotics have been shown to increase the amount of minerals and vitamins absorbed from food, and help food to be broken down more thoroughly. This is because one of their byproducts are digestive enzymes such as lactase. In addition, they keep harmful bacteria that might cause digestive issues such as diarrhea at bay. Oligofructose, along with its parent-substance inulin, sustains the growth of these beneficial bacteria. This would indicate that oligofructose could be an important asset to whole-body health.
Diabetes and Weight Control
Some studies have indicated that consistent consumption of oligofructose resulted in significantly lowered insulin levels. Since insulin is produced in response to elevated blood sugar, this would indicate that blood glucose levels were much lower as well. Because of its low caloric content and natural aid in digestion, oligofructose may also help promote weight loss, however people hoping to lose weight should employ the use of oligofructose as one part of a more involved dietary and exercise program.