As Dietary Fiber

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Within the vast group of dietary carbohydrates (Table 1) the non-digestible oligo-saccharides belong to the class of compounds which resist digestion. The chicory

Roberfroid fructooligosaccharides are extensively fermented in the colon, have prebiotic properties, and are likely to modulate systemic physiological function (24).

"Dietary fiber" must be defined more as a concept rather than as a chemical (or an analytical) entity (30). Such a concept must include "resistance to digestion" as a key factor together with the saccharidic nature and the plant origin of the material. The term dietary fiber must therefore cover any plant's oligo-/ polysaccharides that resist hydrolysis in the human digestive tract and reach the colon where they can eventually be fermented. They belong to the group of co-lonic foods and, if selectively fermented by one or a limited number of colonic bacteria, become classified as prebiotics (24).

The non-digestible oligosaccharides in general, and the chicory fructooligo-saccharides in particular, resist digestion, behave as colonic foods, are selectively fermented (e.g. by bifidobacteria) and exert systemic effects. As a consequence of these properties they have bulking effects and they might positively modulate lipid metabolism without interfering with mineral absorption. Indeed, they tended to enhance and improve said absorption.

From a conceptual perspective non-digestible oligosaccharides in general and chicory fructooligosaccharides in particular have to be classified as dietary fiber and they have to appear as such on nutrition labeling. From a nutritional perspective, chicory fructooligosaccharides have to be viewed as prebiotics: due to their selective fermentation by bifidobacteria they improve the composition of the colonic microbiota.

Finally, via their systemic effects, they might also positively modulate lipid metabolism. Within the recently promoted functional foods (defined as any food constituent which affects the functions of the body in a targeted way so as to have positive effect which may justify functional or health claims) the chicory fructoligosaccharides (the most developed non-digestible oligosaccharides) are likely to occupy a key position (31). In the frame of a stepwise strategy for research and development (32) they are eligible for a functional claim like "bi-fidogenic factor", but further studies in human volunteers might justify more of such claims. By allowing to quantitatively modify the composition of the colonic g microbiota in favor of bifidobacteria, these food ingredients are a useful tool to study the positive effects on health (if any) of such a modification (23). t?

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