IMOs can be made in several ways, but they are primarily derived from a sugar called maltose. IMO is promoted as a prebiotic fiber with a light sweetness profile. Its functional properties (i.e., moisture retention, low viscosity) make it well-suited for nutrition bars, cookies, candies, and the like. In order to fully understand IMOs and how the body processes them, we first need to understand how starches are digested in the body. Starches, also known as polysaccharides, are long and sometimes branched chains of glucose molecules. Initially, starch digestion begins in the small intestine with an enzyme called α-amylase. A-amylase breaks these long glucose chains into much shorter chains, called oligosaccharides, which are composed of anywhere from two to approximately 10 glucose units. Following this, specific enzymes on the brush border of the small intestine break down these oligosaccharides even further, into individual glucose units (monosaccharides) which are then absorbed.
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To figure out the correct amount of fiber for your body, try experimenting. If you’re on the keto diet, start with 15-20 grams of total dietary fiber per day from a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber for several weeks, then consider adding 3-5 grams at a time as needed to see how you feel. Remember that some people actually feel worse when they boost their fiber intake[*][*][*].
Thus far, we have established what IMO is and how its structure can differ in regard to its carbon bonds. The real question is, “What are the metabolic responses of products that contain these IMOs?” The glycemic index of IMO is very low,[3] however, it has been shown to be nearly completely digested (83 % or more) by enzymes on the small intestinal border.[3] Thus, IMOs should not necessarily be classified as a true fiber but rather as a low glycemic carbohydrate like steel cut oatmeal, at about 3.3 calories per gram.
We’ve all seen it on food labels: “Only 2 net carbs” or “Low net carbs.” But what does this truly mean? What are net carbs, and why does it matter? Are all net carbs created equal, or are we stretching those claims a bit too much? After reading through this article, I think you will agree that there is a pressing need to educate on the precise definition of net carbs, and what exactly constitutes a true fiber.
The increased awareness regarding the importance of fiber, in addition to its distinct metabolic effects, has resulted in a surge of companies switching to an alternative fiber known as soluble corn fiber (SCF). Interestingly, SCF has been available on the US market since 2007 and is used in foods and beverages across the Americas, Europe, and Southeast Asia. SCF is produced through an extensive process: corn syrup is exposed to a suite of enzymes for at least 48 hours, some of which are found in the brush border of your small intestine, as well as the pancreas.[5] Notably, a large majority of the corn syrup contains easily digestible carbohydrates; however, a small portion is, in fact, not digestible. At the end of this enzymatic exposure, a stream of digestion-resistant carbohydrates remains and is subsequently filtered several times. The resulting product is a “true fiber” that contains a mixture of α-1,6, α-1,4, α-1,2, and α-1,3 glucosidic linkages, which, as mentioned above, contribute to its low digestibility.
7. Bouhnik, Y., Raskine, L., Simoneau, G., Vicaut, E., Neut, C., Flourié, B., … & Bornet, F. R. (2004). The capacity of nondigestible carbohydrates to stimulate fecal bifidobacteria in healthy humans: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, parallel-group, dose-response relation study. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 80(6), 1658-1664.
One of the first studies to examine IMO syrups[2] had six subjects consume 25 grams of IMO syrup. These researchers found that glucose levels increased from 109 mg/dL pre-ingestion to a peak of 136 mg/dL 30 min post-ingestion. Additionally, insulin rose to nearly parallel levels with that of glucose from 4.8 μU/mL pre-ingestion to nearly 32 μU/mL at 30 min post-ingestion. These values clearly indicate that some digestion is occurring. Furthermore, these researchers found that IMO was about 83% as digestible as maltose under resting conditions and about 69% as digestible after the exercise period. Taken together, this suggests that a large majority of the carbohydrate in the IMO syrup was, in fact, digested, absorbed, and metabolized.
Skimping on fiber isn’t good for your digestive health, as it feeds the good bacteria in your GI tract, something that benefits you beyond adequate bowel movements. “The digestive tract is where your body’s second brain is, and it’s home to the majority of your immune system,” says Elia. “If you’re following keto, it should be one of your biggest priorities to make sure you get adequate fiber to keep your gut healthy and happy,” she adds. And, she notes, high-fat diets slow digestion and decrease GI motility, so it’s especially important to get enough.