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Gut health is linked to essentially every area of human health and the research in this area is still in its infancy. Everyone has a unique microbiome, and environmental factors at a young age play an important role in its development and composition. Most research shows that upon reaching adulthood, gut health composition remains relatively constant, with beneficial bifidobacteria decreasing in the elderly. However, it is more likely that both dietary and lifestyle factors will positively or negatively impact an individual’s gut health over the course of his/her lifetime.
At this stage research is inconclusive about how to create a personalized eating plan based on microbiome data as no agreement has been reached on what the “ideal” microbiome would look like. However, this is a development to look out for as the number of studies in this area are rapidly increasing. As research continues to identify which strains of probiotics can positively impact our health, and which, if any, are the preferred prebiotic fuel sources, it opens up the door for the customization of a diet based on these results.
Prebiotics: The Missing Piece
One missing piece to the gut health puzzle is prebiotics. Prebiotics as currently defined by ISAPP are “a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit.” What that means is that prebiotics are the fuel that feeds the probiotics in the gut to benefit their host.
The bacteria genera usually targeted by prebiotics are Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, with positive changes in bifidobacteria more commonly observed. In most cases, the prebiotics that are fermented by the bacteria in the colon lead to the production of beneficial short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) that have direct and indirect health benefits.
Some of the health benefits from consuming prebiotics include:
- Reducing inflammatory pathways
- Reducing the pH of the colon
- Aiding digestion
- Enhancing nutrient absorption
- Strengthening the immune system
Prebiotics currently come in a variety of forms such as soluble fibers, resistant starches or polyphenolic compounds, and there are emerging prebiotics that are being developed or discovered by the industry.
Because prebiotics come in many forms, it’s important to explore which products are available that are naturally rich in prebiotics, what products are already available and have specifically been formulated to promote a prebiotic benefit, and in what direction product innovation is moving.
Natural liquid sweeteners and syrups are currently the most inundated with natural prebiotic rich ingredients. Derived from tapioca and corn, the prebiotic isomalto oligosaccharides (IMO) is extracted to make liquid sweeteners and yacon syrup, and is full of prebiotic fructooligosaccharide (FOS).
The baking mix category is seeing the rise of ingredients such as green banana flour, naturally rich in prebiotic resistant starch and tiger-nuts rich in prebiotic soluble fiber. Legume-based pastas such as mung bean or chickpea pasta are also gaining popularity.
Konjac noodles are another prebiotic rich ingredient, widely promoted for their lack of net carbohydrates and use in weight management.
There are indications that the supplement category will be the first to capitalize on this area to create having solution-orientated supplements based on a one’s results from testing their gut bacteria. This is likely to be focused on probiotics initially, with the selection of specific strains that appear to be lacking or unbalanced. There are also a lot of opportunities for food and beverage companies, but that may take longer due to regulatory constraints.
Don’t miss Kara Landau’s presentation, ‘Applying the latest research into gut health’ on Wednesday 28 November, 15.00-15.25 at the Hi Europe 2018 Conference, Discovery Theatre.