The improvement of digestive health is the largest sector of the functional foods market in Europe, South America and Japan, according to research by DuPont Nutrition and Health, and is on its way to becoming the same in the U.S. as well. The so-called "positive nutrition" market is one that food producers are taking seriously, with an outpouring of foods and beverages that promote health from the inside out.
The right type of probiotic can help maintain balance in the gut. Probiotics are claimed to have positive effects on the immune system, to improve digestion and to enhance the immune response after vaccination.
Food product manufacturers have historically used probiotic cultures in foods that are aimed at women's and children's health and in supplements. Dairy foods such as yogurt have long been the vehicle of choice for delivery of probiotics.
No more. Probiotic cultures have been developed that are stable in multiple processing environments, making them easily added to a wide variety of food products.
"The whole food aisle is changing," says Rodger Jonas, director of national sales for PL Thomas (www.plthomas.com), Morristown, N.J. "There are a lot of solution-oriented ingredients on the food side, such as sugar-free or gluten-free, and that is just going to grow." Functional foods with probiotics are a big part of that growth market, he predicts.
Ganeden BC30 is a patented strain of bacteria, Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086, marketed by Ganeden Biotech (www.ganedenlabs.com), Mayfield Heights, Ohio. It contains a hardened structure or spore that can withstand radical processing parameters such as heat, freezing and pressure. It retains viability all the way through the digestive system to arrive in the gut ready to work. Ganeden BC30 supports the immune and digestive systems and has been documented to increase amino acid absorption, which boosts the metabolism of protein.
Mike Bush, Ganeden's vice president of business development, says the goal was to make probiotics accessible to all. "We want probiotics to go into products that consumers consume every day," he says. "We don't want to change people's habits. You can't take a meat and potatoes guy and make him drink kombucha. That just isn't going to happen."
Ganeden BC30 is being used in products as far ranging as chai lattes to chocolate bars and will soon be introduced in the freezer case in Smart Portion Muffin Tops by Uncle Wally's.
Gastrointestinal and immune health are the largest growth markets for probiotics, according to research by Chr. Hansen. And, there is a "booming" interest in probiotics for women's health, including a product recently approved in Columbia for improving healthy vaginal bacterial flora, according to the company.
However, the efficacy and safety of these products must be proven. False claims and undocumented science can lead consumers to believe the hype about probiotics is snake oil, says Kristie Laurvick, scientific liaison of U.S. Pharmacopeia (www.usp.org), Rockville, Md. Methodologies for testing the type and strain of the bacterium as well as the number that survive processing, storage and consumption are critical to keeping the integrity of the category intact.
The key is the standardization of viability and count. The source organism, strain and enumeration must be documented and tested throughout processing and through the entire shelf life of the product.
Probiotic manufacturing is not regulated, but the FDA and USDA make sure claims are not misleading and are based on sound science, states Markus Lipp, director of food standards for U.S. Pharmacopeia. Currently, new standards are being proposed to help ensure the quality of probiotic food ingredients. The draft standards, which will be included in the Food Chemical Codex (FCC), offer comprehensive information that is essential in the development and testing of probiotic cultures. These specifications are available for review and comment on the USP website, www.usp.org/fcc/.
Jonas agrees. "If you say you have it, you have to have it," says Jonas, noting PL Thomas will also help develop the testing procedures to make sure the product upholds its claims.