Digestive health is no longer the “forbidden territory” it once was; it’s now considered a mainstream topic in health management. Consequently food and beverage companies recognize the importance of digestive health as a popular active health positioning claim.
Technavio (www.technavio.com) reports the functional foods and beverage market that contributes to digestive health will grow at a steady rate and should post a compound annual growth rate of 6.53 percent from 2017 to 2021 for the U.S. market. Health-imparting ingredients such as probiotics and others will drive the chances for growth globally until the end of 2021, Technavio predicts.
“Due to growing consumer understanding and interest, medicinal foods are rising in the natural food and beverage space, where functional ingredients rooted in the real world (as opposed to labs) are increasingly in demand,” notes Kara Nielsen, a trends expert in food and beverage in a recent Packaged Facts (www.marketresearch.com) report on cutting-edge wellness.
Ingredient providers increasingly are developing prototype products for food and beverage developers to use to promote digestive health benefits. Ingredients containing minerals, vitamins, herbs, fiber, amino acids, antioxidants, prebiotics and probiotics that encourage gut health are being incorporated in energy, sports and vegetable drinks, juices, yogurt, snacks and fermented foods. Primary digestive health goals are easing inflammatory bowel conditions and helping balance friendly bacteria in the digestive system.
Ginger root and turmeric – two of the major Ayurvedic (healing) herbs – are documented in scientific research as promoting gastrointestinal comfort and reducing incidences of gastrointestinal disorders.
Ginger has been shown to relieve nausea, motion sickness and pain. It has been used for thousands of years for medicinal purposes. As part of its Source-Convert-Deliver concept unveiled at September’s Supply Side West show, Naturex (naturex.com), South Hackensack, N.J., highlighted ginger and turmeric in a digestive health beverage promising natural gastrointestinal benefits. The new ingredient concept combines organic ginger root extract with Turmipure, Naturex’s premium-grade organic turmeric extract (95 percent curcuminoids, the compounds that give turmeric its color).
Probiotics, of course
Probiotic- and fiber-containing products were popular as digestive aids even before Dannon Activia yogurt launched in the U.S. in 2006. But that yogurt brand, featuring Dannon’s exclusive Bifidus regularis culture, put digestive health front and center with a claim to help regulate the digestive system – even though Dannon had to retract its claim that a single daily serving of Activia could ease irregularity.
“For us, probiotics are an added bonus,” explains Koel Thomae, cofounder of Noosa Yoghurt (www.noosayoghurt.com), the Bellvue, Colo., maker of Noosa thick, creamy yoghurt. While the brand’s differentiator is the use of whole milk, she acknowledges the “macro-trend [of] probiotics, because of health benefits and beyond digestive health.”
After the success of EFFi Foods’ (www.effifoods.com) Probiotic CareBar, the Los Angeles company rolled out a grain-free granola line of Probiotic Nut Clusters last year. “The clusters were well received, and we went into large-scale production this year,” says EFFi’s founder Carina Ayden. The organic, grain-free granola is fortified with non-dairy probiotics and super foods, she says.
“Focusing on gut health and digestive benefits in all our snack lines, it’s been important for us to ‘disrupt’ the most oversaturated and unhealthy snacking categories by providing truly clean, healthy alternatives,” says Ayden.
Clasado Biosciences (www.clasado.com), a wellness solutions biotechnology research firm based in Jersey, U.K., offers prebiotic technologies such as Bimuno galactooligosaccharide (GOS), a patent-protected ingredient produced from dairy lactose, which feeds and stimulates growth and activity of Bifidobacterium (anaerobic bacteria in the GI tract that produce acetic and lactic acid by the fermentation of carbohydrates). The company’s tests of Bimuno demonstrate a positive impact on gut microbiota, digestive comfort, metabolism and the immune system, including control of inflammation in the body.
Fervor for fermented
Consumers have become quite interested in fermented foods & beverages touting gut health advantages. Fermented products range from kombucha and kefir to fermented juices and vegetables, such as sauerkraut and kimchi. They often encourage essential bacteria such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria to flourish. This makes fermentation a good source of probiotics for vegans, since many fermented foods are plant-based.
Vegetables can be fermented by submerging them in a salty brine during preparation to kill off pathogenic bacteria while the good bacteria break down lactose and other sugars and starches, making digestion easier. Once they reach the gut, they continue to help break down food and keep out dangerous intruders like E. coli and other infection-causing bacteria.
Americans, and especially millennials, are interested in products like kombucha, a fermented tea variant often antioxidant-rich, sweet and tart, brewed with a live, expanding bacterial culture. Highly acidic kombucha reportedly heals the stomach and helps prevent excess acid buildup. It also may protect the layer of the stomach that inhibits acid erosion.
Farmhouse Culture (www.farmhouseculture.com), Watsonville, Calif., offers a variety of fresh organic sauerkraut, beets, sauerkraut chips and even what it calls “fermented gut shots.” Farmhouse also developed a sparkling gut “punch” probiotic beverage set to launch next year. The introduction is due in part to an investment from General Mills’ venture capital arm, 301 Inc.
The ready-to-drink punches differ from kombucha and live-culture probiotic drinks in that they blend Farmhouse’s exclusive fermented vegetable base of cabbage, water, salt and caraway seeds. “We see a number of opportunities to bring a broader range of products to consumers looking for more probiotics, but not necessarily looking for, what I’ll call polarizing flavors associated with a sauerkraut,” says CEO John Tucker.
Plant-based fiber and calcium
Fiber remains a key ingredient in helping the digestive system run efficiently. “The importance of fiber is well-substantiated, though we continue to learn more about the unique role cereal fiber plays in the gut microbiome,” says Christine Cochran, executive director of the Grain Foods Foundation (www.grainfoodsfoundation.org), Washington.
Recently published scientific findings and human intervention studies from Beneo (www.beneo.com), Mannheim, Germany, show chicory root fibers (also known as inulin) support digestive health and function. The plant-based dietary fiber is metabolized by bacteria in the colon and catalyzes both chemical and mechanical changes that enhance colon motility.
The presence of chicory root fiber facilitates prebiotic fermentation, hence short-chain fatty acids in the large intestine encourage water binding in the stool and can provide relief of mild constipation.
“Digestive health matters at every age,” says Beneo’s Anke Sentko, vice president of regulatory affairs and nutrition communication. “Studies show prebiotic chicory root fibers effectively support digestive health, regularity and well-being, making them an important area of focus for food and drink manufacturers.”
Aquamin, a red seaweed-derived calcium complex, could become a force in digestive health, says Cork, Ireland-based brand owner Marigot Ltd.(aquamin.com). Derived from the cytoskeleton of red seaweed, the mineral may be used to fortify breads (including gluten-free formulations), ice cream, rice, pasta and cereal bars, among others.
Marigot’s commercial manager David O’Leary says the elements contained in trace quantities in Aquamin are insignifcant alone, but within a multi-mineral matrix, they work synergistically to boost to the action of calcium and magnesium. O’Leary says the combination of calcium and magnesium along with trace minerals could inhibit chronic inflammation in the gut. Emerging research shows Aquamin can help maintain a healthy digestive barrier in the stomach necessary to thwart chronic inflammation in the GI tract.
Gluten still in the crosshairs
Market intelligence firm Mintel (www.mintel.com), Chicago, finds consumers who favor gluten-free foods are increasing in number, though sales have slowed somewhat in recent years with the spread of lower-priced gluten-free foods including store-brands.
Gluten-free formulators have come a long way in developing products that replicate conventional equivalents. Hence, consumption rose 32 percent in 2016 versus 24 percent in 2013, Mintel reports. Sixty-nine percent of American consumers find gluten-free products to be of higher quality than they used to be, according to the firm’s “Gluten-Free Foods, US” report.
“Gluten-free [foods] are very important for people with celiac disease but also for those with non celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS),” explains Ronni Alicea, a specialist in gerontological nutrition and quality control manager for the nonprofit Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (www.gluten.org), Auburn, Wash. GIG certifies food, beverage and supplement products as gluten-free.
One of GIG’s programs, the Gluten Free Certification Organization, has certified more than 50,000 products as gluten-free in 29 different countries. “Plant-based foods have dietary fiber and are often prebiotic,” adds Alicea. “This supports the probiotic garden we all have in our digestive system. The challenge is providing gluten-free solutions, as wheat protein has been dominant. R&D must have a strong understanding of what gluten is in order to develop desirable consumer foods.” GIG CEO Cynthia Kupper says many celiac patients not only remove gluten from their diets, they use probiotics to remedy their ailments. “Manufacturers have responded to the continued demand, realizing this isn’t a passing fad.”
Despite the benefits of fiber, research shows some carbohydrates and fibrous foods can irritate the bowels and contribute to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), mild food allergies, bloating, abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms. These short-chain carbohydrates, often poorly absorbed in the small intestine, are called Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols – or FODMAPs for short.
The concept and diet are relatively new. Most FODMAP foods are good for you – unless you’re one of the estimated 10 percent of Americans who are sensitive to them.
The American Gastroenterological Assn. (www.gastro.org), Bethesda, Md., says those affected by high FODMAP foods should steer clear of cauliflower, onions, cabbage and some dairy foods. Even apples are suspect. Follow a low-FODMAP diet of ruling out irritating foods, and determine which of the FODMAP sugars and at what amounts are causing symptoms. More of these low FODMAP foods are in the works as scientists test high-fiber baked goods, algae, raw foods and low FODMAP foods.