Ingredients for Digestive Health

A trip to most supermarkets will provide consumers with digestive health products to make their digestive systems running smoothly, as more food and beverages on store shelves claim these benefits. Analysts expect the digestive health market to grow readily for these products by at least 6.53 percent in the U.S.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

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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.

Gut Punch Family no OCFarmhouse Culture (, 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 (, Washington.

Recently published scientific findings and human intervention studies from Beneo (, 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.( 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 (, 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 (, 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.”

Navigating FODMAPs

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. (, 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.

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