Unlike some health concerns, digestive health is important to all consumers â€” men, women and their children alike. Poor diets, aging, the stress of on-the-go lifestyles and medications are all factors that can affect digestive health. Consumers are becoming more aware of how digestive health can affect their total well-being and beverage formulators are including probiotics, prebiotics and other ingredients to aid digestive health needs.
Beverages provide an ideal option to deliver digestive health ingredients because of their convenience and additional benefit of hydration, says Ram Chaudhari, senior executive vice president and chief scientific officer for Fortitech Inc., Schenectady, N.Y. Because consumers are not eating foods that address their digestive health, people are looking for an easier way to deliver nutrients that are good for digestion, he says.
“Consumers are very knowledgeable, and they are always trying to take their health conditions so seriously,” Chaudhari says. “Because of scientific evidence as well as baby boomers coming on board a lot more, they are pushing the market as such. They want to take health and wellness in their own hands with prevention instead of a cure type of approach. That has caught on nicely worldwide.”
Digestive benefits are unlike other fortifications, since digestion affects everyone. “Unlike cholesterol or high blood pressure, improved digestive health is something that almost anyone can benefit from,” says Mirjana Curic-Bawden, a senior scientist at Chr. Hansen Inc., Milwaukee.
The top consumer trends driving digestive health ingredient development include demands for regularity, maintained well-being, sustained immunity, increased fiber, convenience and consumers’ increased comfort with the topic of digestive health, says Trina O’Brien, marketing and public relations manager for GTC Nutrition, Golden, Colo. In addition, clinical research has recognized the gut as the largest immune organ.
Probiotic help for the gut
For the past couple of years, an increased number of beverages, such as smoothies and juices, have applied probiotic bacteria to their formulations. Clinical trials on humans have shown that probiotics are beneficial to digestive health by helping to regulate digestive processes and improve immune system responses.
Market research indicates that the probiotics sector is making gains, and the fastest-growing sector within the market is the probiotic beverage category, says Jennifer Lim, Torrance, Calif.-based Yakult USA’s marketing manager. According to “Strategic Analysis of the North American Probiotics Markets for Human Nutrition,” a 2007 report from market analyst Frost & Sullivan, Palo Alto, Calif., the probiotics sector is expected to reach $1.70 billion in 2013, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.7 percent. In particular, probiotic beverages have a CAGR of 24.6 percent.
Within the digestive system, probiotics have been shown to allow for smoother bowel movements, reduce constipation, aid in the digestion of lactose and help reduce diarrhea symptoms, says Tetsuji Hori, science manager at Yakult USA Inc.
For the immune system, probiotics may help to enhance immunity and keep away bad bacteria, which can lead to illness and disease, he says. In many Eastern cultures, it is believed that a healthy digestive tract leads to a long life, Hori adds. This was the philosophy of Yakult’s founder, Minoru Shirota, and the reason he created Yakult in 1935. Yakult, a 2.7-ounce dairy-based probiotic drink from Japan, contains Lactobacillus casei (L. casei) Shirota bacteria. The bacteria have been shown to help increase the level of beneficial bacteria and reduce the level of harmful bacteria, creating a healthy balance within the intestines, Hori says.
Not all probiotics are the same, he emphasizes. “One general thing they should have in common is their ability to withstand strong stomach acids and bile, which non-probiotic microorganisms cannot,” he says. “This means they should arrive in the intestinal tract alive and active. Because many health issues, including digestive discomforts, originate from the intestines, it is very important that good bacteria are able to reach this area alive and in great numbers. Most importantly, each probiotic strain must be clinically tested individually to evaluate its efficacy and safety.”
Regular use of Yakult also has been shown to improve symptoms of constipation and diarrhea, he says.
“Symptoms of constipation may be relieved through L. casei Shirota’s production of lactic acid, which increases the intestinal motility,” Hori says. “For diarrhea, on the other hand, there are many possible causes; the primary one being the increase of harmful bacteria. Consuming L. casei Shirota may reduce harmful bacteria and normalize the gut flora.”
Probiotics are showing up in several forms, but the most popular probiotic drinks are still fermented milk and yogurts for a couple of reasons, Chr. Hansen’s Curic-Bawden says. Milk and whey, when they are used as a base, already are recognized as healthful. In addition, yogurt contains lactic acid bacteria, made up of live and active cultures, so an additional probiotic culture is considered natural to the product.
The probiotic drink category is expanding into fruit juices, which also are considered inherently healthful by consumers. However, when using probiotic bacteria in juices, beverage formulators must consider the nature of probiotic organisms. Most probiotic strains are well suited to grow and survive in milk, but very few are able to survive at low pH in formulas that contain organic acids, antioxidants or bacteriostatic compounds that some juices are known for.
“Even though probiotic strains by default have to survive low pH in the stomach, they still can be sensitive to shelf life exposure and to low pH and organic acids in juices,” Curic-Bawden says. “These features are strain dependant, and have to be tested for each particular probiotic and fruit preparation.
“Encapsulated or specially formulated probiotics can be better suited to survive harsh conditions in juices. Chr. Hansen is working on solutions to supply the daily dose of probiotics, both in the product and at the time of consumption.”
Shelf life also adds an interesting challenge to product formulation. Beverages formulated with probiotics need to be refrigerated at all times and have a relatively short shelf life of 35 to 60 days, Curic-Bawden says.
Chr. Hansen offers the probiotic strains Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12 and Lactobacillus acidophilus LA-5 as well as Lactobacillus casei 431, which is available for application in juices and beverages. All are documented for intestinal health. BB-12 alone or in combination with LA-5 is shown to have a beneficial effect on the intestinal system, such as re-establishing the balance of intestinal microflora and reducing the duration of traveler’s diarrhea. If adequate cell count is present at the end of shelf life (i.e. 1 billion colony-forming units per serving), Curic-Bawden says the following functional claims could be used: helps improve bowel function, supports a healthy digestive system, beneficially affects the intestinal flora and helps balance the intestinal flora.
Expansion of probiotics into other beverage categories will depend on the technological solutions that will allow beverage manufacturers to formulate products with stable probiotics, Curic-Bawden says. Single servings of pasteurized, refrigerated, all-natural, no-sugar-added juices and smoothies are a good start, she says.
“It will be difficult to position the health benefits of probiotics in an unhealthy product,” Curic-Bawden adds.
Prebiotic and fiber assistance
Prebiotics aid the balance of good bacteria in the gut as non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth of probiotic bacteria in the colon. Prebiotics reside naturally in many foods, and also can be isolated from plants or synthesized. Inulin, fructooligosaccharides, polydextrose, arabinogalactan, lactulose and lactitol are all prebiotics as well as non-digestible fibers.
A wide variety of beverage applications are suitable for prebiotic fiber enrichment including dairy, soy and rice beverages, functional waters, juices and nutritional shakes. Solubility, pH, heat stability, texture, mouthfeel and flavor are all points to consider when formulating with prebiotics.
GTC Nutrition offers NutraFlora short-chain fructooligosaccharides (scFOS) natural prebiotic fiber that is derived from cane sugar using a patented process, non-genetically modified ingredients and a natural fermentation method. NutraFlora delivers soluble fiber, as well as solubility and dispersion, enhancement of flavors, improvement of stability and texture, moisture retention and shelf-life extension, O’Brien says. NutraFlora delivers 30 percent of the sweetness of sucrose, and contains 1.5 calories per gram.
The company also markets a highly pure prebiotic galactooligosaccharide powder Purimune, derived from lactose containing a minimum of 90 percent galactooligosaccharides. As a prebiotic, Purimune supports digestive health, immune system strength and overall well-being, the company says. Purimune is highly soluble, stable to high heat and low pH, and offers efficacy at low inclusion levels. Purimune provides a caloric content of 1.85 calories per gram, and is approximately 30 percent as sweet as sucrose.
In addition, GTC Nutrition offers BioAgave active agave fiber, a plant-derived source of liquid agave fructan that provides unique functional benefits to beverage and food applications. It features a branched structure, high degree of polymerization and provides superior stability in liquid form. BioAgave contains 90 percent soluble fiber, which is important to maintain a healthy digestive system, GTC Nutrition’s O’Brien says.
Deriving its fiber from a corn source, Tate & Lyle, Decatur, Ill., created Promitor Soluble Corn Fiber based on a technology that it uses to process corn syrup. Promitor Soluble Corn Fiber is a corn syrup-like molecule that contains bonds the body cannot break down.
“In food and beverage applications, it acts like a corn syrup, but in your body, it acts like a fiber,” says Michelle Schwenk, a senior food technologist at Tate & Lyle.
Promitor Soluble Corn Fiber is almost completely clear, and is available in several forms for beverages. It is acid stable, and is stable at a pH of 4. Promitor Soluble Corn Fiber stays soluble for the entire shelf life of the beverage, so beverage formulators don’t have to worry about it becoming insoluble, Schwenk says. The corn fiber is stable through all processing conditions, including pasteurization, and is easily dispersible.
In addition, Promitor Soluble Corn Fiber can be used either as a fiber or to decrease calories by replacing some of the sweeteners in a product. The fiber offers 2 calories per gram, and it is less sweet than typical sweeteners, Schwenk says. Promitor Soluble Corn Fiber also offers a low glycemic response.
National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, N.J., developed Nutriose, a soluble prebiotic fiber made from either corn or wheat. Nutriose has a high digestive tolerance, and does not cause digestive discomfort, even at very high levels, says Lorraine Niba, National Starch’s business development manager, nutritional ingredients.
Nutriose works well in every beverage type, even clear, colorless beverages like waters, she says. The prebiotic fiber is an agglomerated, instantly dispersible, odorless and tasteless fiber. It dissolves instantly in all kinds of beverages and beverage mixes. In addition, Nutriose is stable in low pH, high acid, pasteurized systems, and can be used for hot-filled, shelf-stable beverages without losing fiber content. Nutriose does not impact taste, flavor or viscosity and can be formulated in beverages with delicate or multiple flavors.
“Clear, instantly soluble fibers are especially tailored to beverages,” Niba says. “In addition, unlike in some other food systems, fiber in beverages is physiologically accessible, and therefore the benefits are more attainable.”
In regard to digestive health, human clinical studies have shown that Nutriose is fermented by various beneficial bacteria in the colon to produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids. These short-chain fatty acids, in turn, contribute to decreasing the pathogenic bacteria in the large intestine by lowering intestinal pH. The lowered pH also improves mineral absorption. Furthermore, the short-chain fatty acids act as substrates for the cells lining the colon, improving their robustness, Niba says.
In addition to the significant digestive health benefits, Nutriose soluble fiber in beverages also reduces glycemic and insulin response, and increases feelings of satiety and fullness, she adds. Fibersol-2 digestion resistant maltodextrin from Matsutani America, Decatur, Ill., and manufactured by ADM Co., Decatur, Ill., also is a prebiotic fiber that works in a symbiotic relationship with probiotics, says Yuma Tani, Matsutani America’s vice president.
Fibersol-2 offers rapid dispersion, high solubility and stability that makes it easy to incorporate into any formulation. The low-viscosity soluble dietary fiber is transparent in solution and adds virtually no flavor to the finished product.
In addition to the benefits of calorie reduction, clinical research has indicated that Fibersol-2 helps support or maintain intestinal regularity, Tani says. The studies show that Fibersol-2 helps relieve occasional constipation, and select studies show that it improves stool consistency.
Danisco Sweeteners, Elmsford, N.Y., derives its prebiotic fiber from a polydextrose that is applicable in almost all beverages and foods. Litesse Polydextrose is offered in a 70 percent solution form, and is stable across a wide range of pH and processing conditions. Litesse contains only 1 calorie per gram, and does not contain sugar.
“We are seeing more interest by our customers in prebiotics for use in beverages, but this development is still in its infancy,” says Donna Brooks, Danisco’s regional director. “While polydextrose has been on the market for over 25 years for use in many products, we only recently obtained FDA approval for use in all beverages last August 2007, so it will take some time to launch new products in this segment.”
Research has shown that Litesse is not hydrolysed by human digestive enzymes and passes intact to the colon. It is fermented slowly throughout the colon, thus mediating its effect in the distal colon where disease risk may be the greatest. Litesse also selectively stimulates the growth of probiotics bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.
Additional ingredients for gut health
As far as digestive health is concerned, probiotics and prebiotics are the most popular ingredients to be included in beverages. That trend is expected to continue to grow worldwide in correlation with more consumer awareness. Room does exist for other bioactive compounds to be included in gut health formulations though, Fortitech’s Chaudhari says.
For digestive heath and many other health conditions, Fortitech supplies premixes of active ingredients. Prebiotics, such as inulin, fructooligosaccharides and lactulose; insoluble fibers; enzymes; minerals and antioxidants can work in combination in Fortitech’s premixes to improve digestive health, Chaudhari says. Digestive health, like many other health concerns, is improved by maintaining a balance of one’s total nutrition.
Enzymes are one underused ingredient segment for digestive health, Chaudhari says. Medications such as antibiotics affect the equilibrium of digestive enzymes, and premixes containing digestive enzymes can help correct this problem. Digestive enzymes can help facilitate digestion, the absorption of nutrients, maintain proper pH in the gastrointestinal tract, and act as a barrier against invasion of pathological organisms. Because enzymes are proteins, it is difficult to keep them stable in a liquid medium, but enzymes are stable in a powder form, Chaudhari says. BI