Diet, schedule, stress, medications, lack of exercise and aging are all factors that can contribute to digestive upset. Growing digestion aid sales suggest that more consumers are suffering from digestive health issues and are searching for more beverages with probiotics and fiber to provide relief.

“What you’re seeing for digestive health is not only an increase in probiotic sales, but you are seeing an increase in soluble fibers — whole grain fibers,” says Peggy Steele, global business director at Danisco Health & Nutrition, Madison, Wis. “Digestive health as a whole has become a significant issue, or maybe it’s an issue people are becoming more comfortable talking about.”

Beneficial bacteria
Probiotics are an ingredient group that has emerged because of the growing number of digestive health issues and the increasing number of products with probiotics that show results. The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live micro-organisms that when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host.” Probiotics traditionally are used to restore the balance of the intestinal microflora which can become unbalanced due to illness, stress, age, traveling and the use of medication such as antibiotics, says the International Probiotics Association (IPA), Des Plaines, Ill.

It is estimated the human gastrointestinal tract contains more than 100 trillion bacterial cells from more than 500 different species, the IPA says, but only probiotic bacteria are considered to have documented beneficial effects.

Consumers’ awareness level about the ingredient varies greatly. Probiotic beverage company Yakult, which has its headquarters in Japan and a U.S. office in Torrance, Calif., invests in educating consumers about probiotics.

“The knowledge of consumers is still limited because health care professionals are still trying to understand it,” says Lauren Weidelman, corporate communications manager for Yakult USA. “The number of studies on probiotics has significantly increased over the last decade per year. So for health care professionals, it’s hard for them to keep up with the research.”

Increased clinical documentation of probiotics’ health benefits is helping probiotics emerge, Danisco’s Steele says.

“The science is really becoming solid, and we have premier researchers around the world now trying to understand mechanisms and how these work,” she says. “The products really do seem to work. People start to take Activia for a few weeks, and they actually do start to feel better, and that drives more sales along with the increase in evidence.”

Consumers are obtaining most of their knowledge about probiotics from TV ads and through the medical field, says Julie Mazzoleni, Rosemont, Ill.-based Fonterra USA’s group manager for technical nutrition. Health-conscious consumers are one consumer group becoming more familiar with probiotic benefits, she says. Many Asian and Hispanic populations also are familiar with the benefits of probiotics, Yakult’s Weidelman says.

Probiotic performance
The use of probiotics continues to increase in food product and supplement categories, including beverages.

“There has been a significant increase in beverages with probiotics and some key success stories this year in juices, dairy drinks and dry beverages,” Steele says. “In fact, this category has been indentified as the category that should see the fastest growth in the coming three to five years.”

Beverages with probiotics are a definite area of interest for consumers because they provide a convenient medium to consume probiotics.

“We are beginning to see customers look at what it takes to put probiotics into their beverages,” Fonterra’s Mazzoleni says. “When consumers think of probiotics, they think ‘dairy,’ so getting probiotics into non-dairy based beverages can be a challenge and a learning curve for the consumers.”

The greatest challenge in formulating probiotics into non-dairy based beverages is the survival rate, Mazzoleni says.

“Today, there are specialty packages and beverage caps that can be used to house the dried probiotic strains,” she explains. “Consumers can then ‘pop’ the top, shake it and drink it within a couple of hours.”

Probiotics’ effects also are strain specific, meaning every probiotic functions a little bit differently. Most probiotic organisms belong to the bifidobacteria and lactobacillus genera.

Fonterra’s strain of bifidobacterium lactis HN019 (DR10), and lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001 (DR20) clinically have been proven to have health benefits in the area of gut health and immunity, Mazzoleni says.
Because probiotic benefits are strain specific, beverages also need to contain different numbers of colony forming units of the bacteria.

“Formulators would need to put in enough probiotic ingredients to survive the shelf life of the finished product,” Mazzoleni explains. “In other words, at the end of the shelf life, the product and probiotic will still need to impart the claimed health benefit to the host.”

Yakult’s beverage contains the company’s own proprietary probiotic strain, lactobacillus casei Shirota. “There are very few products out there where the company is developing the strain,” Weidelman says.

Danisco also offers a range of probiotics that are documented with clinical studies supporting their immune or digestive health benefits. This range contains three single probiotic strains: Howaru Dophilus (lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM), Howaru Bifido (bifidobacterium lactis HN019), and Howaru Rhamnosus (lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001) and blends Howaru Protect and Howaru Restore.

“We would consider them among the best documented strains available on the market,” Steele says. “This is very important for regulatory reasons, but perhaps more importantly so that you know that your products containing these strains will deliver benefits consumers will feel.”

While consumers are just beginning to understand probiotics, it is obvious that probiotics are trending up, Fonterra’s Mazzoleni says. “People are looking to get the benefits of probiotics in their diets through food,” she says. “We are seeing this in many food and beverage formats.”

Friendly fermentation
When the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans was published at the end of January, the report called attention to the fact that fiber is consumed below recommended levels in the typical American diet. The guidelines emphasized that consuming sources of dietary fiber could improve Americans’ health in multiple ways, including gastrointestinal function.

While a larger range of people have fiber intake and regularity on their radar screens, an understanding of how digestive health promotes overall health and well-being also is increasing, says Andy Hoffman, director of wellness product development for Tate & Lyle, Decatur, Ill.

“Some recent reports actually showed that consumption of soluble dietary fiber leads to increased calcium and mineral absorption that helps with bone health,” he says.

Soluble fiber aids in digestive health by boosting the growth of good bacteria in the colon that promotes bowel bulk and regularity, says Mar Nieto, senior principal scientist at TIC Gums, White Marsh, Md.

“The fermentation of soluble fiber in the colon also results in the production of short chain fatty acids like butyric and propionic and the lowering of bowel pH,” he explains. “Butyric acid specifically has a protective effect on mucosal lining and promotes repair of mucosal damage. The lowering of pH also helps in preventing bacterially induced toxin production.”

Certain fibers are prebiotics, a non-digestible ingredient that stimulates the growth of probiotics. These prebiotic fibers selectively are fermented in the colon by various beneficial bacteria, altering the colonic microbial ecosystem and producing short chain fatty acids, which have been shown to aid in maintaining digestive health, says Lorraine Niba, business development manager, nutrition for National Starch, a recently acquired company of Corn Products International, Westchester, Ill.

It’s not clear how many consumers associate fiber with digestive health, as opposed to just knowing that fiber is good for you, says Deborah Schulz, product manager for Cargill Health & Nutrition, Minneapolis. “Interest skews to older populations,” she says. “However, interest in fiber is high and still growing.”

Even though the beverage category is not an area where American consumers traditionally have looked for fiber, market research shows an increasing interest in beverages as a source of fiber, National Starch’s Niba says.

“This is because many of the conventional fibers were not functionally suitable for clear, shelf-stable beverages, and often imparted undesirable viscosity, turbidity and grittiness, and therefore were mostly available in supplement form,” she explains. “Improvements in ingredient technology have enabled the use of soluble fibers beyond supplements, into innovative and growth segments like healthy beverages.”

Formulating fiber into a beverage can almost be easier than including fiber in a snack bar, says Adrienne Stucky, a Tate & Lyle food scientist.

“In a beverage, with some particular fibers, including Tate & Lyle’s Promitor Soluble Corn Fiber, it readily dissolves, has no color issues and no taste,” Stucky says. “You really can’t taste that it’s in there. If you put it into a bar, you need it to function as sugar when you are replacing sugar, and it has some additional issues you have to work out to make sure that the product forms the bar and has the correct texture.”

Beverages also offer the opportunity to provide efficacy at lower doses, says Juliana Zeiher, business development manager of nutrition for Corn Products.

“People are looking for products that deliver as close to a full dose of the active ingredient, so they don’t have to split usage into several servings,” she says.

Additionally, more products are being formulated with increased levels of fiber as fiber in place of sugar is known to have more benefit for people looking to manage their weight, says Kati Ledbetter, product development scientist for ADM, Decatur, Ill.

“Fiber frequently has a lower caloric value than simple sugars,” she explains. “Thus, the addition of fiber to some foods can decrease the energy density per serving. Additionally beneficial, some fibers can increase satiety and delay hunger such as Fibersol-2.”

Fibersol-2 digestion resistant maltodextrin from ADM/Matsutani is a low-viscosity soluble dietary fiber that clinical research has indicated helps to support and maintain intestinal regularity.

Although formulating fiber into beverages can be a challenge, several fiber options are now available for beverages.

Cargill offers OliggoFiber inulin for beverages. Inulin is a highly soluble prebiotic fiber, which has a mild sweet taste, is clear in solution and has a thin viscosity when used at levels in a beverage equivalent to an excellent source of fiber, such as 5 grams in 8 ounces, Schulz says. It also is stable to heat processing.

“Inulin works great in refrigerated, low pH beverages, such as juices, and is a great source of fiber for neutral pH beverages such as weight-loss formulas and other supplements,” Schulz says.

Inulin is sensitive to pH though, and usage in shelf stable low pH beverages is limited because the fiber content degrades over time, she says.

Corn Products and National Starch supply a range of prebiotic process-stable, instantly dispersible soluble fibers that are suitable for a variety of beverages. Nutriose soluble fiber, which is manufactured by Roquette and distributed by National Starch, has been shown to have prebiotic and digestive health benefits.

Corn Products also offers Purimune galactooligosaccharides (GOS), a prebiotic that selectively stimulates the growth of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in the colon.

“Purimune is unique compared with other prebiotics because of the multi-mechanistic way in which it influences the large intestinal microflora,” Corn Products’ Zeiher says. “In addition to selectively enhancing the growth and/or activity of healthy bacteria, GOS has shown to inhibit the adhesion of pathogens to the large intestine, protecting the body from invasion by harmful bacteria.”

Fiber forward
Consumers continue to rank digestive wellness among their top health concerns and it is a benefit that applies to all age groups, from infants to elderly. Because of this, the market will continue to see an increased number of beverages containing fiber, Corn Products’ Zeiher says. Dairy continues to be among the most innovative categories when it comes to digestive health, she adds. Fiber also is appearing in new sports drinks and enhanced waters.

“It’s interesting to see the growth in sports drinks and waters because those aren’t traditional areas that people would consider as likely to include fiber as fruit juice, for example, where there is a long history of understanding that fruits and vegetables contain fiber,” Tata & Lyle’s Hoffman says.

The proportion of new beverage products launched with fiber is still relatively small, National Starch’s Niba adds, but untapped potential exists for beverage manufacturers.

Fiber use in beverages remains a popular trend among manufacturers looking to make a “better-for-you” product, ADM’s Ledbetter says. Although launches of new beverages that make high- and added fiber claims have remained steady during the past several years, launches of new beverages that make functional claims for digestive health, satiety and weight management have increased, she says.

“As consumer focus on healthier products increases, the potential remains high for adding fiber to beverages,” Ledbetter says.

Knowing the many options for fiber ingredients, adding a functional dose of fiber to a traditional beverage is not really an issue of sensory acceptability as it is cost, says TIC Gums’ Nieto. “If consumers are willing to pay extra for the fiber in their favorite beverage, the choice of beverage to fortify is plenty,” he says. “Bottom line is that food companies must have a good marketing strategy to sell the fiber.” BI