Across the globe, consumers continue to seek more nutritional foods, beverages and supplements in order to improve their digestive health, according to a report

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According to scientific literature and studies, aloe vera offers gastrointestinal, immune system, immunostimulant and anti-viral benefits, says Mick Anderson, director of sales for Terry Laboratories, Melbourne, Fla. In addition to its calming effect on skin, aloe vera acts as an anti-inflammatory internally when consumed, he says. It also has been found to be beneficial for those suffering from colitis and irritable bowel syndrome, and scientists currently are researching its effects on people with Crohn’s Disease, he adds.

Terry Laboratories’ new NaturLock System aims to mimic Mother Nature to maintain aloe vera’s natural molecular weight, which provides immunity and gastrointestinal benefits to consumers, Anderson says. The system offers a 10X aloe vera concentrate as well as single-strength aloe, and in a few months, the company will release powdered aloe vera ingredients under the NaturLock System, he adds.

by DuPont Nutrition & Health, Reigate, United Kingdom. As a result, digestive health is the largest segment of the functional foods market in Europe, Japan and South America, and it is on its way to becoming the largest functional segment in the United States as well, the report states.

According to an International Food Information Council study, consumers place fiber sixth on their lists of the Top 10 functional foods, says Erin Inventor, marketing research manager for Tate & Lyle, Sycamore, Ill. Recent research by Tate & Lyle also found that 47 percent of Americans say they need to consume more fiber, and more than two-thirds understand that fiber helps maintain healthy digestion and generally supports good health, she adds.

Furthermore, more than 100 million Americans experience digestive issues, according to a presentation titled “Gut Health Beverages Done Right: Formulating for Benefits” by Michael Bush, vice president of business development for Ganeden Biotech Inc., Mayfield Heights, Ohio. Plus, as the population ages, the demand for digestive health benefits will increase, says Sam Wright IV, chief executive officer of The Wright Group, Crowley, La.

“There has been growing interest in digestive health in recent years driven by the aging of the baby boomer generation as well as the connection between digestive health and immunity benefits,” he says. “Among the many health-oriented ingredients available, probiotics and especially fiber deliver benefits that consumers can feel working. This is a big advantage.”

Most consumers are aware of the benefits of soluble fiber, and awareness of probiotics has increased significantly in recent years, he adds.

“The probiotic category is among the most complex of any health ingredient sector because of the many specific strains involved, their intellectual property and their relative benefits,” Wright explains. “It is a tremendous marketing challenge, but progress is being made.”

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are less understood by consumers, but this will change in time, he says.

Fiber and prebiotics

Jennifer Intagliata, business development director of nutritional beverages for Beloit, Wis.-based Kerry Ingredients & Flavours, a division of Kerry Group, adds that probiotics are considered fairly mainstream in the nutritional segment, and consumers are familiar with them. When it comes to prebiotics, however, consumers need more education to increase their knowledge about what they are and what their benefits are, she says.

The company offers Emulgold soluble dietary fiber that has been clinically proven to enhance the satiety effect and provide prebiotic benefits, says Nick Bruns, global strategic marketing director of pharma, nutritional and functional ingredients. Research has found that the ingredient possesses properties to protect the probiotic strain’s viability during the shelf life of applications such as dairy and non-dairy beverages and fruit juices. It also has been shown to be a natural prebiotic plant fiber that promotes the growth of bifido and lactobacillus bacteria in the large intestine, and it offers good mouthfeel and smoothness in acid- and heat-stable applications, the company says.

Minneapolis-based Cargill offers Oliggo-Fiber inulin, which is a soluble dietary fiber that comes from chicory root. The ingredient is available as a free-flowing powder, and last year it expanded into a fiber syrup format, which adds manufacturing flexibility for a variety of applications, the company says.

Deborah Schulz, product line manager for specialty carbohydrates with Cargill, notes that inulin also is a prebiotic. Oliggo-Fiber can be used in any beverage application and is easy to work with because it is clear and has a slightly sweet flavor, she adds.

However, inulin does have its limitations. For instance, acidic shelf-stable drinks can break down the fiber and reduce its efficacy, she says.

“The only issue that you run into with inulin and some other polysaccharides is when you put them into acidic beverages that will be shelf-stable for very long periods of time — things like juice beverages that would be sitting on the shelf for months,” she explains. “What happens is the low pH breaks down the inulin so that it is no longer a fiber source.”

Ingredion Inc. notes the same challenge with its Nutraflora short-chain fructooligosaccharides (scFOS). Nevertheless, the ingredient is heat-stable, invisible in beverage applications and a prebiotic, making it ideal for a variety of applications, says Patrick Luchsinger, nutrition marketing manager with the Westchester, Ill.-based company. Additionally, its flavor profile and texture make it easy to incorporate into food and beverage applications, he says.

“Nutraflora has a clean taste without any off-notes, making it ideal for use even in applications with the gentlest flavors,” Luchsinger says. “Furthermore, Nutraflora does not build viscosity; it is highly soluble and disperses well, so it lends itself to a wide range of products including powdered mixes where these attributes are critical.”

In reduced-sugar and reduced-calorie applications, the ingredient also can help round out a product’s sweetness profile, helping to deliver sweetness and taste that is more sugar-like, he adds. And in dairy and dairy-alternative drinks, Nutraflora can contribute to creaminess, he says. Plus, the ingredient is allergen-free, genetically modified organism-free, natural, and suitable for organic applications, which are important attributes for today’s health-conscious consumers, Schulz notes.

Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM)/Matsutani entered the liquid fiber ingredient segment with its Fibersol-LQ corn syrup, part of its Fibersol line of soluble dietary fibers. The ingredient contains 75 percent dietary fiber on a dry solids basis with the additional benefits of sweetness and humectancy, says Zach Gooding, product development scientist at ADM, Decatur, Ill. The rest of the line is made up of Fibersol-2, Fibersol-2 AG and Fibersol-HS fibers.

Fibersol-2 is especially important for sugar-free and high-protein beverages because it contains very few simple sugars and enhances positive organoleptic attributes such as improved mouthfeel and bitterness masking without contributing any flavor, Gooding explains. The ingredient contains 90 percent concentrated dietary fiber and is clear; highly soluble in water; and heat-, acid-, shear- and freeze/thaw-stable, he adds. Fibersol-2 AG is an agglomerated form of digestion-resistant maltodextrin that exhibits rapid dispersion and quick dissolution in water, and Fibersol-HS combines Fibersol-2 with honey and purified steviol glycosides in order to provide natural sweetness and reduce added sugars and calories in a beverage application, he explains.

Clinical research also indicates that Fibersol-2 helps support or maintain intestinal regularity and might help support intestinal health, Gooding adds.

Tate & Lyle also offers fibers in liquid, powder and agglomerated formats for beverage applications.

“Our liquid fibers are easy to handle because they behave similarly to corn syrup without being highly sweet, and our agglomerated fibers dissolve rapidly in powdered soft drinks,” says Adrienne Pohrte, beverage food scientist with Tate & Lyle.

Both its Sta-Lite polydextrose and Promitor soluble corn fiber have an excellent pH, temperature and chemical stability, she says. However, its Sta-Lite polydextrose is a prebiotic, and Promitor is available with 70 or 85 percent fiber content, she adds. Both lines also are highly soluble and do not negatively impact a beverage’s flavor, texture or color, she notes.

Michael Bond, health platform leader with DuPont Nutrition & Health, says that nearly all beverage applications are suitable for the incorporation of fiber ingredients — the key is selecting the right fiber for the particular beverage application.

“The key for all beverages is obviously solubility of the fiber, and the range of functional soluble fibers available today exhibit a wide range of solubilities,” he says. “Clarity in solution and absence of color in solution are critical factors for clear and colorless beverage applications such as near waters. Thermal and pH stability of the fiber ingredient can influence the shelf life of the finished beverage and is an important consideration when thinking of both chilled and shelf-stable beverages alike. Finally, viscosity plays a significant role — if the fiber creates too much viscosity in the finished beverage, the mouthfeel can be too thick and syrupy; however, if the fiber does not add sufficient viscosity, the end product can be thin and watery.”

Litesse polydextrose soluble fiber, part of the DuPont Danisco ingredient range, is a highly soluble, low-calorie, colorless solution with a low viscosity, Bond says.

Good bacteria

In addition to fiber, DuPont offers a range of proprietary probiotics under the Howaru name. Just as acidic beverages offer a challenge for fiber ingredients, elevated temperatures and low pH solutions often present challenges for probiotics.

“For probiotics to deliver a healthy benefit, they need to remain live and active, as well as being added at a particular level of potency,” Bond explains. “It’s important that the recommended amount of probiotics be delivered to the end consumer.”

Therefore, probiotics should be added at a point in the manufacturing process when there are no more heating steps and the product has been cooled, he suggests. From that point, distribution and storage temperatures should remain in the refrigeration range, he says.

For instance, Yakult U.S.A. Inc. notes that its probiotic drinks should be kept refrigerated at all times to maintain the large number of probiotics in the product, says Hideyuki Shibata, vice president of science and public relations for the Torrance, Calif.-based company. He also points out that the brand’s proprietary lactobacillus casei Shirota probiotic strain possesses characteristics to naturally slow the loss of probiotics even when exposed to acids found within the body.

Both its Yakult and Yakult Light products have experienced consistent growth during the last couple of years as public awareness of and interest in probiotics has increased, Shibata says.

“We are optimistic that the public’s increasing interest in strain-based probiotic products will drive continued growth of the digestive health segment in the U.S.,” he says. As a result, the company plans to open its first U.S. factory later this year to serve the U.S. market with greater production and distribution capability, he adds.

A few years ago, about 15 percent of Americans knew what probiotics were; however, the latest data suggests that about 86 percent of Americans now know that probiotics have a health benefit, Ganeden Biotech’s Bush says. Recently, the company’s GanedenBC30 probiotic strain received generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), opening the ingredient up to additional business.

“Once the FDA has reviewed it, bigger companies feel a lot more comfortable knowing that this has gone through FDA scrutiny,” Bush says. “Some of the big [consumer packaged goods] companies just won’t put ingredients into their products that are not FDA GRAS, and so for us, [getting that certification] was great.”

Unlike traditional probiotics, GanedenBC30 is shelf-stable because it is a spore-forming organism, Bush says. Spores serve as a natural protective shield against heat and pressure during the manufacturing process as well as stomach acid during digestion, according to the company’s website.

 “The use of digestive health ingredients is still relatively underutilized in the beverage industry, and as such there is significant scope for growth and innovation,” DuPont’s Bond says. “Certain markets, e.g. Japan, have truly embraced digestive health beverages, and these markets should be seen as a model for how successful digestive health beverages can be.”