When promoting prebiotics, avoid information overload

by Jeff Gelski
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Consumers may know about fiber’s health benefits, and they may be catching on to the concept of prebiotics. Combining the two in one marketing claim, however, might not be a good idea, said Ewan Currie of Fallon Currie Consulting in Walchwill, Switzerland. Mr. Currie spoke this past September in Boston at a research conference on inulin and oligofructose, two forms of prebiotics.

Promoting a processed food product for its prebiotic fiber could confuse consumers who would have trouble understanding the two benefits, he said. Instead, companies should promote either the fiber content or the prebiotic content of a product, even if it has prebiotic fiber in it.

The International Food Information Council defines prebiotics as "nondigestible food ingredients that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth of one or a limited number of bacterial species in the colon, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, which have the potential to improve host health."

According to the IFIC, for a food ingredient to be classified as a prebiotic, it has to be demonstrated, that it:

• is not broken down in the stomach or absorbed in the G.I. tract, • is fermented by the gastrointestinal microflora; and

• selectively stimulates the growth and/or activity of intestinal bacteria associated with health and well-being. Consumers in other countries besides the United States have a better understanding of digestive health, but Mr. Currie said that is changing.

"That’s temporary, I’m sure," he said of America’s lack of interest in digestive health.

Such terms as "intestinal microflora" and "friendly bacteria" are becoming known in some countries. In the United States, consumers want to know what something is, what it’s called and where it’s from. Learning those three things allows the U.S. consumers to "Google" it, he said.

Food and beverage companies, whether on the Internet or elsewhere, may find information on many ingredients known for their prebiotic effects. The efficacy of each kind of prebiotic fiber, however, may vary widely, said Dr. Glenn Gibson, a professor of microbiology at Reading University in Reading, United Kingdom.

Mr. Gibson and Dr. Marcel Roberfroid, now a professor emeritus from the Universite Catholique de Louvain in Brussels, Belgium, coined the term "prebiotics" in a 1995 article in The Journal of Nutrition. Mr. Gibson said he is working on a prebiotic index that could help food and beverage formulators easily access the efficacy level of each kind of prebiotic fiber.

Both Mr. Gibson and Mr. Roberfroid spoke at the research conference in Boston, which was sponsored by Orafti and provided a forum for scientists to discuss the health benefits of inulin and oligofructose. A study was discussed about how feeding Orafti’s Beneo oligofrucstose to obese rats stimulated a series of signals from the gut that helps in the control of food intake and body weight. Other study themes involved how inulin and oligofructose may reduce the risk of infant diarrhea, constipation and gut infections and improve the body’s immune system.

"Since our last conference in 2004, a great deal of progress has been made in the research into inulin and oligofructose," said Dr. Anne Franck, executive vice-president of science and technology at Orafti. "The health benefits for a number of conditions are now clear while, in other areas such as immune regulation and cancer, we are embarking upon an exciting phase that builds upon the promise of early research."

Sensus America, L.L.C., Monmouth Junction, N.J., introduced its own inulin-based soluble prebiotic fiber this year. The new Frutalose L90 is 90% fiber and includes inulin, fructooligosaccharides (F.O.S.) and oligofructose. Sensus may point to scientific studies showing inulin demonstrated an in vivo prebiotic effect in healthy humans in doses ranging from 5 grams per day to 8 grams per day.

Resistant starch is another ingredient known for its prebiotic fiber. National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, N.J., said its Hi-Maize 5-in-1 fiber has a positive role in weight management, energy management and digestive health.

Danisco Sweeteners, Ardsley, N.Y., said in the past 25 years its Litesse polydextrose, which offers prebiotic effects, has transformed from a bulking agent to a specialty carbohydrate. The company has given the ingredient a new brand identity and logo, "Litesse is the single ingredient with multiple benefits."

Tate & Lyle, P.L.C., London, promotes possible beneficial effects from prebiotics and probiotics, or beneficial bacteria that feed off prebiotics, in its two sandwich cracker Enrich systems. Fibers with prebiotic properties, including inulin, are in the systems. Applying sandwich cracker Enrich filling to the systems may mean adding probiotics.

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