Probiotics, prebiotics work in synergy

by Donna Berry
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Just a mere 10 years ago, the term probiotic was mostly unknown to the majority of Americans. Its use was limited to niche fermented dairy products and supplements sold through the health food segment. In 2006, when Dannon Co., White Plains, NY, introduced Americans to Activia, the yogurt containing probiotic cultures said to assist with regulating the digestive system, the idea of good-for-you bacteria started to resonate.

Today, Americans understand probiotics. Health-and wellness-seeking consumers search for foods containing these “live microorganisms, which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host,” as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization in 2002. Such benefits include helping prevent or mitigate conditions related to an unbalanced gastrointestinal system.

Like other living organisms, probiotics require fuel to function — that’s where prebiotics come into play. Food for probiotics, prebiotics are selectively fermented by these beneficial bacteria. When the two are found together, they work in synergy, with the process described as synbiotic.

More than a decade ago, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics was formed to raise scientific credibility of the field so marketers could put these beneficial ingredients to action in the consumer packaged goods industry … and it’s working.

According to BCC Research LLC, Wellesley, MA, the global market for probiotic ingredients, supplements and foods reached nearly $27.1 billion in 2013 and will climb at a compound annual growth rate of 6.2% to $36.7 billion in 2018. Rising levels of health consciousness and the aging baby boomer population are two factors driving market growth. Others include clinical ­studies by probiotic suppliers and innovation in new product development.

Growing functional applications

Probiotics have historically been most successful when added to refrigerated dairy foods. Think about fermented cow’s milk products that are sources of live and active probiotic cultures. Further, the short, chilled shelf life of fresh dairy foods positively impacts probiotics’ viability and efficacy.

“Probiotics are identified at three levels: genus, species and strain,” said Mirjana Curic-Bawden, senior scientist, application manager-fermented milk and probiotics, cultures and enzymes, Chr. Hansen Inc., Milwaukee, WI. “It is important to know that the probiotic health effect is related to the strain.”

For example, not all Bifidobacteria (genus) are probiotic. And not all strains of a particular genus and species confer the same mechanisms or benefits; thus, knowing the strain is critical to making any health-and-wellness claims. Further, specific strains can have limitations in terms of application environment, distribution and use.

Unless protected, these living microorganisms can be deactivated by exposure to environmental conditions such as heat, light, moisture and oxygen. Such sensitivities must be considered when selecting a probiotic ingredient for a specific application.

Advancements in ingredient technology have made it possible to add specific beneficial bacteria to all types of foods, including beverages, cereals, condiments and baked goods. In the baking sector, innovation has been challenged by the elevated temperatures required for baking, storage and distribution.

Surviving the process

Probiotic ingredients can be supplied as live or dormant microorganisms. The former is not an option with baked goods, and while the latter presents challenges, they can be overcome by proper selection and application. Such dormant microorganisms are protected, or in other words, living in a suspended state and ready to come alive at the right time to benefit the host. Dormancy can be accomplished through freeze drying and microencapsulation. Another option is spore-forming microorganisms.

To survive baking, most commercially available probiotics should be added at a point in the process when there are no more heating steps and the product has been cooled. For example, confectionary coatings and frostings can be used as probiotics carriers because their high-fat matrix protects the bacteria from the deleterious effects of moisture and oxygen. Such inclusions must be added after baking because they are not protected from high temperatures.

“When formulating probiotics into baked goods, temperature, moisture and bake time all need to be considered,” said Michael Bush, senior vice-president, Ganeden Inc., Mayfield Heights, OH.

“The key to incorporating beneficial bacteria in baked goods is to work with probiotic strains that are stable to heat and can survive the shelf life of the product,” said Scott Turowski, technical sales manager, Sensus America Inc., Lawrenceville, NJ. “Spore-forming probiotics are ideal to work with under those conditions since they can survive until the product is consumed and will still provide a health benefit to the consumer. The key to this type of probiotic is that it will not be activated unless it is in an environment with the same parameters as the human gut, which is why it is so effective,” he explained.

To ensure the consumer receives the intended benefits, bakers must work closely with ingredient suppliers to determine the best inclusion rate and point of inclusion.

Once the product is formulated, it should undergo shelf-life testing to confirm probiotic stability and viability, which will ensure efficacy.

Mr. Bush explained that many processing and product composition hurdles can be overcome by using spore-forming probiotics. “Non-spore forming bacteria are typically unable to survive harsh manufacturing processes,” he said. “Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086, or simply GBI-30, is a patented, spore-forming organism. It is highly stable and can remain viable through processing, shelf life and the low pH of stomach acid.”

The effectiveness of GBI-30 is linked to its naturally occurring layer of organic material — the spore — that protects the genetic core of the bacteria. The company has performed dozens of clinical studies on this specific strain and have found that it supports the immune system at 500 million colony-forming units (CFUs) and supports the digestive system at one billion CFUs per day when combined with a healthy lifestyle.

“The dosage of probiotic incorporated is dependent on the specific claims that a manufacturer wants to include on their product,” Mr. Bush said.

Synbiotics in product development

Since prebiotics are non-viable, stability is not as much a concern as it is with probiotics. Safe consumption levels, however, should always be a consideration.

Sensus recently introduced Frutalose PRO, a unique prebiotic and probiotic blend designed to provide maximum health benefits. “The blend includes chicory root fiber, a proven prebiotic, and GBI-30,” Mr. Turowski said. “The ingredient is in syrup form, so it is easy to incorporate into most baked good applications and can even be used to replace a portion of the sugar. It is stable enough to survive the baking process so that health claims are still possible.” Numerous clinical trials support prebiotic and probiotic claims as well as claims related to digestive health and immunity. 

Mr. Turowski said the market for prebiotic fibers continues to grow in the US. “The trend for increased fiber, however, seems to be the real driver, while prebiotic is a benefit that has not necessarily been sought after in a significant way yet.” But that is starting to change.

With grain-based foods, which are natural carriers for prebiotic fibers, there’s a great deal of opportunity for synbiotic products. Enhancing such products with protein can be the icing on the cake. (See “Probiotics can improve protein use” on Page 90.)

FlapJacked, Westminster, CO, recently rolled out Mighty Muffins, a line of protein-packed, high-fiber ­single-serve muffins with the added benefit of probiotics. The consumer simply adds water to the single-serve cup and microwaves for 35 seconds. The finished product is a hot, fresh on-the-go meal or snack. Mighty Muffins are certified gluten-free, contain no genetically modified ingredients and pack 20 g protein, 6 g fiber and 220 Cal in each single-serving container. They are available in two flavors: Cinnamon Apple and Double Chocolate. Each microwavable cup retails for $3.99.

Enjoy Life Foods, Schiller Park, IL, is extending its family of gluten-free and allergy-friendly products to include a new line of functional, ready-to-use grain-based products. The line includes all-purpose flour, brownie mix, muffin mix, pancake/waffle mix and pizza crust mix.

Developed to make home-baking quick and easy, the mixes require adding only oil and/or water. All of the products are gluten-free, free from the top eight food allergens and free of genetically modified ingredients. The company can also make “good source of protein” and “contains probiotics” claims by using ancient grains, unique plant-based proteins (microalgae) and GBI-30.

Earlier this year, Fast Track Nutrition, a division of Garrett Hewitt International, Danbury, CT, introduced Pro Cookies, a line of protein- and fiber-enriched cookie snacks that deliver 500 million CFUs of probiotics and 500 mg of green coffee bean extract (for weight loss) in each 100-Cal, 23-g snack pack containing 16 mini cookies. They come in three varieties: Chocolate, Chocolate Chip and Vanilla.

Mission Foods, a subsidiary of Gruma Corp., Dallas, now offers Mission Digestive Health Tortillas. They help consumers get digestive- and immune-supporting probiotics into their diet. Two tortillas delivering one billion CFUs.

Bakers who include probiotics and prebiotics in a formulation must remember that to make claims, clinical data and efficacy are necessary to effectively market the product. There are many options in the marketplace. Choose wisely.

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