As consumers prioritize gut health, food manufacturers are following through for them. More ingredients and foods are promoting gut health, its importance and the many benefits of a healthy digestive system.

“As the consumer demand for gut-healthy products rises, there has been much innovation regarding gut health in the baked goods and snack category,” said Jenn Adams, director, ingredient technology and applications, IFPC.

Foods featuring a number of health benefits are drawing interest from an ever-growing audience, which provides an opportunity for bakers and snack manufacturers.

“The functional food and beverages market is gaining interest,” said Camille Binachon, product manager, Lallemand Health Solutions. “Functional food or beverages offer health benefits that extend beyond their nutritional value. In addition to nutrient-rich ingredients like fruits and vegetables, the category includes foods fortified with vitamins, minerals, fiber and probiotics. Fifty-five percent of global consumers say they prefer to choose food and beverages that provide functional benefits, and 40% of global consumers state they are willing to pay up to 10% more for foods that provide functional benefits.”

The benefits derived from a healthy digestive system are myriad, and the number of approaches to bolster it are many.

“The beneficial microorganisms present in the gut number into the trillions and have positive benefits not only for digestive health but for immunity, mental acuity including mood, sleep and stress, as well as brain, liver, heart and skin health,” explained Sam Wright IV, chief executive officer, The Wright Group.

Bakers and snack manufacturers can help consumers improve gut health by adding fiber and fermented ingredients to foods, Ms. Adams said.

“The fiber content can be increased by utilizing high-fiber ingredients such as whole grains, high amylose starch or GOS (galactooligosaccharides),” she said. “Fiber functions as a prebiotic that encourages the growth of good bacteria in the microbiome. However, when adding these high-fiber ingredients, it is important to consider consumer tolerance.”

Prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics are all considered beneficial to gut health, and each brings different types of benefits to the table. Prebiotics act as food for probiotics.

“Prebiotics used include inulin, larch arabinogalactans as well as oat bran and other grain fibers. Even psyllium husks, which form the basis of Metamucil, can be used,” Mr. Wright said. “Adding proteins and carbohydrates from legumes, such as soybean, pea, lentil, chickpea or fava bean, have been reported to exert beneficial effects in gut health.”

Icon Foods, which specializes in natural sugar alternatives, offers ingredients that allow bakers to not only reduce sugar but also offers the benefits of prebiotics. Thom King, CEO of Icon Foods, said that in many formulations he’s developing now, he stacks different fibers. 

“We have soluble tapioca fiber, which is a digestive resistant maltodextrin made from cassava,” he said. “I’ll stack that with a chicory root inulin, and I’ll be able to almost double the amount of fiber that I can put into a baked good without triggering a GI response like gas. The reason people get gas is because products are monoculturing. They are feeding one particular bacteria.”

By pairing two different fibers that are metabolized by different bacteria, a higher fiber level can be achieved while minimizing gastrointestinal distress.

Beneo’s Orafti inulin and oligofructose are functional fibers that support good digestive health, increase calcium absorption and support a low-glycemic diet.

“Our functional fibers are proven prebiotics; in fact, inulin and FOS are the only proven plant-based prebiotics,” said Gitte Vaes, product manager functional fibers, Beneo. “This means they are selectively fermented by the good bacteria and thereby confer a health benefit. As we often say to explain it to consumers, they’re good food for the good bacteria in your gut.”

Inulin, an oligosaccharide commercially derived from chicory root but also present in other plants, is a convenient and tasty way to deliver fiber to consumers, she added.

“That’s the main request from our customers,” Ms. Vaes said. “Yes, they want more healthy products with a better nutritional profile, but they don’t want to have any compromise on taste and texture, and that’s something we can bring with our chicory root fibers and also the recently launched heart healthy beta-glucans.”

Chicory root fiber is a versatile ingredient, said Jamie Matthews, head of customer technical support, North America, Beneo. 

“In sweeter baked goods, it’s really effective for sugar replacement and sugar reduction while still maintaining some of the sugar-like characteristics,” he said.

Formulating with an ingredient like inulin in bread can pose challenges but can be overcome, Mr. Matthews said.

“You can add other ingredients to adjust the formula,” he explained. “Maybe it’s water content to bring back that same level of yield or volume development. But in terms of flavor, there’s almost no challenges. Whether you’re going for a sugar-like sweetness or if you’re going more long-chain, really more neutral in taste, there are no off-notes. It’s super clean.”

ADM/Matsutani’s Fibersol is a prebiotic fiber that aids digestion and satiety and is classified as a low-FODMAP ingredient, said Vaughn DuBow, global director of marketing, microbiome solutions, ADM.

“Fibersol promotes the growth of gut microbes that are positively associated with health,” he said. “At 3.75 grams per serving, a clinical study shows it may help nourish intestinal flora and support the intestinal tract environment, enabling powerful on-pack prebiotic claims. Fibersol is also shown to minimize blood sugar spikes after a meal in healthy individuals.”

Brook Carson, vice president of R&D for Manildra USA, said that both soluble and insoluble fibers are good for gut health, with each contributing specific health benefits. The company’s FiberGem, a resistant wheat starch, is an insoluble fiber that can be used in bakery and snack applications.

“With 90% total dietary fiber, FiberGem can provide a quick increase in total fiber content in baked goods,” she said.

This article is an excerpt from the September 2023 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Gut Health, click here.