Consumer interest in probiotics had been growing over the last few years but will it start dwindling due to doubts about their efficacy? Scientists now suggest prebiotic fibers are more effective in gut health support than probiotics. However, a combination of both seems to be the winner.

Regulation on probiotic claims and questionable efficacy

According to European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2018)1 there is little impact from probiotic supplementation in healthy people, and probiotic claims in food and drink lack evidence. Regulations on such claims mean that brands no longer have the same power to target health conscious consumers by on-pack claims. Leader in probiotics Danone has been sued by the Federal Trade Commission in the US for unjustified digestive health related claims made about its Activia yogurt. As a result, manufacturers are forced to cut prices and bet on flavours and indulgence rather than health benefits when launching probiotic-rich products.

Prebiotics nourish probiotics in the gut

Prebiotics are a type of resistant fibre, which is not as common in our diet, meaning that prebiotic-rich food and drink could have a sought-after contribution to health. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not affected by heat, stomach acid, or time and can, therefore, survive in the gut. Their function there is to nourish the beneficial bacteria already present and inhibit the growth of undesirable microbes.

Cited by The Times2, Professor Glenn Gibson at Reading University, recommends that we improve the prebiotic content in our diets. “After you ingest prebiotics they target the beneficial bugs straight away — you don’t get the survivability problems you have with probiotics,” he explains.

The versatility of prebiotics

Prebiotics have a bright future not only thanks to their undisputed health benefits but also the ease with which manufacturers can add them to everything from waffles to water. Brands will certainly not give up probiotics research; however, they will now focus on combining probiotics and prebiotics in a product. The next stage will be developing ingredients, called synbiotics, which combine the properties of both. Danone, for example, has developed synbiotics for applications in baby formula.3

Prebiotics complement probiotics in recent launches

Brands are using the less research intensive approach of adding prebiotic ingredients, such as inulin, to a probiotic product. For example, Harmonica recently launched a probiotic yogurt drink with agave inulin in Bulgaria which features prebiotics that feed the probiotics naturally occurring in yogurt, strengthening them so they can easily integrate into the gut flora and reproduce faster. Yogurt aside, Australian brand Nutra Organics has launched a cereal bar named Berry Yum Biotics, a dairy free product containing both prebiotics and probiotics.

Prebiotics will help functional products regain premium positioning

In future such ingredient combinations will get increasingly popular with consumers concerned with their digestive health and overall wellbeing. Food and drink categories beyond Dairy will take advantage of this demand and launch functional products at premium prices. Dairy free products, similar to the Berry Yum Biotics cereal bar, will target the growing cohort of vegetarian and vegan consumers wanting to increase their intake of probiotics and prebiotics without taking supplements.

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