Long before anyone had heard of COVID-19, the health food trend and beliefs such as ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘food as medicine’ had been established. However, the pandemic has worked as a trend accelerator, bringing wider awareness of the link between food, gut health and our overall physical and mental health. Federica Galli and Vimac Nolla Ardèvol, R&D Manager Health & Well-Being and Research Manager Metabolomics at Puratos respectively, share their knowledge about gut health and explain how the bakery sector can seize the opportunities that this new health trend brings.
What can you tell us about the gut health trend and this market?
“Health has been a key global trend for many years now. That was revealed clearly by multiple Taste Tomorrow surveys, which are conducted frequently among 17,000 consumers in 40 countries. To understand the impact of the pandemic on consumer behaviour, and to discover the key trends that shape the post-COVID bakery, patisserie and chocolate world, Puratos interviewed 7,500 consumers in 15 countries between May 2020 and January 2021.
This research showed that the pandemic has added new dimensions to consumer expectations of health, food and the catering industry. 60% of consumers now turn to food to maintain and reinforce their health and to help them address specific needs such as immune system strength and good mental health. There’s a growing consciousness about the importance of gut health and a well-balanced gut microbiome to provide both physical health and mental well-being.”
Exactly how much do consumers really know about gut health?
“In the last decade, consumers have increasingly turned towards functional food and drinks with gut health claims and wholefood ingredients as a way to fulfil their needs. According to a study by Mintel in 2020, 30% of consumers have tried food and drinks with probiotic benefits, and 40% are willing to try food and drinks that will improve their digestive health, as they agree that this is key for their overall wellbeing and they are aware of the symptoms caused by impaired gut health.
However, while symptoms related to impaired gut health are well-known, consumers often have limited knowledge of the foods or compounds that can help them restore or keep a well-balanced gut microbiome. While the dairy industry has invested a lot in increasing consumers’ awareness about probiotics and the role they play in gut and overall health in the last decade, a majority of consumers are not very familiar with concepts such as prebiotics and in particular postbiotics.”
And how much do consumers know about the impact of bakery products on gut health?
“Consumers know how foods containing fibre, like fruits, vegetables and wholegrains, benefit health and can potentially reduce the risk of developing diseases including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Such benefits have been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In addition, most consumers know that breads made with wholegrain flours and containing whole grains and seeds provide significant amounts of beneficial dietary fibres to the diet.
Unfortunately, not many people realise that different fibre types play different roles. For example, not all fibres can be considered prebiotics, which means that not all fibres selectively promote the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
And while many studies show that sourdough bread is easier to digest than baker’s yeast bread, most consumers do not know that a growing number of scientific studies link traditionally made bread (sourdough bread with long fermentation) to improved digestibility and a more balanced gut microbiome composition.”
Can you explain more about the gut-friendly compounds in bread?
“The composition of the individual gut microbiome depends on personal and environmental factors. Early life experiences such as type of birth and breastfeeding play a role, but also physical activities and diet. Through their diet, people can introduce ‘gut-friendly’ compounds such as dietary fibre and prebiotic, probiotic and postbiotic compounds.
For decades, scientists have shown that all types of fibre are important for good health. Fulfilling the prescribed daily dietary requirements (25g to 38g of fibre per day according to the WHO, a goal that most people struggle to achieve) has a significant effect on normalising bowel movement, managing body weight and decreasing the risk of several non-communicable diseases such as certain types of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease*1.
As often in life, quantity and quality go hand in hand, so a gut-friendly diet is not only rich in total dietary fibre, but also includes different types of dietary fibre that encourage gut microbiome diversity. Because not all fibres exert their beneficial effects in the same way, and there’s a difference between how different compounds (prebiotics, postbiotics and probiotics) act.
Prebiotic fibres can directly and positively interact with our gut microbiome. They are selectively utilised (usually fermented) by ‘good’ gut bacteria, which help them thrive and keep the gut microorganism community in balance, contributing to good health. The health benefits of prebiotics are well documented. The most well-known and studied prebiotic fibres are inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS). Their health benefits range from improved mineral absorption and helping to modulate the immune system to alleviating symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBB). Arabinoxylan oligosaccharides (AXOS) also have potential prebiotic effects, as shown by numerous studies (Nutr J. 2012; 11: 36.)
In addition to prebiotic fibres, bread can also contain postbiotics. Scientists describe postbiotics as a mix of inactive and non-viable microorganisms and/or their components (such as short chain fatty acids or cell wall compounds) that are beneficial. In fact, postbiotics are associated with the potential to manage digestive discomfort and help the immune system function properly, and they have anti-inflammatory and antihypertensive effects.
The third type of ‘biotics’ are probiotics. These are living microorganisms that, when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host. However, probiotics cannot be found in bakery products. Heat treatment such as baking kills them.”
How do you promote products as ‘good for digestion’? What claims can you make?
“Legislation of food claims is not harmonised, either globally or within different countries within the same region. As such, it is difficult to provide general guidelines on what you’re allowed to claim, as you always have to take local legislations into account. The situation is very diversified and a case-by -case approach is always required.
To respond to the diversified regulatory landscape, and to make sure we meet the highest standards, Puratos' newly introduced Happy Gut product range will only contain compounds which are legally authorised to be linked to gut health. Consequently, our Happy Gut portfolio composition may differ among countries.
As consumers want to take care of their gut every day and expect clear and honest communication from industry players, we believe that the spotlight of our Happy Gut portfolio should be taken by lean bakery products (crusty breads, loaves, baguettes, rolls, toast breads and lean buns). In addition, we will only promote solutions that allow bakeries to prepare finished products that fulfil the requirements for making a gut health claim as determined in the region/country in which the finished product is sold. We also communicate about the topic, raising awareness of scientific developments in this field.”
What can the bakery sector learn from the dairy industry, which has been focusing on this topic for some time?
“For several years, the dairy industry has been focusing on products containing probiotics as the key to improved gut health (products such as yoghurt, kefir and others). Only recently, other food industries such as the bakery industry have started to develop products that can feed the consumer’s inner smile.
The efforts of the dairy industry show the importance of increasing consumer awareness of gut health, and education on the role that selected compounds and ingredients play in restoring or promoting gut health. It’s the most effective approach to overcoming legislation limitations and the fact that science and regulations sometimes proceed at different speeds.”
Want to learn more?
To discover the latest consumer insights, mark your calendar for the upcoming Global Taste Tomorrow Event hosted virtually on 28 and 29 September 2021. The event is a platform for sharing food trends with senior level executives in the food industry and delving into global consumer trends from the world of bakery, patisserie and chocolate.
You can also read more about the impact of the growing consciousness around gut health on the bakery sector.