How the growing consciousness around gut health impacts the bakery sector

29 May 2021

Trend Updates

The new research data from Taste Tomorrow, the world’s largest ecosystem for consumer understanding in bakery, patisserie and chocolate, shows that consumers are increasingly aware of the importance of a healthy digestion and intestinal flora. There is a growing understanding that diet does not only impact the gut, but also overall physical health and mental well-being. How can the bakery sector respond to the rising consumer awareness of the importance of gut health?

Gut health versus digestive health

First of all, let’s be clear about the terms digestive health and gut health. These are often seen as synonyms, but there’s a distinction between them. The digestive system or gastrointestinal tract is made up of several organs, including the liver, pancreas, stomach and gallbladder, and follows the whole food journey. The gut represents the last part of our digestive system and is composed of the small and the large intestine.

The impact of our gut on our physical health

Our gut contains over 1000 different bacteria species that contribute to the digestion of compounds that our digestive system can’t digest directly. Overall, the gut microbiome helps to regulate and influence various processes not only related to intestinal health, but also to overall nutritional status, allergic responses, entero-endocrine system functions and mental health. Hormones produced in the gut by local bacteria are transported to the brain, where they regulate appetite and glucose homeostasis, food intake and body weight gain. And in addition, around 70% of our immune system cells reside in the human gut. That means having a balanced gut microbiome is at the base of a healthy immune system.

Our gut also impacts our mental health

As the gut microbiome communicates directly with the brain through the gut-brain axis, an imbalanced gut microbiome also impacts our mental health and mood. In addition, an imbalance in the gut microbial community and gut inflammation are linked to several mental illnesses, including anxiety and depression, which are prevalent in society today. Scientists are also currently investigating the impact of an imbalanced gut microorganism community on different neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

In a healthy lifestyle food is key

In the last decades, people have become more conscious about the impact of our gut on our health. As a consequence, they started looking at food more and more as a key element of a healthy lifestyle. The COVID-19 outbreak worked as an accelerator of this trend. Nowadays, both scientists and consumers proactively look for gut friendly food options. Fermented foods like kimchi and kombucha got increasingly popular, just like foods that contain probiotics (like yoghurt and kefir) and high in fibre options, like breakfast cereals and whole-grain breads. These categories moved from niche to mainstream products, and experienced substantial sales growth in the last few years.

The impact of the gut health trend on the bakery sector

As a staple food in many cultures, bread can play a key role in increasing the quality of people’s diets, nurturing a healthy gut and keeping or restoring a well-functioning immune system.

    In general, all baked products that are rich in prebiotic fibres, contribute to maintaining a balanced gut microbiome. Prebiotic fibres, like inulin and fructooligosaccharides, selectively promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. An increasing amount of studies show that adding food that’s rich in prebiotic compounds to the diet (like certain types of fibre rich breads) is a very effective way to keep a healthy gut, or restore an imbalanced one. In addition, some countries allow the use of gut health promoting claims in finished products that contain adequate amounts of a single source of cereal fibre, like wheat, rye and oat fibre.
      Following the rise of consumers’ interest in gut and digestive health, we see gut health related claims popping up in both bakery and patisserie products. From baguettes to croissants, a growing amount of products carry some kind of gut health badge or claim on their package, linking their consumption to certain gut benefits.
        In addition, it is important to remember that even though an increasing amount of studies show that the use of active living sourdough and long-time fermentation processes results in improved bread digestibility and the lack of unpleasant after-meal gastrointestinal symptoms, no legally approved health claim is yet accepted. This shows how science and regulation sometimes proceed at different speeds.

Benefit by combining healthiness without outstanding taste and texture

To benefit from the rising awareness of gut health, bakeries should address the taste barrier that often stops consumers from increasing their rich in fibre bread consumption. If bakeries can provide consumers with products that not only have outstanding taste and texture but can also help them to fulfill their healthy lifestyle needs, they can absolutely benefit from this trend.

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