Fibers, resistant starches and other prebiotic ingredients are emerging as key players in areas such as digestive health, weight management, immune support and mood. From supplements to food and beverages, product launches with prebiotic positioning are seeing double- and triple-digit growth—yet the market is still in its infancy.
For brand holders looking to tap into the potential of prebiotics—whether naturally occurring or formulated—several types of ingredients are being used, each with formulation challenges.
“Prebiotics are going to outpace probiotics because they are the missing piece,” said Rhonda Witwer, executive director of ResistantStarchResearch.com. “Prebiotics are missing in today’s diets, while most people have reasonable quantities of bacteria in their gut.”
Witwer said the real work is done by the short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) like butyrate that are produced by the bacteria fermenting.
“Probiotics woke people up to the importance of their gut,” said Witwer, “but prebiotics offer the real benefits because they create the SCFAs that are the workhorses driving important metabolic benefits such as a properly functioning intestinal barrier, reduced inflammation and improved insulin sensitivity.”
“We’re finding out how fiber, and a lot of them are prebiotics, are actually promoting a healthy microbiome,” said Derek Timm, technical sales director at Taiyo, which supplies the SunFiber prebiotic ingredient. “Prebiotics help out with digestion,1 help out with immunity,2 help out with the gut-brain axis3—they can actually influence mood.”4
More than 350 published clinical trials are listed on PubMed related to prebiotic fibers. Health benefits seen thus far range from feeding probiotic bacteria to effects on insulin sensitivity,2 improved mineral absorption,5 and, says Rhonda Witwer, executive director of ResistantStarchResearch.com, “even healing leaks in the gut itself.”2
A sterling example of the formulation promise of prebiotics is its seamless integration into waters. Taiyo worked with the Regular Girl finished product brand to provide a fiber-rich water that tastes exactly like, well, water.
“The bigger molecules of fiber don’t interact with the taste buds, so you can’t perceive any taste,” said Timm. “It’s still a soluble fiber because of the molecular chain length so it actually mixes in clear—you don’t taste it. You can give it to a kid, and they wouldn’t notice it, and you get an excellent source of fiber.”
Baked goods differentiation
“Stability, stability, stability,” said Alan Rillorta, director of branded ingredient sales at AIDP, which supplies the PreticX brand of xylooligosaccharide (XOS). “Prebiotics go great into bars because they have a slight sweetness, so they can lower the sugar and calories. And they can be sticky like honey, so it helps bind the bars together.”
Prebiotics also serve as bulking agents, can be used in small doses, and, depending on the source, can also have low gastrointestinal side effects.
Hopping on the FODMAP train
Another trending dietary and product formulation consideration is FODMAPS, short for fermentable oligosaccharides, dissacharides, monosaccharides and polyols. FODMAPS trigger gas, bloating and distension that makes people uncomfortable.
What was lacking when the low-FODMAP program first came out was fiber, which many companies removed entirely from products. This was causing other digestive issues.
The nuance is that a lot of popular fibers are high in FODMAPs. That makes it important for ingredient buyers and product formulators to seek out low-FODMAP fibers for products targeting this niche.
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1. Vester Boler BM et al. “Digestive Physiological Outcomes Related to Polydextrose and Soluble Maize Fibre Consumption by Healthy Adult Men.” Br J Nutr. 2011;106:1864-1871.
2. Koh A et al. "From Dietary Fiber to Host Physiology: Short-Chain Fatty Acids as Key Bacterial Metabolites." Cell. 2016 Jun 2;165(6):1332-1345.
3. De Vadder et al. “Microbiota-generated Metabolites Promote Metabolic Benefits Via Gut-brain Neural Circuits.” Cell. 2014 Jan 16;156(1-2):84-96.
4. Liu L, Zhu G. “Gut-brain Axis and Mood Disorder.” Front Psychiatry. 2018;9:223.
5. Whisner CM, Castillo LF. “Prebiotics, Bone and Mineral Metabolism.” Calcif Tissue Int. 2018 Apr;102(4):443-479.