Each year, the World Gastroenterology Organisation (WGO) celebrates World Digestive Health Day (WDHD) on 29th May. This year, WGO will be focusing on raising awareness of the relationship between what we eat and our gut health . Indeed, there is a significant connection between our daily diet and the health of our digestive system.
In this article, Christian Philippsen, Asia Pacific Managing Director at BENEO, discusses why consumers in Asia are paying more attention to digestive health, as well as the role functional fibre plays in maintaining a healthy digestive system. He also touches on how food manufacturers can help consumers to effortlessly ensure that fibre makes up a larger part of their daily diet.
The priority on everyone’s mind
One of the reasons why digestive health is now a priority for consumers is that it is intrinsically linked with one’s overall wellness. In fact, Mintel predicts that consumers are becoming more aware of the relationship between what they eat and how they look and feel . There is also growing evidence demonstrating the central role our digestive system plays in supporting a healthy immune system and lowering the risk for diseases and obesity .
In order to maintain a healthy digestive system, a high-fibre diet is essential. Dietary fibres help us keep bowel movements soft and regular, preventing constipation and maintaining bowel health. Therefore, balanced diets containing a combination of wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, as well as fibre-enriched food products can help us achieve the recommended daily intake of dietary fibres.
Digestive health has also been behind many of current key trends, including ’free-from’ and ‘naturally functional’. It is no wonder that consumers are now consciously adding fibre to their diet. A BENEO consumer survey conducted in 2013 revealed that 88 percent in Indonesia and 84 percent in Thailand try to get a certain amount of fibre, or as much as possible, in their daily diet. In the same survey, 84 and 81 percent of the respective respondents in Indonesia and Thailand actively look for food that can enhance digestive health.
The chicory root fibres you never knew
In view of this positive consumer trend in maintaining digestive health and wellness, manufacturers can now make the most of it by working with functional ingredients. Scientific research done on chicory root fibres inulin and oligofructose during the past 20 years, prove that these functional fibres contribute to our wellbeing, inner resistance and health by promoting a regular and balanced digestive system.
These functional fibres are not digested but fully fermented in the large intestine. They are selectively fermented by the beneficial colon microbiota known as bifidus bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs are known to have a mild and natural effect on bowel movements by improving the number of bowel movements per week without triggering diarrhoea.
Inulin and oligofructose are obtained via a gentle hot water extraction method from chicory root. These naturally derived dietary fibres differ significantly from man-made resistant starches or dextrins such as so-called “soluble corn fibre” or “soluble gluco fibre”. Dextrins are synthesised by treating starch or glucose syrup and changing their molecular structure in such a way that they become, to a certain extent, non-digestible to human enzymes in the small intestine.
With consumers increasingly going for ‘all things natural’ in their food choices, inulin and oligofructose are therefore ‘on trend’ for providing digestive health, naturally. Inulin and oligofructose are also part of the very few proven prebiotics in the world.
The daily affair with functional fibres
Yet, consumers are faced with difficulties to meet the recommended daily amount of dietary fibres, despite their awareness of its beneficial role. However, food manufacturers can enable consumers to achieve and adopt a fibre-rich diet closely by incorporating the right choice of dietary fibres in their products.
As soluble fibre with a mild sweetness, chicory root fibres can be easily integrated into the recipes of everyday food items while supporting taste and texture. For instance, cereal bars that are fortified with inulin not only support a healthy and balanced digestive system, they also make good breakfast quick-fixes. Inulin and oligofructose can also be used as sugar replacer in cereal bars to create a reduced sugar version that still conveys the same texture and sensorial mouthfeel as a regular product. Also, oligofructose acts as humectant in cereal bars ensuring a soft and chewy texture during shelf life.
Similarly, producers can create high fibre and low fat yoghurts by including inulin as a fat replacer. This is because inulin creates a creamy structure with similar mouthfeel experience as fat.
Furthermore, functional fibres can be applied to snack foods that many of us consume at any time of the day – allowing consumers to conveniently add fibre into their daily diet. Consumers with a sweet tooth will find chicory root fibre-packed gummies and chocolate chip cookies a guilt-free indulgence as they do not have to compromise on taste and/or texture when eating these healthier versions of their favourite snacks. Incidentally, Asia Pacific has been ranked the largest snack market in the world, and the number of ‘snackers’ has been estimated to grow at the highest CAGR from 2014 to 2019 .
Food manufacturers can maximise the benefits of the latest digestive health ingredients in a wide range of applications such as bakery and cereals, dairy and confectionery. This is made possible by functional ingredients including chicory root fibres inulin and oligofructose. All these possibilities mean that consumers can ensure that they are taking in more fibre daily and work towards enhancing their personal wellness, even without making major dietary adjustments.