Functional Foods and The Rising Focus on Gut Health
Aug 22, 2023
9 min readAdd to Favourite
Aug 22, 2023
9 min readAdd to Favourite
We have always heard the phrases “gut feeling”, “gut health”, and “gut microbiome” at least once in our lives. “Your gut is your inner compass,” says American entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey, while New York-based author Kris Carr believes that “Gut health is the key to overall health”. But what exactly do we mean by “gut”? The gut is nothing but the human gastrointestinal system comprising the stomach, intestines, and colon along with a host of bacteria (known as the “gut microbiome” or “good bacteria”) that help in digestion and absorption of nutrients from food and excretes waste. Gut health plays a crucial role in overall health, with its microbiome impacting various organs.
A healthy gut regulates various body systems, including the immune system, mental health, endocrine health, mood, and infectious illnesses. Improving gut health involves lifestyle changes, such as including high-fiber foods in the diet, stress reduction, sleep, exercise, and consuming plant-based diets. In this article, we will explore the trends and consumer perceptions driving the growing focus on gut health and how functional food manufacturers are leveraging this trend to create gut-friendly options.
Over the past decade, there has been a growing interest in gut-health-focused functional foods, driven by research showing that diet and nutrition can influence the gut microbiome and promote gut health. Research and clinical studies have identified the following factors driving this growth. Innovators and product developers should consider these determinants in product development to aid decision-making and the successful launch of novel functional foods targeted at gut health improvement.
A scoping review identified 75 articles on consumer acceptance of functional foods focusing on gut health, categorizing them into product, socio-demographic, psychological, behavioral, and physical characteristics. Studies conducted among Asian consumers revealed health-conscious Asians had higher purchase intentions for gut-friendly functional beverages. Millennials especially are driving the demand for functional foods, with seven in ten saying they’re taking a more holistic approach to their health.
Functional foods are traditional or staple foods that provide an essential nutritional level and share potentially positive targeted health benefits, including the reduction of disease by optimizing the immune system’s ability to prevent and control infections by pathogens, as well as pathologies that cause functional alterations in the host.
Probiotics are a rapidly developing segment in the functional foods space. They are backed by clinical evidence for a role in gut health, brain health, metabolism, and wellness. Probiotics are known to regulate the gut environment through effector molecules, found in fermented drinks and yogurt, and expanding in bakery, snacks, and gummies markets. Within the research and innovation space, among emerging ingredients used in key functional food and beverages, probiotics have gained the highest traction. Between 2020 and 2021, among nootropics, superfoods, and probiotics, more than 23,000 patents and 20,000 research papers were published focusing on probiotics.
The upcycling of industrial byproducts as sustainable functional food ingredients targeting gut health has grown significantly. This sustainable practice not just leads to the development of novel ingredients, but also enables companies to transform into a circular economy contributing to less environmental impact. Companies like Brightseed are upcycling hemp-based fiber for gut health. The company implements a proprietary artificial intelligence (A.I.) platform Forager to identify and develop a dietary hemp fiber produced from upcycled hemp hulls to support gut health-focused formulations for use in food and beverages.
The functional foods segment is buzzing with emerging players and start-ups focusing on enhancing gut health, especially by utilizing probiotics. Probiotics interest has steadily grown over the past 5 years. Whether ingredient producers or end-product manufacturers, companies are validating claims that show probiotics are effective for digestive health, infant nutrition, and wellness.
The probiotic supplements market is expected to expand significantly, with an expected growth in market values to up to USD 2095 million by 2027 focusing specifically on gastrointestinal health across various health applications. The growing awareness of probiotics’ positive impact on vital systems and their versatility in promoting comprehensive health maintenance indicate promising growth. This market is flourishing and evolving to cater to various health needs, offering businesses an opportunity to explore and innovate for consumer health benefits and market success.
NutriLeads is a health ingredients company that produces 100% natural, plant-based food ingredients which claim health benefits for specific consumer groups. The company’s first product is BeniCaros which helps to support the immunity system and boost gut health. BeniCaros is upcycled from carrot pomace, scientifically known as rhamnogalacturonan-I (cRG-I), and can be easily incorporated into supplements, beverages, and functional foods. The product supports the immune system in two ways with no side effects, the first way is to directly activate the innate immune system, and the second way is an indirect way that impacts the immune system via gut microbiota modulation.
FODZYME is a startup by Kiwi Bioscience. Headquartered in the United States, FODZYME produces unique enzyme blends designed to improve gut health, boost the immune system and is vegan, gluten-free, and lactose-free. FODZYME is a supplement that is designed to help people with FODMAP intolerance. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols which are short-chain carbohydrates that are not easily digested by the body leading to symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhoea in people with intolerance.
MUN Kombucha is a Barcelona-based startup founded in 2015 that makes Kombucha, a fermented tea drink that is naturally rich in probiotics. The product offerings are gut-friendly, gluten-free, vegan, and non-alcoholic. The product is made by fermenting tea with SCOBY, which is a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. The fermentation process gives the kombucha its characteristic tart taste and fizzy texture which is also a good source of probiotics and is important for gut health. MUN offers a variety of kombucha products, including Premium Kombucha, Functional Kombucha, and Casual Kombucha.
SORTED by The Good Seed is an Australian startup that makes prebiotic soft drinks made with non-digestible fibers that feed the good bacteria in the gut. These good bacteria are essential for gut health and can help to improve digestion, boost the immune system, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. SORTED products are made with acacia gum and a prebiotic fiber that improves intestinal health. The products are sweetened with stevia and are high in fiber as well as low in calories. The products are available in a variety of flavors including blackcurrant, cola, lemon, blood orange, mint and watermelon, and passionfruit.
Gut health has gained popularity in recent years, particularly post-COVID, as consumers become more aware of its connection to overall well-being. The gut health-focused functional foods market has been growing over the last decade, driven by increasing awareness of the importance of gut health and the potential benefits of diet and nutrition in promoting it. However, along with the immense possibilities, developing gut health-focused functional foods comes with its own set of challenges including significant research and development investments, development process-related complexities while ensuring product stability, bioavailability, and efficacy, complying with rapidly evolving regulatory policies, and consumer acceptance.
To overcome these challenges, collaborative efforts are required between ingredient developers, end-product manufacturers, and regulatory bodies to create safe, stable, and sustainable products that would enhance the overall food functionality. Some strategies could be collaborating with research and innovation units to identify beneficial ingredients, formulating effective combinations, optimizing bioavailability, enhancing sensorial profiles, and educating consumers.
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