How Food Companies Strive To Improve Digestive Health

digestive health

Today, among other goals, we’re seeing food companies target digestive health and a growing group of other wellness concerns. This has been spurred on by the general public’s desire to remain healthy, and the knowledge that food can play such a large part in this outcome. Add some ingredients, or change the concentrations, and we end up with healthier foods. But do some research to ensure you’re choosing the best products.

Food Companies Target Digestive Health

Consumers are looking at the food and beverage industry to develop products to help them maintain a healthy lifestyle. Consequently, food companies are targeting health and wellness issues. These include weight management, joint and bone health, immunity, digestive health, control of cholesterol, reduction of fat intake, weight control, and overall heart health, etc.

Food product developers are working with a range of health and wellness ingredients. Functional Food is a category of food product that contains ingredients that have the potential to provide a health benefit. Functional foods generally include cereals, bread, yogurts, snacks, and beverages that are fortified with vitamins, herbs, soy, omega 3 fatty acid, sterols, fiber, etc. There has been a worldwide growth in demand for functional foods between 2000 and 2010.


Omega-3 lipids are essential fatty acids as the human body cannot produce them. A high intake of Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil is reported to actively protect the heart and regulate serum lipids. Over the past two decades, omega-3 has gone from virtually unknown to a household word. Initial food products made with omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil had a fishy taste. Fish derived oils have a shorter shelf life than omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources, such as walnuts or flax. However, suppliers are now making available fish-derived omega-3 oil-free of taste and odor through the use of advanced processing and refining technology. A European company is marketing Omega-3 oils free of the characteristic fish smell. Some manufacturers convert fish oils into a powdered, microencapsulated form. This process keeps the oils fresh and eliminates fishy tastes.

Plant-derived Omega-3 from flaxseed oil is now available. A US company has now introduced an omega-3 oil and shortening, which is a canola-flax oil blend. Omega-3 fatty acids derived from flax and walnuts do not have the flavor or stability issues. But fatty acids derived from marine sources–either fish or algae–are higher in the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids known as EPA and DHA as compared to plant-based fatty acids which contain a shorter-chain version of EPA and DHA. Longer chain fatty acids tend to be more efficient in terms of their health benefits. While the body can convert the shorter-chain versions to the longer-chain versions, this happens at a slower pace than consuming the EPA and DHA versions directly, according to the American Heart Association. The FDA agrees that omega-3 reduces the risk of heart disease and it also recommends fish as the first source for the fatty acids.

Fiber – Beta Glucan

Beta-glucan from oats and barley has the potential to reduce LDL cholesterol. Suppliers from the US and Scandinavia currently dominate this market. A variety of bakery products made with fiber ingredients are gaining consumer acceptance. One prominent company is marketing a beta-glucan concentrate that contains a minimum of 25% beta-glucan and more than 35% total dietary fiber.

Digestive health issues are of concern to the consumer. Digestive health products have been undergoing double-digit growth in North America.


Some species of bacteria indigenous to the human colon have health-promoting attributes. Dietary supplementation with probiotics and prebiotics is a feasible route by which the large gut microbiota composition and activities can be modulated to improve digestive health.

Probiotics are live microorganisms which, when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host due to the effects of these bacteria on different intestinal functions. Probiotics are live microbial food additions that have been in use for some time and are available in a range of food products. Lactobacilli and bifidobacteria are known to have beneficial effects. Probiotics like lactobacilli are used to produce lactic acid in fermented dairy products like yogurt. It contributes to improved lactose digestion and resistance to pathogens. A range of studies suggests that the use of viable Bifidobacteria results in a reduction in the incidence, duration, and severity of upper respiratory tract illnesses.

Prebiotics like Inulin, fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are nondigestible food ingredients and benefit the host by selective fermentation in the colon resulting in the growth of beneficial bacteria. They modify the gut flora composition in favor of bifidobacteria. Prebiotics like Inulin does not suffer the survivability difficulties that may arise with probiotics. It is extracted from chicory root and is a soluble prebiotic dietary fiber that supports a balanced gut microflora and digestive health and at appropriate levels, it stimulates and increases the bifidobacteria (prebiotic effect).

The potential combination of probiotics and prebiotics in a symbiotic is in a preliminary stage.

Dietary Enzymes

Supplements of dietary enzymes can improve the digestive health of patients. Lactose intolerance is an example of enzyme deficiency. Some people lack or have low levels of the enzyme lactase, which digests milk sugars known as lactose. Lactase deficiency may result in gas, bloating, cramping, and diarrhea. Lactase supplementation can halt these symptoms when lactose-containing dairy products are consumed. Digestive enzymes are an up-and-coming area of dietary supplementation.

Soy ingredients play an important role in the health and wellness market. The benefits of soy include its high-quality, plant-based protein, equivalent in protein quality to that of meat, dairy, and eggs. In many vegetarian diets, there is a need for protein supplementation due to reduced meat consumption. Soy is lactose-free, dairy-free, cholesterol-free, low in saturated fat, and refined carbohydrates and is vegetarian.

Gluten free

Greater awareness of the celiac disease – an autoimmune disorder with symptoms triggered by consumption of gluten, a protein found in wheat. The US government estimates that around one in 133 people in the country suffers from celiac disease, yet few Americans have been diagnosed. The FDA in the United States and the Codex Commission in Europe have proposed that to be gluten-free, the final food product should have less than 20mg per kg (20ppm). There is a substantial growth in the gluten-free baked goods market in the UK and North America.
Although we know that food companies target digestive health, and the preliminary results are good, there is still much improvement to be made. And with added competition, the quality, value, and choices should increase, and we’ll be well on our way to decreasing our stomach problems and all the closely related challenges that go along with them.

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