Researchers create snack prototypes that change the gut microbiome

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Emma Hayes

There I was in a hot yoga studio with plenty of bright natural light and bending myself into pretzel like positions for the very first time.

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Dive Brief:

  • Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are said to have identified ingredients for snack foods that have been formulated to change the gut microbiome in ways that could improve long-term health.
  • In a recent report, researchers analzyed data from two studies where overweight or obese subjects were provided with meals that mimicked a typical Western diet. These diets were then supplemented with one of three fiber-containing snack food prototypes: one with fiber from peas, another with pea fiber and inulin, and a third that contained pea fiber and inulin as well as fibers from the pulp of oranges and barley bran. The snacks were developed with Mondelēz International.
  • The study found the snack with the combination of four different fibers had a larger impact on microbiome genes that encode the metabolic machinery used to extract nutrients from the fibers than the single-fiber or two-fiber snacks. The study was published in the journal Nature.

Dive Insight:

As consumers snack more, companies such as Mondelēz could see additional demand for their bars, cookies, crackers and other offerings if they contain ingredients that could improve an individual’s health.

“Since snacks are a popular part of Western diets, we are working to help develop a new generation of snack food formulations that people will like to eat and that will support a healthy gut microbiome that affects many aspects of wellness,” said Jeffrey Gordon, the study’s senior author and a professor at Washington University.

But the study noted many consumers in Western countries have diets that are high in fat and low in fiber, and thus fail to support a diverse and healthy gut microbiome. While dietary fibers are associated with lower risks of diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and obesity, some contain a complex and diverse mixtures of biomolecules, many of which the human body can’t break down. The nature of these mixtures varies depending upon the source of the fibers and how they are processed when incorporated into foods.

Researchers at Washington University are trying to uncover how various fibers interact with the body and how they are absorbed so they can determine which ones would have the greatest impact on human health. The goal, the researchers said, is to uncover more nutritious foods from sustainable sources that can be used to treat undernutrition or obesity.

For food companies, simply adding fiber is a positive step. But determining which types of fiber are the most effective could increase their potential to benefit a consumer if the overall ingredient mix was more favorable to being absorbed. It could also impact how the CPGs go about processing food.

“With a better understanding of the impact of different kinds of fibers on components of the microbiome, we are hopeful we can deliver a snack that people will want to eat while also contributing to a healthier diet,” Gordon said.

The pilot studies were not designed to test whether the fiber snacks could produce significant long-term changes in a person’s body weight or other health, meaning any benefits will need to be studied in larger clinical trials. In addition, the studies were conducted under a controlled diet rather than how a person would eat under normal everyday conditions.

Consumers increasingly are looking to eat healthier, a trend that has gained momentum during the ongoing pandemic. Fiber is being added to all types of foods, including Activia yogurt and Fiber One brownies. It’s even showing up in beverages as consumers look for healthier add-ons. 

Some big food companies have gotten in on the fiber and/or digestive health action. Mondelēz’s SnackFutures innovation hub has invested in Uplift Food, a maker of prebiotic snack foods, and Kellogg introduced in 2018 a HI! Happy Inside cereal with prebiotics, probiotics and fiber.



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author

Emma Hayes

There I was in a hot yoga studio with plenty of bright natural light and bending myself into pretzel like positions for the very first time.

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