Probiotics: Food Fad or Gut Health Hero?

Many people believe that eating habits are very important for a healthy life and many actively seek approaches to optimize their wellbeing. As consumers’ awareness of digestive issues and good gut health for overall wellbeing rises, they are seeking solutions that address their gut health needs. As a result, there is growing interest and demand for probiotics.

Knowledge about probiotics is very limited among both consumers and professionals alike, despite the high interest in them. While people generally understand that probiotics are good for them, few can identify the difference between billions or millions of strains, or the types (lactobacillus vs. bifidobacterial?)

That said, the increased focus on digestive and heart health has been driving growth in the food space. Probiotics have now jumped from being a staple in yogurt, kombucha or kimchi to being featured in soups, sodas, popcorn, bars, health powders and pet food. Farmhouse Culture offers shots of “gut juice” as well as Kraut Krisps snack chips, and Tropicana has a probiotic orange juice.

While we are seeing probiotics hit the marketplace, it’s important to remember that gut health, including the microbiome and its impact on health beyond digestive benefits, is an emerging area of science. In many ways, marketing is ahead of the science, creating a dynamic environment ripe for change, and the industry will need to pivot and adjust accordingly.

Considerations for the food industry:

  • Probiotics are complex, and a knowledge gap exists beyond the buzzwords. Educate consumers and health professionals about what probiotics are, how they are helpful and what types are good for their individual health.
  • Follow the science as it evolves and adapt to the right modalities of probiotics (strains, types, amounts, combinations) for food.
  • For consumers it is “all about me.” Personalize the experience for them – tap into how the product can benefit individuals specifically and create a narrative that appeals to them.
  • Track the evolution of probiotic science to protect the marketability of a probiotic claim. The claim for “natural” is certainly a cautionary tale; a lack of consistency in its use has diminished the credibility, and hence, the motivating power of the claim.

Nabeelah Khan is vice president, Food & Nutrition and registered dietitian, Los Angeles.

linkedin