“The US and Europe are regions of high interest for prebiotics, but Mexico is topping everything” with 52% of consumers in the country saying they are very or extremely interested in the gut microbiome compared to 30% in the US and 23% in Europe, said Anke Sentko, VP of regulatory affairs and nutrition communication at Beneo.
She explained that many factors are driving consumer interest in gut health in Mexico, including the general understanding that “what happens in the belly doesn’t stay in belly.”
In particular, she noted that 79% of Mexican consumers think digestive health plays an extremely or very important role in physical health, 65% think it plays and extremely or important role in energy levels and 67% think it plays an extremely or important role in mood. In addition, digestive health plays an extremely or important role in weight management, according to 66% of consumers, in immune function, according to 68% of consumers and physical appearance, according to 61% of consumers.
Sentko speculated that the greater awareness about the benefits of a healthy gut in Mexico could be that consumers there “are used to listening to their bodies and still know how to do it” in a way that the population of Europe and the US are “disconnected from somehow.”
Many of the benefits Mexican consumers listed as coming from healthy digestion are backed by science – helping to create a solid foundation for marketing products with prebiotics, such as the chicory root fibers offered by Beneo, Sentko said.
For example, she noted that more than 30 studies in adults show that daily consumption of chicory root fibers – including both inulin and oligofructose – in doses as low as 5 grams per day resulted in an increase of Bifidobacteria. Similarly, there are more than 15 studies on the topic in infants and children.
Other research shows an increase in anaerostipes and a decrease in bilophilia, according to a presentation that Sentko gave at the Food Tech Summit & Expo in Mexico last month.
She also noted that the reduction of bilophilia associated with inulin consumption also is associated with improved quality-of-life as study participants reported softer and more frequent stool and relief from constipation.
Additional research also show that Beneo’s Orafti Inulin produced more bowel movements than a maltodextrin control after four weeks of taking 4 grams three times a day, according to the presentation. It also highlighted research that found the same amount of inulin eased discomfort associated with straining and feelings of incomplete emptying.
While Mexican consumers are ahead of the curve on understanding the benefits of healthy digestion and wanting to further improve it, Sentko said there is still need for education around the benefits of prebiotics and probiotics and how they relate to each other.
“There is still confusion about prebiotics and probiotics … but when people understand that prebiotics support their natural gut bacteria, there is this a-ha moment” that prebiotics are feeding that natural inhabitants of an individual’s gut and they can then enter the bloodstream and go to the brain to facilitate the gut-brain axis or the muscles and other organs, she said.
Beneo is working to facilitate this education by continuing to conduct research that builds general consumer awareness and could support product claims. It also is working to educate health care professionals, who in turn can share this information with their patients and consumers.
“The second element to success is to reach out via the Internet,” such as on the website www.dietaryfiber.org, “which breaks down the benefits into understandable words so that an interested consumer can understand it,” she said.
Incorporating more fiber into products
Brands that want to tap into the market potential around prebiotics also can work with Beneo around the technical aspects of including chicory root in their products, Sentko said.
“Helping the food industry to incorporate our ingredients into a whole range of products is on one side quiet easy because it is a powder and the powder has a very pleasant taste and no after taste,” she said. In addition, she noted, it doesn’t take much for consumers to experience the benefits – as little as 5 grams consumed over the course of the day.