Digestive disorders can greatly impact one’s overall wellbeing—significantly affecting quality of life and causing psychological distress. While it used to be a medically-driven topic, digestive health is a wellness-driven one today in a growing number of consumers’ minds.
Commonly triggered by irregular eating habits with a lack of nutrition and sedentary lifestyles, digestive diseases such as constipation are becoming more prevalent in Asia.
For example, estimates of constipation from several studies range from 12.9 percent in Indonesia and 11.6 percent in India, to 7.3 percent in Singapore. The figures indicate the urgent need to support consumers in a better choice of food products and helping them to maintain digestive health and overall wellbeing. Food producers can play a significant role in this.
Understanding Digestive Health
It was long believed that the sole function of the large intestine (also known as colon) was to preserve water and get rid of waste products, but this perception has since changed. What goes on in the content of our colon is now believed to be key to our health and wellbeing.
The relation between the intestinal microflora and health has received a lot of scientific attention, with data suggesting that the composition of the microflora has important implications for our body function and health. The substances entering our colon and the resulting fermentation processes have a major impact on our digestive function and overall health.
The Importance Of Digestive Health Maintenance
The right nutrition plays a pivotal part in maintaining a healthy digestive system. While the stresses of modern living and sedentary lifestyles can invariably affect digestion, unhealthy eating habits also contribute to poor digestive health.
The good thing is that consumers are beginning to understand the importance of digestive health and are becoming more aware of the relationship between what they eat and how they feel. In a survey conducted in Thailand and Indonesia, 84 and 81 percent of the respondents respectively revealed that they actively look for food that can enhance digestive health. Also, 84 and 88 percent of the respondents in these two countries respectively try to get a certain amount of fibre in their daily diet.
A high-fibre diet is essential to keeping bowel movements soft and regular, preventing constipation and maintaining digestive health. As such, it is important for consumers to be aware of their fibre intake.
According to the World Health Organisation, the recommended daily dietary fibre intake should be at least 25 g. Similar recommendations are given by the national health associations of countries in Asia, such as the Health Promotion Board in Singapore, which recommends each adult to consume between 20 and 30 g of fibre per day.
However, even when following a balanced nutrition including wholegrain, fresh vegetable and fruits for the majority of consumers, it is hardly possible to meet the recommended daily intake. Singapore is the only country in the Asian region that meets or even exceeds the fibre intake recommendations.
Therefore, balanced diets containing a combination of wholegrain, fruits and vegetables, as well as fibre-enriched food products can help consumers achieve the recommended daily intake of dietary fibre.
Benefits Of Prebiotic Fibres
Food manufacturers can actively cater to consumers’ need for food products that are beneficial to digestive health and provide long term health benefits by applying fibres, such as chicory root fibres inulin and oligofructose, into their recipes.
Naturally derived from chicory root via a gentle hot water extraction method, these fibres are not digested in the small intestine, but are fully fermented in the large intestine to short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs have a stimulating effect on bowel movements as they improve the number of bowel movements per week, without triggering diarrhoea.
More importantly, inulin and oligofructose belong to the very few proven prebiotics worldwide as they are selectively fermented by the beneficial microflora known as bifidus bacteria. Due to the growth of the colon microbiotia, prebiotic fermentation of chicory root fibres stimulates bowel movements additionally in a mild and natural manner. This results in a healthy gut environment, which is important for overall wellbeing.
As the best researched fibres worldwide with a comprehensive body of scientific research that is much stronger than for any other fibre, inulin and oligofructose are proven to induce benefits on digestive health. The digestive health benefits of chicory root fibres can be communicated to consumers worldwide by food manufacturers through nutrient and health claims according to their respective national legislation.
For example, the European Union Commission very recently approved an exclusive health claim for an inulin by Beneo which promotes digestive health. The official claim is “chicory inulin contributes to normal bowel function by increasing stool frequency.”
They have a natural, mild sweetness that makes them highly suitable to reduce the sugar levels in food while enhancing the fibre content. Due to their fat mimicking properties, they are also able to maintain the texture in various applications.
Manufacturers can therefore integrate chicory root fibres into various applications while ensuring taste and texture. For example, with inulin, food producers can achieve sugar-reduced, high-fibre cereal bar, or a sugar-reduced, fibre-enriched fruit yoghurt. This way, consumers also have a greater variety and better food choice that they could look for to improve their digestive health and overall wellbeing throughout the day.
The Future Of Digestive Health In Asia
Digestive health is beginning to take centre stage in consumers’ minds. Further, with Asian consumers having a greater appetite for healthier living, there are a lot of opportunities for food manufacturers to tap on selected functional ingredients in their applications and manufacturing processes to actively cater to this consumer demand.
By making functional ingredients like prebiotic fibres part of their food formulations, manufacturers can add appealing benefits without altering the overall taste of their products.