If you’ve been watching the health market over the past few years, you’ve likely noticed the surge of health-conscious food choices making their way into the public eye. Increased demand for functional foods -- foods which have a positive effect beyond their basic nutritional value -- have taken supermarket shelves by storm.
Probiotic-rich drinks, like kombucha and kefir, are popular beverages in a market that might have been viewed as inconsequential just two decades ago. Today, PepsiCo and other major brands have become dominant players in this space as consumer demand for probiotics continues to climb, surging 37.4 percent in US markets during 2017.
However, the uptick in popularity around probiotics is bringing a new term to the fore: prebiotics. Despite the similarities in the name, prebiotics carry a swath of unique benefits that are believed to be beneficial to gut health in ways that may have been previously overlooked.
The Difference Between Prebiotics & Probiotics
Probiotics are bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health. You’ll find them in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, raw apple cider vinegar, pickles, some cheeses, and fermented teas. Some of these items can be homemade or picked up at our local supermarket and used in a meal. Others, like miso soup, serve as a great afternoon snack.
One thing to keep in mind about probiotics is that they’re live microorganisms which carry out the fermentation process. When consumed, these probiotics help replace and maintain “good” bacteria in the body, which in some cases are compromised after taking something traditionally harmful to your gut, such as an antibiotic. Though antibiotics purge the body of harmful bacteria, they also play a part in destroying the helpful “gut-flora” vital for overall digestive health. In addition, a low-fiber diet, lack of exercise, insufficient sleep, and an overabundance of stress can also impact the health of good gut bacteria.
The list of probiotic benefits is long, covering everything from weight loss and digestive health to improved mental health and an improved immune system.
On the other hand, prebiotics come from fiber-rich foods that humans can’t easily digest. Chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, and leeks are just a few examples of great prebiotic foods. While prebiotic fibers may pass through our digestive system with no immediate benefits to us, the “good” bacteria in the gut actually consume this fiber which can lead to better digestive health.
It Takes Guts
You may notice a distinct similarity between probiotics and prebiotics: Both are related to the gut and to gut-related bacteria.
If you don’t remember your high school anatomy class: the gastrointestinal tract processes all the food your body takes in. It’s not just the stomach or the colon. It’s the entire digestive system -- start to finish.
Probiotics and prebiotics work together to foster healthy gut flora (or microbiota), which is increasingly being inked to better overall health. By eating a diverse selection of foods, from fruits to whole grains -- many of which are nestled comfortably in the probiotic and prebiotic conversation -- you’re improving one of the most vital bodily functions.
Prebiotics: The Next Craze?
As health awareness has made its way to the mainstream, access to probiotic and prebiotic foods has become more readily accessible. The probiotics market is slated to exceed $65 billion in revenue by 2024 due to increased demand for functional foods and consumer inclination toward bio-based products, according to one study.
Beverage companies have been innovating around the probiotic space for years as fermented teas and drinks have skyrocketed in popularity. Kombucha, one of the most popular beverages in the probiotic space, was slated for 25 percent annual market growth in 2016, which it has handily exceeded. And that’s just one beverage in a space where there are other options -- both in variety and selection -- to choose from.
Despite the wild success of the probiotic craze, prebiotics haven’t seen as much publicity until recently. There may be a few reasons for that regarding how prebiotics compare and the trouble around them that innovation might cause.
One stall in the prebiotics market may come from a simple lack of consumer demand. Consumers haven’t really been aware of prebiotics, but projections show that they’re coming around to the idea. The market is estimated to hit $424 million by 2020.
There’s also speculation that discussing gut health, which hasn’t been talked about much in the US, may have had a chilling effect on the market. As companies become more comfortable talking to consumers about their bodily functions, major brands may find a new door into the prebiotic market.
Prebiotics may be harder to bring to market simply due to the fact that, to get the benefits, many prebiotic foods are best left in their natural state. Some of the most prebiotic-rich foods, like garlic, asparagus, and leeks are best consumed raw for full benefit. This means that processing them into more widely acceptable and marketable foods and beverages may dilute their effectiveness or create its own risks.
That’s not to say that it can’t be done. Karuna offers a selection of prebiotic beverages. Prebiotics are also available in the form of nutritional supplements. GoLive has taken a unique turn on market trends and packages prebiotics with probiotics into a single beverage for an all-in-one consumable.
“Beverage developments that include probiotics and prebiotics are on the rise,” says Matt Hall, Director of Formulation and Brewing Services at BevSource. “We’re seeing innovation in this space with the inclusion of pre and probiotics into nontraditional beverages along with novel methods of inclusion to preserve the integrity of probiotics”
Prebiotics and probiotics both have their place in the consumer diet.
Though probiotic beverages have been all the rage for the past several years, consumers are waking up to the idea that prebiotics may also have a selection of benefits that supplement gut health in unique and powerful ways.