Foods that claim to improve digestive health are now commonplace on the supermarket shelves. These days, it’s not as simple as adding ‘fibre’ – many more exotic sounding ingredients such as resistant starch, inulin, oligosaccharides and polydextrose are used, not to mention the lactic acid bacteria that are added to yogurts and yogurt drinks.
Inulin, for example, is a carbohydrate that acts as a prebiotic soluble fibre. It may help reduce the risk of some infections and relieve the symptoms of inflammatory diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. As a prebiotic fibre, it helps promote the growth of the ‘friendly’ bacteria that live in the intestinal tract and play an important role in the digestive process.
In recent years, probiotic bacteria have become popular ingredients in foods designed to promote digestive health. The most common of these are lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. The idea is to maintain a healthy balance of these bacteria in the gut, because their numbers can be reduced by illness, stress, poor nutrition and antibiotics. Claims have been made that they can help strengthen the immune system, and reduce the impact of some diseases.