Reasons to incorporate prebiotic fiber into applications for digestive benefits continue to increase. Recent events have focused on use in infant formula, effects on immunity and reductions in the glycemic index of finished foods.

A scientific study showed Beneo’s Orafti Synergy1 (oligofructose-enriched inulin) in infant formula is safe and demonstrates a prebiotic effect in the first four months after birth. Ricardo Closa Montasterolo, director of the Neonatal Unit, Hospital University Joan XXIII of Tarragona, Spain, led the study.

The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study involved 252 formula-fed infants and 131 breast-fed infants. The infant formula had either 0.8 grams per 100 ml of Orafti Synergy1 or maltodextrin.

Beneo’s prebiotic fiber showed a microflora composition similar to that of breast-fed infants, with a higher proportion of bifidobacteria, softer stools and a higher deposition frequency compared to the control group receiving maltodextrin.

“These results confirm and extend the existing broad scientific knowledge of prebiotic inulin-type ingredients from chicory in infant and small children nutrition,” said Anke Sentko, vice-president of regulatory affairs and nutrition communication for Beneo. “We’re confident that this additional scientific data will give confidence and inspiration to manufacturers that are looking to improve their baby food products.”

Prebiotics and immune health

New fruit-flavored freezer pops from Fun Treats, Inc., Cleveland, Tenn., feature prebiotic fiber in the form of inulin along with Wellmune WGP, an immune-boosting ingredient. Biothera, an immune health company in Eagan, Minn., supplies the Wellmune WGP and will feature the freezer pops at its booth 1333 during the Institute of Food Technologists’ 2013 Annual Meeting and Food Expo July 13-16 in Chicago.

“We believe prebiotics and Wellmune WGP work synergistically to boost the immune system and support overall health and wellness,” said David Walsh, vice-president of communications for Biothera. “Prebiotics support immune health indirectly by nourishing healthy bacteria in the colon. Wellmune WGP supports the immune system directly by binding to neutrophils, the most abundant immune cell population in the body, and priming them for activity.”

Wellmune WGP is part of a FibeBiotics project in Europe that is studying the effect of food fibers on the human immune system. The European Union is investing more than €6 million in the project, a consortium of four European universities, five research institutions and several private companies. The project began in 2012 and is expected to last through 2016.

Affecting the glycemic index

One recent event in Europe focused on the low-glycemic index, another area where prebiotic fiber may play a positive role. An international committee of nutrition scientists on June 10 in Milan, Italy, released a scientific consensus statement. Among other things, the committee recommended inclusion of glycemic index and glycemic load in national dietary guidelines and food composition tables.

Ingredion, Inc., Westchester, Ill., offers Hi-Maize resistant starch, a prebiotic fiber. The web site gives details on studies that show how Hi-Maize, when added to foods, provides benefits in such areas as post-prandial glycemic response and insulin sensitivity.

“When Hi-Maize resistant starch replaces flour or starch in grain-based foods, it delivers two major glycemic benefits: It lowers the short-term glycemic response of that food, and it improves metabolism by increasing insulin sensitivity,” said Rhonda Witwer, senior business development manager of nutrition for Ingredion. “In short, not only does it deliver less glucose, it helps the body manage fat and sugar better.”

Sensus, Roosendaal, The Netherlands, offers prebiotic fiber ingredients in the form of Frutafit and Frutalose chicory root fibers.

“The unique, functional attributes of chicory root fiber allow it to lower the glycemic index of grain-based foods by replacing digestible carbs such as sugar and flour,” said Scott Turowski, technical sales, East coast, for Sensus America, Inc.

Cargill, Minneapolis, offers Oliggo-Fiber inulin. Besides reducing the glycemic index in finished foods, inulin may provide other benefits such as calcium absorption, adding fiber, reducing calories and sugar, and providing digestive health, said Carol Lowry, senior food scientist for Cargill.