Good little microbes: insights into probiotics

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 12th September 2016

Australian shoppers may only associate probiotics with yoghurt and drinks like Yakult, but these tiny microorganisms are being added to more and more foods.

Where once probiotics could only survive in cold products like yoghurt, the food industry has developed ways to have them survive cooking processes, allowing for thousands of different types of foods to have probiotics added to them.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are microorganisms, including bacteria, which are often viewed as ‘good bacteria’ with multiple health benefits if enough is consumed on a regular basis.

There are two types, live, non-spore forming probiotics which are found in yoghurts and other similar items, and spore-forming probiotics which are in a dormant state until they enter the gut. The probiotics can be freeze dried or microencapsulated to survive the cooking process.

What benefits do probiotics have and why might they appeal to consumers?

Probiotics have been linked to numerous possible health benefits including:

  • May help in controlling blood pressure
  • May help reduce incidences and the severity of diarrhoea after taking antibiotics
  • Some preliminary human and animal studies have shown some strains of probiotics could help reduce serum cholesterol levels
  • Certain strains may help mitigate those with lactose intolerance
  • Study is being conducted whether they help those with irritable bowel syndrome. Last week, Health Canada gave a product licence to a company for a health claim saying that it helps relieve abdominal pain associated with IBS for a product with a probiotic strain in it.

The positive effects of probiotics have however been analysed and questioned by some.

Australian consumer advocacy group, CHOICE, explored probiotics in 2014 enquiring about them with a dietitian who said that everyone’s gut bacteria is different and so there could be no one size fits –all approach when it comes to probiotics. She recommended at the time that those with gut problems could try high-strength probiotic capsules over the space of six weeks and see if symptoms improved.

The same CHOICE report also discussed the European Food Safety Authority’s rejection of probiotic health claims, saying often there was a lack of evidence behind these claims.

Probiotic foods and beverages

Australian-sold brands and products with probiotics in them already include:

  • Yakult
  • Pro Live Probiotic Drink
  • Piranha Snaps (similar to chips)
  • Kombucha fermented tea sold under a variety of brands
  • Nestle Cerelac infant cereal
  • Vaalia probiotic yoghurt
  • Activia yoghurt
  • An Australian website, ‘Probiotic Foods’ sell a variety of probiotic products, including even some for pets
  • Most fermented vegetables, such as pickles and sauerkraut, have probiotics