Cranberries show promise for improved gut health

19 Nov 2018

Researchers are just beginning to understand the link between the gut and many chronic health conditions, leading to growing interest in prebiotic ingredients. According to a new study, cranberries are the latest food to show prebiotic potential.

Cranberries show promise for improved gut health

Interest in gut health continues to gain ground, as researchers have started to uncover links between the gut microbiota and disease risk well beyond digestive health, such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, kidney disease and type 2 diabetes. Emerging evidence suggests that even mood and brain structure could be related to the bacterial composition of the gut.

In the food industry, probiotics continue to dominate the market for gut health ingredients, but awareness of prebiotics – the ingredients that feed beneficial bacteria – is growing. According to a Global Industry Analysts’ report, demand for prebiotic-containing products, such as health drinks, infant food, dairy, meat and bakery products could drive the market to reach $7.8 billion by 2022. For comparison, the same organisation predicts the market for probiotics will exceed $63 billion that year.

With strong market potential, the message from researchers is that identifying foods that support better gut health could have a significant impact on overall public health.

In this latest pilot trial, researchers from Tufts University found cranberries may improve gut health in people consuming low fibre diets rich in meat and dairy. Thirty grams of freeze dried whole cranberry powder each day helped reinstate a healthy microbiome.

The study was funded by a US non-profit organisation called The Cranberry Institute, which is dedicated to supporting research to improve market opportunities for cranberry growers. Its members include major players like Fruit d'Or and Ocean Spray Cranberries, but research into cranberries’ health benefits stands to benefit European suppliers of cranberry powders and extracts too, such as Berrico, Iprona and Naturex.

It is just the latest in a host of studies suggesting health benefits from cranberries, and cranberry suppliers already profit from research into the berries’ antioxidant content, their potential for limiting urinary tract infections, and for improving vascular function and cholesterol profiles.

Research backing the benefits of cranberry powder could have a halo effect too, potentially boosting sales of other cranberry products, such as whole dried cranberries used in baked goods, or cranberry juice drinks, for example, as consumers tend to associate the benefits of specific ingredients with related products.

When it comes to gut health, industry still has some work to do to promote prebiotic ingredients. A lack of consumer understanding about the function of prebiotics continues to be a barrier to greater uptake among food and beverage companies. Researchers have suggested that one possible approach could be to combine prebiotic ingredients with probiotics, which already enjoy considerable market acceptance.

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