(Natural News) It’s becoming glaringly obvious that people want to be healthy without actually being healthy. Interest in probiotics has soared remarkably in the last couple of years due to the growing amount of research that touts its numerous benefits. At first, people were limited to taking their daily dose of the healthy bacteria from fermented food items such as yogurt or kefir. As demand grew, so did the whimsical imaginings of food manufacturers. Probiotics are now being added to everything from granola bars to infused beverages to even …pizza?
Food manufacturers say that they are merely addressing the need for healthier food to be readily available in the market. But at what cost? Elizabeth Moskow, culinary director for Sterling-Rice Group was quoted as saying on WSJ.com, “people now want food to be functionally formulated, not just delicious.” What is not mentioned, however, is that these new strains of probiotics were very much different from the original structures that were documented by health experts. Unlike the well-researched lactobacillus-type of probiotics, food manufacturers use spore germinating microorganisms. It must be noted that these soil-based organisms do fall under the same category as probiotics but there is, to date, very little research regarding their efficacy or potential in promoting health, compared to its older brother.
A 2005 study cautioned consumers to not merely take “probiotic-infused” items without first assessing the potential health risks. Food items containing the Bacillus spores as probiotics could “exploit the gut for pathogenesis.” While the researchers of the study did note that the probiotic could offer some health benefits, it could not be conclusively stated that all items containing this strain were safe. The study concluded with, “It is equally clear that supposedly ‘safe’ species can not be taken for granted and every product must be evaluated on a case by case basis.” (Related: Probiotics: Different Strains for Different Gains.)
Similarly, a 2002 study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology saw that spore germinating microbes contributed to overall health, but at a level that was (as of yet) statistically insignificant. Authors of this study suggested that further studies be made, and with a larger population sample size, to truly determine the health advantages these strains of bacteria may have, if ever.
Despite these warnings, food manufacturers continue to market their products as safe and healthy. Spore germinating probiotics don’t require refrigeration; their structures are such that their shelf life is significantly better than the traditional strains. Either probiotic strain cannot withstand heat or air exposure, but spore germinating probiotics are more cost-efficient and for food marketing companies, more lucrative.
Take, for example, Ganeden Inc., which introduced a spore-forming strain of probiotic bacteria called GanedenBC30 in 2008. Only nine years later, the company has now 800 food products that use BC30 as its main ingredient. Mike Bush, the Chief Executive, has argued that the company’s health message has paid off. The additional three to four cents a serving Ganeden pays to include this new bacteria strain costs the consumer an added six to eight cents a serving — all because their products are marketed as “healthy.”
Compared to the cost of buying probiotics supplements, “it’s a pretty minimal investment,” Bush says. When asked about the lacking research on spore-forming bacteria on health, Bush counters by saying that BC30 has been recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as safe, even appearing in 26 published studies since 2009.
Mr. Bush, who is also the President of the International Probiotics Association, met with representatives of the FDA to present the group’s guidelines on labeling, stability testing, and storage recommendation for probiotic-infused food items. “We want [the FDA] to know the industry is doing a good job of setting good standards and self-policing.”
Still, other food manufacturers remain more realistic about their company goals. Joel Warady, Chief Sales and Marketing officer of Mondelez International Inc. has said that, “Consumers want something that is healthier — not necessarily healthy.” The food giant’s Enjoy Life arm infuses probiotics into their food items, and charges extra for retailing supposedly “gut-friendly” food.
Marketing an item as probiotic-infused also allows for inspired new packaging. This further adds to the cost of the item, which consumers are all too eager to pay for in their quest for a healthier body.
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