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Why gut health products need more scientific solutions

Dr Megan Rossi, who launched her debut gut health brand Bio&Me last month, believes that the relationship between food and science is not yet where it should be.

5 December 2019
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Gut health, a subject once reserved for those with IBS and the scientists studying it, is one of the biggest beneficiaries of consumers’ increasing demands for retail products that aid physical and mental wellbeing.

Over the past two years, we’ve seen more than a few retail releases focused on gut health across a range of categories, including kefir in dairy and kombucha in soft drinks. Cereal is also a target category, with Kellogg’s, for example, launching their Happy Gut range earlier this year.

Last month, celebrity dietician and nutritionist Dr Megan Rossi unveiled her debut retail brand, Bio&Me, with a four-strong range of gut-friendly granola.

Rossi, founder of The Gut Health Doctor clinic at King’s College London and author of the book Eat Yourself Healthy, claims that the plant-based Bio&Me is the UK’s first multi-category food brand dedicated to gut health.

Each of the four launch flavours – Apple & Cinnamon, Raspberry & Beetroot, Cocoa & Coconut and Super Seedy & Nutty – contains 15 different plant-based foods and prebiotic fibre, with 100g providing an average of 14.1g of fibre and 12.1g of protein.

Included in the 15-strong ingredients list (which differs slightly with each flavour of granola) are skin-on hazelnuts, dates, chicory root fibre and puffed chickpeas.

Transparency, says Dr Rossi, is key with gut health releases; too many companies use the idea of gut health as a just vehicle to attract consumers while not following through with the science.

Sticking with the science

“We are the UK’s first to be able to make a gut health claim with the EFSA approval and we’ve done that with a specific ingredient we’ve used in clinical trials at King’s,” Dr Rossi told Food Spark’s sister publication, Nutra Ingredients.

“One of the biggest things is not to add too many unnecessary things like additives and emulsifiers and trying to get in that diversity. A lot of companies might just add some live cultures into their product, but there won’t be any scientific evidence to show that culture has an impact on health.”

Dr Rossi, whose new line is available online at Planet Organic and Booths as well as the Bio&Me website, says that the food industry is “full of fads, misinformation and pseudoscience,” with scientific evidence often just a footnote.

“Sadly, many products currently available that claim to be good for gut health are not in line with the evidence. There are several food additives in many of these products that may actually be harmful for the gut – we’re currently investigating this at King’s College London,” she noted. “Other products are adding in a single bacteria strain without any reliable evidence to suggest a health benefit. Simply adding in a token ingredient doesn’t mean it’s any better for your gut, or overall health – it may even be worse.”

Despite the industry issues she flags up, Dr Rossi believes that the emergence of gut health as a major food trend can only spell happiness for consumers.

“I think it’s really an exciting time,” she said. “We are starting to appreciate, thanks to science, that actually nurturing these trillions of microbes in our gut really can have a huge impact on our health and happiness and how we can look after them and essentially diet is one of those key ways, so I think there is so much promise and potential.”

Talking body

Gut health is still a fledgling area of food science, with Scope’s Gut Education Index finding that 46% of the 1,000 adults questioned were unsatisfied with their level of knowledge on the subject; 79% would be open to taking a course to improve their understanding.

While gut health is most commonly linked to the digestive tract, there is evidence to suggest that it is beneficial in terms of the heart, the skin and even the brain, as detailed in the popular science bestseller I Contain Multitudes. Mental health and weight management have also been linked with the gut.

Dr Rossi believes that more scientists and scholars need to enter the food industry for companies to get the most out of the subject of gut health. 

“The downside [of the rise of gut health in food], which is why I got into the food industry, is that often there is a huge gap between the food industry and scientists,” she said.

“I hope to see more scholars and scientists getting into the industry. If we want to make the most out of people’s gut health, there has to be that transition into convenience food. I think gone are the days that scientists stay in their ivory tower of research and the food industry all the manufacturing. There has to be that merge if we are really going to have an impact on people’s health.”

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