Spicy kimchi cures baldness and thickens hair, according to a new scientific report published in the World Journal of Men’s Health. Researchers from Dakook University in South Korea studied men in early stages of hair loss who consumed a kimchi probiotic drink twice a day. After a month, hair count increased from 85 per square centimeter to 90; after four months, hair count increased to 92. Results were even faster and prevalent for female patients with hair loss, who went from an average of 85 hairs per square centimeter to 92 after one month. Hair thickness also increased. This is exciting research for people suffering from hair loss; the kimchi and probiotic product is a natural, safer alternative to hair regrowth drugs. Current hair regrowth drugs have adverse side effects, like irregular heartbeat, weight gain and diarrhea.

Read more (World Journal of Men’s Health)

As more people battle digestive problems, they’re turning to brands offering gut health solutions. Digestive health is the third most sought after health benefit in the latest International Food Information Council Food & Health Survey, behind weight loss and energy.

Though it’s a hot topic, it’s a space challenged with unsupported health claims and confusing ingredient additives. During a panel hosted by Food Navigator, four industry leaders shared insight into the growing gut health category.

“What we’ve learned is that many of our consumers come into our brand typically with serious, long term digestive health challenges. Bloating, regularity challenges, IBS,” said Mitchell Kruesi, senior brand manager for Goodbelly, which creates probiotic drinks and snacks. “They’ve tried supplements in the past, but weren’t super enthusiastic about them because often times taking a supplement felt medicinal to them. After that, they continue to seek out other probiotic options that are both effective, but also food-based so that it’s easy to fit in their routine.”

Demystifying Probiotics

Plagued with health issues and fed-up with pills, consumers are desiring food brands that aid digestive health. Flavor, though, is key.

“That delicious taste…it sets up an everyday usage routine, which is critical with probiotics,” Kruesi said.

Probiotics is a confusing territory for consumers. Should probiotics be consumed in pills or as a strain added to food? How much should be taken?

Elaine Watson, Food Navigator editor, quoted GT Dave, founder of GT Kombucha: “In my mind, anything raw and fermented deserves to use the term ‘probiotic.” Watson asked the panelists if there’s a perception that all fermented foods contain probiotics because they contain live, active cultures – and should food advertising probiotics be verified by clinically proven studies?

“I think consumers are quite confused still around the whole topic, in all honestly. Live, active cultures are used to make fermented food beverages – but unlink probiotics, they’re typically not studied and shown to provide a health benefit,” said Angela Grist, Activia US marketing director. Really in order to be considered a probiotic, they would need to meet the criteria of survival and research-validated health benefits and also this point around strain specificity.”

Grist said probiotics need to survive the passage through the digestive track to the colon. Activia has five survival studies showing the benefits of probiotics.

Ben Goodwin, co-founder of Olipop, added he’s conducted genetic assays around the underlying culture banks of fermented food and beverages and “there have definitely been organisms in the culture banks which are deleterious for human health. So not everything that’s fermented is automatically good for human health, there’s all sorts of different biological modes that organisms can interact with each other and some become parasitic or become determinantal to your probiotic when consumed, so something to keep in mind.”

Note that the panel did not feature a raw, fermented food brand; the companies included on the panel all add probiotic strains to their food and drink product.

In a separate interview with The Fermentation Association, Maria Marco, professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis, said there is a lot of confusion around probiotics, even among industry representatives. Marco, though, agrees with Grist and Goodwin. She says clinical studies on fermented foods are necessary.

“Although it might be possible to separate out the individual components of foods for known health benefits (e.g. vitamin C), the benefits of many foods are likely the result of multiple components that are not easily separated,” Marco said. “Yogurt consumption is a great example of a fermented food that, through longitudinal studies, was shown to be inversely associated with CVD risk.”

In one of Marco’s studies at UC Davis titled “Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond,” Marco and her research associates concluded that fermented foods: are “phylogenetically related to probiotic strains,” “an important dietary source of live microorganisms,” and the microbes in fermented foods “may contribute to human health in a manner similar to probiotics.” The study adds: “Although only a limited number of clinical studies on fermented foods have been performed, there is evidence that these foods provide health benefits well-beyond the starting food materials.”

Educating Consumers

The panel said that the food industry is responsible for displaying integrity in their marketing on probiotic benefits.

“We believe it’s critical for leading brands in the space…to really educate consumers on, first, what probiotics are,” said Kruesi with Goodbelly. Consumers are seeking out probiotics for a specific health benefit, but most don’t know what strain they need to address their issue, he noted.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that aid the digestive system by balancing gut bacteria.

Currently, the demographic of consumers buying products geared toward gut health are millennial females in coastal cities. Both Activia and Olipop sell to more women than men (Activia customers are 60 percent female and 40 percent male; Olipop customers are 55 percent female and 45 percent male).  

Goodwin said Olipop is hoping to tap into the rapidly declining soda market. Soda is a $65 billion industry, with 90 percent household penetration. But more consumers are turning to healthier options than unnatural, sugar-filled soda.

“We’ve tried to take on the extra responsibility as a brand of formulating something that’s spun forward, delicious and really approachable so that we can meet a real health need in a way that’s actually supported by research,” Goodwin said. “(Olipop) is not only low sugar, low calorie, it also has this digestive health function but obviously doesn’t taste like vinegar because it’s not a kombucha.”

Solving Digestive Stress

Products by Activia, Goodbelly, Olipop and Uplift Food (the fourth panel member) are “meant to be a mass solution for the lack of fiber prebiotics and nutritional diversity in the modern diet,” Goodwin said. Fiber contains prebiotics, which aid probiotics.

The USDA’s dietary guidelines recommend adult men require 34 grams of fiber, while adult women require 28 grams of fiber (depending on age). The reality, though, is that most Americans get about half the recommended fiber a day, only 15 grams. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 60-70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases.

Compare that to the diet of hunter-gatherers, who eat about 100-150 grams of fiber each day and maintain incredibly healthy guts or microbiome. The microbiome is the community of commensal microorganisms in our intestines, fed by fiber, probiotics and prebiotics.

“As it stands now, basically we’re putting in a starvation system for a lot of the microorganisms currently in your gut,” Goodwin said. “The average industrialized consumer has about 50 percent less diversity and abundance of beneficial microorganisms than the hunger-gatherers alive on the planet tonight.”

Future of Gut Health Products

Grist with Activia said probiotics need to be consumed in adequate, regular amounts to provide health benefits, or else probiotics will not consume the digestive track.

Kara Landau, dietitian and founder for Uplift Foods which makes prebiotic foods, added that each individual has a unique bacterial make-up, and providing diverse food to support the microbiome is critical.

Landau said the future of gut health probiotics will be selling a specific probiotic strain, one that a consumer can target for their desired health benefit. Prebiotics – “the fuel for the probiotics” – are also key, and a new part of the digestive health puzzle that brands need to communicate and simplify for consumers.

“Prebiotics are still very much in their infancy when it comes to consumer understanding,” Landau said. “Seeing them alongside probiotics enhances the clarity of their benefits.”

Sustainability sells. Shoppers will spend up to $150 billion on sustainable CPG goods by 2021, representing an increase of between $14 billion-$22 billion. – Nielsen Data

Restrictive diets aren’t the secret to staying slim. The key is diversity says Tim Spector, professor and author of the book “The Diet Myth.” Eating foods high in fiber, fermented products and food loaded with micronutrient polyphenols are scientifically proven to improve weight and help the complex microbiome flourish.

“This is where we’ve lost track, we’ve tried to simplify it and we’ve tried to say that calories in equals calories out and that one-size-fits-all and that if everyone has these 2,000 calories a day, they’ll be perfect. And of course, that advice has led to the whole world getting fatter,” Spector says in an interview on webisode Health Hackers. “[People have been taught] erroneous advice that fat is bad for you therefore avoid all things with fat, even healthy things.”

The Health Hackers episode is titled “Why your diet may never work until you get to know your microbiome.” Journalist Gemma Evans interviews Spector in his London research lab. Spector is a professor of genetics at King’s College in London. He has published over 800 research articles, and Reuters ranked him as the top 1% of the worlds must published scientists.

Spector began researching the microbiome seven years ago, when he became sick and wanted to know which diet would help him heal. His early delve into the microbiome fascinated him.

“We hadn’t understood the gut microbiome, which is this whole new organ in our bodies that was previously ignored,” Spector says. “I really got into this whole field and diverted my group’s research interest into discovering more about that microbiome that we all have. We’re all so different in our microbes, and this difference is how we all respond differently to foods and it explains a lot of mysteries.”

Microbiome is a Living Community

Spector describes the microbiome as a living community of trillions of microbes that produce chemicals, vitamins and hormones. Ninety-nine percent of microbes are in the gut, most in the lower gut or colon. Human cells only make up 43% of the human body — the rest are microbe cells.

Healthy microbiomes are full of diverse species. They help avoid overeating or under eating because a healthy microbiome self regulates.

“The healthier your microbiome, the healthier your body is in general because it means that your immune system is being well balanced and not overresponding,” he says. “It’s giving you resistance against its infections; it’s not overreacting to give you allergies.”

Researchers like Spector study the microbes with fecal samples. He says you can tell more about a person and what they’re eating through their fecal matter. Many commercial companies today advertise accurate health measurements by measuring genes through DNA samples.

“As a geneticist, that’s rubbish,” Spector says. “Statistically, it might be true, but actually at a personally level, it’s virtually no use. Our microbes are so much different than our DNA makeup. We share any, for example, 20 to 30 percent of our microbes [between] any two people. And so, understand how that community is and what’s different should mean that I can tell whether someone is healthy or whether they’re more likely to get fat or diabetes, [by] looking at the general diversity [of their microbes]. And I can also try and now use this information when you’ve got thousands of people to predict what the best foods are for people.”

Healthy Eating Myth Busting

It’s fascinating insight into the future of predictive health. Spector’s book, “The Diet Myth,” detailed how the health industry has failed the general public for roughly the past 30 years. People were told to eat low-fat foods, count their calories and get lots of exercise. Spector calls that advice “very old-fashioned, very 20th Century.”

“We only really understood food around those primitive concepts in these very broad categories of fats and sugars and proteins and we’ve ignored one of the big ones, which is fiber,” Spector says.

Diets cannot revolve around the three blocks of fats, sugar and protein. What matters, Spector says, is the total amount of chemicals consumed and the effects on the body. Take, for example, a banana. A banana can’t be defined in one of the three categories because it’s made up of 600 chemicals. Once a banana is ingested and combines with gut microbes it converts to 6,000 chemicals.

Making the microbiome more complex: everyone will react differently to that same banana. The effects of the chemicals produced will present differently in each individual.

Diversifying Diets — and Microbes

“Virtually all diets, people end up restricting what they eat which actually has a long-term effect of reducing your microbes and therefore they’re less able to cope with modern living,” he adds.

Spector said you cannot generalize healthy eating guidelines with broad generalizations when it comes to the microbiome because everyone will react differently. Human genetics shape the gut microbiome.

“But if you had to have one rule, people on very restrictive diets don’t do well and people who have the more diverse diets…are healthier,” he says. This is because a diverse diet is full of different nutrients and, in turn, build a diverse group of microbes. Spector compares the microbiome to a garden – the nutrients consumed are like the fertilizer helping the plants or microbes grow.

As the head of the Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College, Spector has studied the effect of microbes in twins. In one study, two mice with different weights were analyzed. The overweight mouse with less diverse microbes was given a fecal transplant from his twin, the skinnier mouse with a healthier microbiome. Once that healthier mouse was given the fecal transplant, the overweight mouse continued to lose weight, even when overfed.

“So those microbes are doing a really good job working overtime to convert metabolically to keep that stuff away from going into fat. They’re burning it up in ways we don’t really understand,” Spector says. “Your chances of having good microbes will increase the more you’ve got of them. So the people who have very limited number of microbes, who have very limited diets where they’re just on processed foods, have an increasingly smaller amount of nutrients in there and only a few microbe species like that restrictive species and they elbow the others out and then they can’t react in healthy ways:

Society has to stop demonizing junk food, Spector says, “we have to get away from the idea that these things are so deadly.” Eating a fast-food burger once a year could actually be good for the microbiome, Spector argues, because it will “wake up your system.”

Another study on mice found that mice who consumed lots of fiber (chickpeas, lentils), then were given a high-fat meal didn’t put on weight. Spector said it’s because they had a solid base, and then were given a high-fat meal once in moderation.

Spector is against the concept of clean eating (“There’s no such thing.”) and even processed food (“What’s processed food? It’s cheese. It’s milk. It depends where you draw the line.”). But he says ultra-processed food with harsh chemicals should be kept to an absolute minimum. Ultimately, no one should take a black and white view on food and limit what they eat.

What Should We Eat?

So what should we eat? Spector highlighted four food and drinks that help gut health: foods high in fiber, complex plants, fermented foods and polyphenols.

Fiber is important because it’s what microbes live off. Fiber is hard to digest early in the digestive track, so the nutrients reach the colon before being absorbed. Most ultra-processed foods are so full of sugar that they are absorbed extremely early in the digestive process. Microbes are destroyed by starving them of fiber — microbes can be wiped out if not fed fiber for long periods of time.

Complex plants, Spector advises, prioritizing vegetables first and fruit second. Fermented foods are full of the live bacteria critical for gut health. Spector suggests fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, Japanese fermented soy and even quality fermented chocolate. Polyphenols are an energy source for microbes, and can be found in any food like blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, olive oil, dark chocolate, seeds, coffee and green tea.

As far as pill supplements, Spector points out that there’s no scientific evidence yet that probiotic supplements benefit healthy people.

“I’m generally in favor of using food – yogurt, kefir, cheese — rather than expensive supplements,” he says.

The fermented food and ingredient market is projected to reach $689.34 billion by 2023. Demand is driven by rising per capita income and increasing health awareness. Europe, followed by North America, generates the highest revenue in the fermentation market.

Research & Markets

Though studies link fermentation to positive health benefits, little is known about the underlying biology behind why consuming the live bacteria in fermented food and drink is good for your gut. Scientists from Germany have uncovered that link. They found a cell receptor unique to humans (and apes) that binds to the lactic acid bacteria in fermented foods, triggering positive effects in the immune system. The study says the bacteria or microbes are part of a large group of “functional microorganisms” that are present in food like yogurt and sauerkraut.

Read more (Medical News Today)

Probiotic supplements have been the hype of the health industry for the past few years, but the rage is dissipating. Consumers are starting to distrust probiotic pills, realizing a pill alone doesn’t deliver on promised health benefits.

“The thing is, you can’t just pop in a probiotic and get better health,” said Ashley Koff, a registered dietician and CEO of the Better Nutrition Program. “Consumers are waking up to the fact that our digestive health is more complicated than this. We need to start looking beyond probiotics.”

Good gut health requires more than just a single daily probiotic pill. Fermentation brands need to consider all the nutrients needed for a healthy gut as products are evaluated, marketed and advertised.

“You’re actually not what you eat. You are what you digest and absorb…The demands of our digestive health go so far beyond the probiotics,” said Koff, who spoke at Expo West on “Gut Health Revolution: A Radical New Approach Beyond Probiotics.” “When we walk about gut health, we often think about our stomach or our colon. But what were really talking about here are a bunch of different organs. We have to nourish multiple organs with complementary nutrient demands.”

The digestive system is the core to the entire body system. Koff said: “We cannot get and stay healthy without better digestion.” Most digestive health products isolate nutrients specific to one organ, she added. So while a probiotic may help the small intestine, for example, what feeds the probiotic? What makes the probiotic thrive?

Koff said most probiotic supplements and probiotic-infused products ignore other nutrients. What about magnesium, that helps relax the digestive tract? Probiotic supplements have been marketed as a one-time solution when other critical minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, fatty acids and alkaline are just as critical for gut health.

“We want to make sure we’re getting those nutrients that nourish the microbiome,” Koff said. Live, active bacteria will nourish the good bacteria in the gut, building the immune system. “If we’re getting probiotics, we need to get in prebiotics as well.”

Probiotics made $2 billion in sales in 2018, but their sales are slowing. Prebiotics, however, are doubling sales growth.

Simply put, prebiotics are the foods microbes in the gut like to eat. Mayco Clinic describes prebiotics as “specialized plant fibers (that) act like fertilizers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.” Probiotics, on the other hand, are living organisms in specific straings of bacteria. Fermented foods are full of live, active cultures, like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha.

Koff said people shouldn’t be getting all their prebiotics from a supplement. Most prebiotics should come from food.

“It should be deliciously easy for us to get the nutrients that help our gut,” Koff said. “No supplement in the world can override a poor-quality diet. …That’s why it’s so important when you look at a prebiotic that you’re looking at something that’s a whole food, (especially) if a whole food gets fermented.”

Relying on food for all nutrients, though, is hard for the majority of people, Koff revealed. If your probiotic choice is granola, for example, are you going to continue eating that same granola and that same service every day to consistently meet your probiotic needs? And a very small number of people actually eat gut-boosting foods daily. “I find that’s a limiting factor,” Koff said.

Koff specifically touted Country Life’s new line of digestive aids, called Gut Connection. The prebiotics contain EpiCor, a whole food prebiotic. The Gut Connection line contains eight products consumers can take for their needs, like balancing digestive, mood, sleep, stress or weight. Country Life sponsored Koff’s education session.

Increasing numbers of brew pubs and high demand for craft beer is growing the brewery equipment market. The brewery equipment market is estimated to be valued at $16.8 billion in 2019 and projected to reach $24 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 6.1%.

Markets and Markets

Kombucha brands biggest competition are not other kombucha brands – it’s soda and functional beverages. Sales continue to hemorrhage in the soda category as consumers shun sugar-filled drinks. And kombucha companies have a great opportunity now to grab that market share.

A panel of leaders in the kombucha and beverage industry shared their insights on the future of kombucha at KombuchaKon, Kombucha Brewers International’s 6th annual conference. They agreed the fermented tea is not a fad, but brands “have to be nimble and creative” to thrive in an increasingly crowded market.

“The future is really, really bright,” said John Peirano, the vice president of marketing at Humm Kombucha. “It’s super exciting – and we’re just getting started.”

Local Brands Will Reign

As more and more kombucha brands enter the industry, the brand’s biggest strengths will be selling to their regional market.

“There are all these local brands retailers are going to want because they care about what’s happening locally,” Peirano said. “Local brands are going to be really, really important.”

John Craven, editor of beverage industry news site BevNET, has covered the beverage world for nearly two decades. He said marketing brands locally works in the kombucha category, but not in any other beverage space.

“Prior to (kombucha), if you said ‘I want to build a regional brand,’ I would have said ‘That’s not a thing,’” Craven said.

Educating Retailer & Consumer

Retailers want to give \consumer’s a variety of product choices, Craven added. They’re more likely to commit to selling kombucha if there are multiple brands and SKUs on their store shelf.

“With (kombucha), it’s OK to like a bunch of different brands,” Craven said. It’s normal for a kombucha consumer to switch between different brands and flavors. “That is one thing this category has going for it that’s really unique. … It definitely has defied traditional beverage logic in that regard.”

Litigation against kombucha brands continues to top headlines, as lawsuits claim alcohol content is misrepresented or sugar levels are understated in different brands. In the next few months, KBI will be releasing their own standards defining kombucha.

Truth in labeling will drive trust with the consumer and the retailer, Peirano said. “It’s important that what’s inside the bottle is on the label,” he added.

“As category leaders, we also have to be category captains. We have to go to the retailers with really strong selling stories. And those selling stories aren’t just about Humm. Those selling stories are about the category and what will drive the most profitability for that retailer category and that shelf set, so they can be successful.”

Refrigerated kombucha and the fermented beverage category has grown 31.4 percent year-over-year, according to data from SPINS market research. And household awareness continues to climb – it increased 20 percent in 2018.

Kombucha is sold in the refrigerated section, some of the most expensive space on a grocery shelf.

“I think it’s all our responsibilities, if we want to continue to grow this category, we’ve got to go out and education and tell people about the magical, beautiful benefits of what kombucha brings to the table from a functional health standpoint,” Peirano said.

Brands Need to Remain Fresh

The kombucha industry is already dominated by a handful of national brands – GT Kombucha, Kevita, Health Ade, Humm Kombucha and Brew Dr. control the majority of market share. The panel agreed smaller brands can still successfully enter the category, but the top sellers are locked.

“There’s not room for a dozen million dollar-plus brands,” Craven said. “But the reality…is that some of these (smaller) brands will be acquired and will probably be absorbed and evolved, ruined, whatever, which makes an opportunity for the next brand to come along.”

“There are a lot of functional products out there…the beverage history lesson is consumers are really fickle,” Craven added. He pointed to Vitamin Water as an example, a brand that rapidly grew popular in the beverage industry but then lost sales. “The consumer keeps moving on to the flavor or the function of the month, so to speak.”

Craven does not think kombucha will be a victim like Vitamin Water because kombucha includes value-added health benefits. The kombucha brands that survive the next decade, though, must be adept to change. They must evolve with new flavors and brewing styles, while maintaining affordability, consistency and health benefits.

Growing Kombucha Enhancement: CBD

One of those kombucha styles keeping the industry fresh: CBD. Conrad Ferrel, founder and CEO of True Büch, said combining the benefits of the cannabis plant with the functional compounds in kombucha makes sense.

“The evolution of cannabis used with kombucha, it’s a natural marriage,” Ferrel said. “If you want to have kombucha for sleep, there will be a specific kombucha for that. If you want it for pain management, it will be there. It will be functional and specific to the certain (medical aid) people want.”

There are 140 compounds in the cannabis plant, but so far only two – THC and CP – have been studied, added Ferrel. CP is a value-added compound, known to aid in improving medical ailments. But science is lagging.

“As the world gets used to the science … the struggle is to sell people something that for years was considered a drug, now we’re trying to sell people on the fact that it’s good for you,” Ferrel added.

Hard Kombucha Gaining Traction

Hard kombucha is another brewing style keeping the kombucha category competitive. It’s evidence of how many beverage categories kombucha bleeds into – like alcohol, tea, juice, flavored water and functional beverages.

Kyle Oliver, quality assurance scientist at Boochcraft, said regular kombucha has an ABV of .5 percent to 2 percent. Hard or high alcohol kombucha goes above that level. Boochcraft has 7 percent ABV. The ABV is higher because hard kombucha goes through a secondary fermentation process, where more yeast and sugar are added.

“Our organisms we want in our kombucha are spoilage organisms in other industries (like wine and beer),” Oliver said. “The higher ABV doesn’t kill probiotics, they’re able to still grow in that environment.”

Craft cheese sales lag behind craft beer sales, despite the similarities in the two industries. Craft beer sales in America totaled $27.6 billion in 2018, while craft cheese sales totaled $4 billion. Experts tell VinePair why cheese doesn’t keep up with beer’s growth: cheese’s short lifespan (less than two months), greater risk of cheese mishandling by a distributor during the supply chain and the high price of artisan cheese. What can a cheese brand do? Experts advise increasing social media promotion. Craft beer has thrived on social media because people love seeing the hops being picked, brewers experimenting near the fermentation tank and the beer displayed in glassware. Craft cheese brands don’t self promote the same creation process, like a goat that made the milk or a family that runs the dairy farm. Cheese brands could also benefit from better merchandising, experts say. Beer labels are constantly and creatively changed and updated, but cheese labels remain the same for years.

Read more (VinePair)