'Friendly' germs, probiotics are all the rage among consumers

By , 5 February 2007 09:51

‘Friendly’ germs, probiotics are all the rage among consumers

Move over oat bran, Echinacea and green tea.

Get ready to make shelf space for probiotics, the latest natural product to grab the health-minded consumer’s attention and pocketbook.

Long popular in Europe and Japan, probiotics are friendly living microorganisms that promote the growth of the good bacteria in our gut, helping us digest and absorb food and nutrients, as well as keep things movin’ through.

According to the folks at Dannon, San Antonio is in need of some help in the digestive department: the Alamo City ranked sixth in its Activia Most Irregular Cities survey.

But are friendly bacteria the answer? And are they worth the extra price?

Judging by their growing acceptance and use in the United States, consumers certainly believe they are.

According to the Nutrition Business Journal, sales of supplements containing probiotics (which is how most probiotics are sold in this country) grew from $100 million in 1997 to $243 million in 2005 — a jump of 143 percent.

And, more foods enhanced with probiotics — from yogurt to breakfast cereal to granola bars — are entering the marketplace, often at a premium price. Yogurts fortified with probiotics, for example, can cost 20 percent to 25 percent more than regular yogurt.

Whether popped as a pill or spooned from a carton, these products are promoted with claims that range from the legitimate (treating diarrhea) to the outlandish (giving you a flat stomach).

“Consumers are starting to hear about probiotics and (that) somehow they’re good for you,” says David Schardt, senior nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Food manufacturers are always looking for the latest thing to try to get people to buy their product.”

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