Consumers attention to healthy lifestyle and healthy eating is increasing, due to the renown impact of these on well-being and longevity. However, foods containing beneficial substances such as vitamins, fibres, and antioxidants (e.g. wholegrain cereals, vegetables, etc.) are often difficult and time consuming to prepare and cook, rendering them poorly appealing to people whom have to prepare and consume meals in short time. For these reasons, the formulation of products easy and enjoyable to consume (as bakery products) with the added value of beneficial substances, has increasing appeal on consumers. Within the substances recently confirmed as important for health, some are particularly suitable for bakery formulations, due to their taste and their chemical and physical characteristics. Some examples are following.
These are non-starchy polysaccharides composed by chains of glucose molecules. They are part of the soluble fibres family, and naturally present in several cereals (particularly abundant in barley and oats), but also present in the cell wall of some yeasts (e.g. Saccharomyces cerevisiae). Thanks to beta-glucans structure, they are able to form viscous solutions with water, inside the inner part of gastrointestinal tract, and they are then fermented in the terminal intestine part (colon). These fibres, if consumed in adequate quantity (at least some grams per day), can also have beneficial and significant effects such as:
- Decrease of blood cholesterol levels: thanks to their ability to block its absorption at intestinal level. This reduction leads to less frequent and probable cardiovascular diseases. This effect has been scientifically proven and therefore approved by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) as authorized health claim in 2012: this is an important recognition, since the EFSA panel on health claims is renown for being extremely strict. Mechanisms with which the betaglucans are able to reduce cholesterol absorption are more than one, among them the most important is probably the mechanical action given by the increased viscosity of intestinal content.
- Allergies reduction: a recent scientific study (1) has highlighted the possibility of hay-fever/pollen allergy reduction (one of the most widespread among population, with tens of millions of people affected around the World) in individuals consuming beta-glucans. The volutears, all affected by pollen allergy, have consumed for 4 weeks 250 mg daily of beta-glucans extracted from yeast, and showed an improvement of symptoms in 50% of the cases, compared to volunteers taking placebo.
- Immune system strengthening: another recent study (2) highlighted the possibility that beta-glucan consumption could increase the body ability to fight against pathogen microorganisms, with 25% reduction of incidence of colds, faster recovery, and faster symptoms disappearance in 15% of affected individuals. The observed population contained a mixture of ages, and all chosen individuals where particularly prone to respiratory tract infections.
- Decrease of blood glucose levels: this result has been obtained with a wheat and rye bread with added beta-glucans, bran and sour dough rich in lactic bacteria (3). The beneficial effect of this bread, despite the fact that it has been tested only on a small population of healthy volunteers, is promising especially for diets aimed at diabetic and overweight subjects.
These carbohydrates are also part of the soluble fibres family, since they are formed by small fructose chains: to be precise, “proper” FOS are those with 3 to 10 fructose units, while fructans are those with over 10 units. These fibres have prebiotic properties: their presence stimulates the proliferation of a beneficial intestinal flora, mainly composed by Byfidobacteria. Their consumption is particularly important for babies, and in fact breast milk is abundant in FOS: they guarantee a better intestinal equilibrium (including a barrier to pathogen bacteria proliferation thanks to pH lowering effect) and a better absorption of important minerals such as calcium and magnesium.