a1 Food Microbial Sciences Unit, School of Food Biosciences, The University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading RG6 6AP, UK
Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that target certain components within the microbiota of the human large intestine. Efficient prebiotics need to have a specific fermentation therein and thereby have the ability to alter the faecal microflora composition towards a more ‘beneficial’ community structure. This should occur by the stimulation of benign or potentially health promoting genera but not the harmful groups. Because of their positive attributes bifidobacteria and lactobacilli are the most frequent target organisms. Both inulin and oligofructose have been demonstrated to be effective prebiotics. This has been shown through both in vitro and in vivo assessments in different laboratories. Because of their recognised prebiotic properties, principally the selective stimulation of colonic bifidobacteria, both inulin and oligofructose are increasingly used in new food product developments. Examples include drinks, yoghurts, biscuits and table spreads. Because of the recognised inhibitory effects that bifidobacteria can exert against gut pathogens, one of the most important aspects of prebiotic ingestion is fortification of the gut flora to resist acute infections.