Prebiotics are non-digestible ingredients that are thought to promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria – as opposed to probiotics, which are live microorganisms thought to promote intestinal health. But Health Canada has determined that the use of the term “prebiotic” constitutes an implied health claim, as do related descriptions, such as “stimulate the growth of friendly intestinal microflora” or “promotes healthy/beneficial bacteria in the large intestine”.
According to a draft guidance document, manufacturers using prebiotic ingredients, such as inulin or oligosaccharides, will have to meet three specific criteria in labeling and advertising in order to still use the term.
Firstly, companies would only be able to use the term, or similar representations, if “a specific and measurable health benefit is demonstrated in humans” and is accompanied by a statement detailing the health benefit.
Secondly, the term could only be used when a change in gut bacterial composition has been demonstrated in humans. And thirdly, the health benefit detailed in advertising or on-pack must be attributed to the change demonstrated in gut bacterial composition or activities.
“Showing a change in gut bacterial composition or activities, without demonstrating a health benefit, is insufficient, in itself, to support a prebiotic claim,” the document says.
Datamonitor product launch analytics director Tom Vierhile said last year that use of prebiotics is growing in food and drink as manufacturers used them to increase fiber, reduce calories, fat or sugar, or boost satiety, but few were emphasizing their prebiotic effects front of pack. According to Datamonitor figures, prebiotic claims in the United States peaked in 2008, with 23 new prebiotic product launches, and dipped to 16 new product launches in 2010.
Further guidance on substantiation of health claims in Canada is available by clicking here.