Exploring the Gut Health Trend

April 08, 2019

Gut health is connected with a slew of conditions, including weight loss, sleeping and depression. Is it any wonder that so many consumers are fixated on digestive health?

No need to bust a gut trying to get caught up on this mega trend—we will unpack gut health, examine how consumers view food as medicine and delve into probiotics and prebiotics in this article.

Unpacking Gut Health

Consumers show a strong interest in gut health. There was a 350% increase in “best gut health” Google searches from 2017 to 2018.

When asked what health benefits they are interested in getting from their food, consumers rated digestive health in their top 5 interests, according to the 2018 Food and Health Survey from International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC).

About 9 in 10 Americans over 50 rated digestive health as having the fifth biggest impact on their food choices in the IFIC’s Nutrition Over 50 survey. Survey participants also named digestive health as an important health topic to them.

Why is gut health on the minds of so many? As many as about 8 in 10 consumers have suffered from a digestive health ailment. Between 60 to 70 million people are affected by digestive diseases, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimates.

What digestive health ailments are afflicting consumers?

34% of households suffer from acid reflux/heartburn

50 million Americans are lactose intolerant

6% of all U.S. adults are diagnosed with ulcers

30 to 40 million Americans experience Irritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms

Up to 65% of people 85 and older suffer from diverticulitis and an estimated 5% of people under 40 have it

Food as Medicine

Food isn’t just a means to silence a grumbling stomach. 45% of all U.S. households, or 47 million households, use food to manage their health issues.  Almost half of all Americans perceive their primary food store as their ally to help them achieve their health and wellness goals.

There is a growing interest in functional foods and beverages, which are made with ingredients specifically for a health benefit beyond nutrition. Functional food and beverage revenue is expected to increase from $300 billion in 2017 to over $440 billion by 2022.

Consumers shop for products with functional benefits across the store, checking both ingredients and products that address their needs. Some common functional benefits that consumers look for include a source of energy, protein, anti-aging, preventing disease, boosting the immune system, improving cardiovascular health, bone health, other specific health considerations and treating specific ailments.

Millennials are often credited with driving the growing interest in health and wellness. They do have a unique approach to their health. Just 61% of Millennials see a primary care physician compared to 80% of Baby Boomers who see a primary care physician. Millennials take a DIY approach to their health—they tend to distrust pharmaceuticals and prefer to seek out information online for themselves.

Which gut-friendly foods/ingredients are consumers looking for? We could fill pages detailing this, so we’ll highlight some of the most popular in this list:

Fermented Beverages

kombucha, fermented juices

Fiber-Rich Foods

legumes, chia and flax seeds

Fermented Foods

sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh (fermented soy product)


miso soup and miso as in ingredient (miso mayonnaise, for example)


Kefir (drinkable yogurt)


On the Prebiotic/Probiotic Train

Prebiotics are a growing component in the gut health boom. Prebiotics are what fuels probiotics. They are reported to have multiple health benefits, including helping to maintain a barrier against harmful bacteria from entering the gut.

Prebiotics are on the minds of U.S. consumers—29% are aware of the link between prebiotics and health digestion. There is a projected 44% increase in this awareness through 2025. Almost 1 in 2 consumers associate prebiotics with digestive health.

As consumers’ interest expands, so does the prebiotic market. The global prebiotic market is projected to grow at an annual rate of 10.4% through 2023.

Probiotics have been on the public’s radar longer than prebiotics. That could be why more consumers associate probiotics with health than prebiotics—60% of U.S. consumers perceive foods with probiotics as healthy.

Millennial shoppers are the primary demographic driving demand for probiotics. And women are more likely to perceive probiotics as healthy than men.

Like the prebiotic market, the probiotic market is on an upward growth trajectory. Probiotics are projected to be a $57.2 billion market by 2022.

Probiotic products populate store aisles—they have appeared in fruit juice, pet food and gluten-free brownies. These products with probiotic claims experienced sales growth:

Refrigerated teas with probiotic claims experienced 80% sales growth

Vitamins/Supplements with probiotic claims experienced 26% sales growth

Yogurt with probiotic claims experienced 3% sales growth sales growth

Customers with ailments are more likely to say that probiotics are important to them (and 20% of all Americans say that probiotics are important to them). How strongly “ailment shoppers” feel about probiotics varies by malady—here’s how many customers with these conditions think probiotics are important:

37% Gluten Sensitivity

2.6% of all households have gluten sensitivity

29% Constipation

6.7% all households experience constipation

29% Psoriatic Arthritis

1.2% all households have psoriatic arthritis

27% Autoimmune Disorder

2.5% all households have an autoimmune diagnosis

>26% Irritable Bowel Syndrome

7.3% all households experience IBS

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