Probiotic microorganisms are promoted in a big way by the food industry with wide ranging claims regarding the benefits flowing out of consuming foods containing these bacteria regularly. It is true that the GI tract in human beings houses more than 500 strains of microbes, some considered good while a few can be pathogenic to varying extent. Delivering probiotic bugs to the intestinal area through food poses some logistical problems because of high acidic content of the stomach juice that can kill them. Probably the resident organisms that colonize the gut can multiply their number if substrates like milk and derived products are consumed abundantly and frequently. Freeze dried culture encapsulated for protection against stomach acidity is often resorted to under rehabilitation regime, especially after consumption of antibiotic medicines. The present trend in designing non-dairy products with high bacterial density capitalizes on the ability of the fiber to protect the live cells while traversing through the hostile environment in the stomach
"The growing interest in healthy food has widened the scope for probiotics. However, the viability of probiotic products in the food matrix depends both on the strain used and the characteristics of the food itself. The introduction of probiotic cultures into non-dairy products therefore remains a challenge for the functional food industry. The use of prebiotics, which selectively stimulate the growth of one or more bacteria in the colon, may facilitate the incorporation of probiotics into such foods. Food fibres consist of non-starch polysaccharides and are widely found in fruit, vegetables, cereals and legumes. Fibres can help reduce blood pressure, improve serum cholesterol levels and intestinal functions, and control weight. Some fibres also have prebiotic effects. Synbiotic products, which contain both probiotic and prebiotic ingredients, may increase the survival of probiotic bacteria under gastrointestinal conditions and help protect the probiotic during freeze drying".
Dietary fiber has other roles also as mentioned above and thousands of foods are now being formulated containing fiber from a variety of sources like fruits, vegetables, food grains and others. There are some species of bacteria that converts part of the dietary fiber into nutrients like vitamins, amino acids and essential fatty acids making them truly prebiotic substances of immense value to maintain good health. Where the industry is going wrong is making tall claims about the effect of probiotics forcing food safety authorities in the EU to come down heavily on such practices and health claims if and when made must be substantiated by scientific evidence. Consumers can heave a sigh of relief if products with dubious claims are weeded out of the market.