The aim of both prebiotic and probiotic functional food ingredients is to improve the health of consumers by selectively altering the composition and/or activity of microbial populations within the gastrointestinal tract. While the probiotic approach endeavors to directly deliver supplemental beneficial bacteria to the gut, prebiotics offer an alternative strategy. Rather than supplying an exogenous source of live bacteria, prebiotics aim to selectively stimulate the proliferation and/or activity of desirable bacterial populations already resident in the consumer's intestinal tract.

The prebiotic strategy offers a number of practical and theoretical advantages over modifying the intestinal microbiota using probiotics or antibiotics. This chapter aims to provide an overview of the prebiotic approach, modes of action, and an evaluation of their effectiveness in modulating intestinal microbial populations and providing health benefits to consumers. The production, properties and applications of prebiotics are outlined and likely future developments in prebiotics are discussed. However, before exploring the concept of modifying the intestinal microbiota using prebiotics, it is perhaps pertinent to first reflect briefly on why we might want to alter the composition and activity of the intestinal microbiota in the first place.

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