It's no secret that the American diet has been severely devoid of dietary fiber for decades. Americans consume about half of the daily Dietary Reference Intakes: 38g for males and 25g for females. Interestingly, it’s something we're well aware of – recent Tate & Lyle research found that 47 percent of consumers say they need more fiber in their diet. Without sufficient fiber, digestion and absorption of nutrients is stymied, and cholesterol and glucose levels may be negatively affected.
"It's the one macronutrient for which we fall short of our daily needs," said Steven Young, Ph.D., principal of consulting firm Steven Young Worldwide, and the North American Technical Advisor to FIBERSOL-2. "On top of that, all the recent recommendations are trying to get the daily value of dietary fiber bumped up over the current daily value. I call it the fiber gap, and it’s only getting larger."
This gap is about more than healthy digestion. A recent study published February in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that dietary fiber may reduce the risk of deathfrom cardiovascular, infectious and respiratory diseases. The study found that those who consumed the highest amount of fiber were 22 percent less likely to die over a nine-year period compared to people who consumed the least amount of fiber.
Thankfully, the days of manufacturing unpleasant-tasting fiber products are over. Applications have jumped from insoluble forms of high-fiber cereals and baked goods into invisible, soluble additions in beverages and dairy. Technological developments have made it more economical to produce these high-fiber products minus the awkward colors, tastes and textures.
"Consumers don’t know the difference between soluble fibers and insoluble fibers. For them, they just want fiber in their diet," said Pashen Black, Tate & Lyle's marketing communications manager for the Americas. Tate & Lyle regularly performs consumer research on its PROMITOR Resistant Starch and Soluble Corn Fiber.
Soluble knows best
It's the soluble fibers that provide the greatest opportunity for suppliers and manufacturers to close the "fiber gap" with functional foods and beverages. Soluble fibers are cheaper than insoluble fibers, can be used at lower rates and can achieve the same mouthfeel in a product, said Young.
Soluble fiber, also known as prebiotic or viscous fiber, is fermented in the colon into useful byproducts that aid digestion. Probiotics ferment the prebiotic fiber, so formulations should consider the presence of probiotics in the colon for maximum effect.
Inulins, or oligosaccharides, are a popular soluble fiber known for their use in replacing sugar or fat. In addition to making a fiber claim, products that use inulin have the advantage of appealing to diabetics and those interested in weight loss and weight management.
BENEO's all-natural inulin and oligofructose ingredients, derived from chicory, have been widely used in the food industry over the past two decades, driven by the growing public awareness of the diet and health link, said Joseph O’Neill, executive vice president of sales and marketing for BENEO. The company has seen ongoing interest in using inulin and oligofructose in dairy formulations to replace fat and sugar. When added to baked goods, these fibers increase shelf life and provide a new range of marketing opportunities. "Bread, for example, can be positioned as prebiotic with the benefits of helping your body to produce more good bacteria," said O'Neill.
Fiber has also gone organic. BENEO recently introduced Orafti L58 Organic, a liquid, organic fructo-oligosaccharide (FOS) that meets the National Organic Program certification for marketing in the U.S. "Worldwide, the value of organic packaged food has doubled over the past six years, and the main region of growth is North America," said O'Neill.
Finding novel uses for fiber
While fiber is catching on in U.S., the Europeans and the Japanese are ahead of North Americans in terms of fortifying foods with soluble fiber, said Steve Gallo, general manager, food and beverage ingredient division of AHD International. "Most of the world has figured out that emptying out the colon more frequently is better for your health," he said. "We’re still thinking, how can we get more fiber in our breakfast?"
Three years ago, AHD was pursuing appropriate fiber health claims. Now, they've moved from "just getting people fiber" to helping them lose or maintain weight, have healthier digestive systems overall and maintain their blood sugar levels, said Gallo. AHD's inulin fiber is from the agave plant.
Another novel fiber that provides additional health benefits is flaxseed. Glanbia Nutritional's BevGradis a finely milled flaxseed-derived ingredient that can be formulated in drinks, such as smoothies and weight management beverages. In addition to fiber content, the ingredient is rich in ALA omega-3s and phytoestrogens. Its extremely fine texture makes the ingredient suitable for peanut butter and granola bars, said Marilyn Stieve, business development manager, flax, for Glanbia.
While fibers with added benefits such as these can offer new ways to differentiate a functional food and beverage product, it all comes back to digestive health.
"It seems the whole digestive health area may become linked to fiber," said Deb Schulz, product manager for Cargill's soluble fiber Oliggo-Fiber Inulin. "People say, 'I understand fiber's good for me. But what does fiber do?' And if you start looking into it, most of the things fiber does for you are related to digestive health. The question is: As fiber is and remains important, is it going to be a key component of the digestive health space?"
Time – and gut health – will tell.
Defining fiber and making claims
Until recently, the fiber industry had its fair share of confusion, beginning with regulation. Numerous methods were used to determine fiber content and manufacturers made various label claims. Innovation, it seems, always has its pain points. "If you had a new, novel dietary fiber and there wasn’t an approved analytical method to accurately and precisely determine the dietary fiber content of foods with that ingredient,then you couldn’t make any kind of claim on it," said Steven Young, Ph.D., principal of consulting firm Steven Young Worldwide.
Last year, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) announced a general definition and analytical approach for fiber. Fiber is now defined as: 1) naturally occurring edible carbohydrate polymers 2) carbohydrate polymers obtained from food raw material by physical, enzymatic or chemical means, and 3) synthetic carbohydrate polymers. These carb polymers must have 10 or more monomeric units, and it's up to national authorities on whether to include those with three to nine monomeric units.
"What’s causing all the controversy are the really good, high-tech fiber sources that are making it possible to put dietary fiber into foods that have never had fiber in them before," said Young.
Think milk, slushies, nutrition bars, ice cream and yogurt.
These new, novel dietary fibers may not have health claims attached to them yet. Sure, there are nutrient and structure-function claims, but be carefulnot to imply that any given food or ingredient in that food mitigates a disease. Doing so will increase regulatory risk. "How such structure-function claims are worded and supported are critical," said Young.
Fiber for meat?
Unilever, Kraft, Oscar Meyer – all are using soluble fiber in creative ways, including as water binders in their products. Using natural, healthy soluble fibers to replace phosphates allows food producers to retain moisture in meat after cooking. AHD International's LuraLean, obtained from the Amorphophallus propol plant grown in Japan, is one such fiber. As it swells with water it can expand up to 200 times its original size. It also has been used to reduce breakage in foods, replace fat and bind with cholesterol.
The fiber is added to ground meat applications in the form of a USDA-approved Conjac flour mixed with water. "It’s so little fiber that it’s not changing anything about the sensory aspects of the meat," said Steve Gallo, general manager, food and beverage ingredient division of AHD International.
The ingredient recently benefited from an EFSA ruling that upheld the satiety and weight management claims approved for Chonijac lucamanen. "EFSA maintained that if a consumer takes this fiber, 1g with water 30-40 minutes before a meal, the consumer will eat less," said Gallo. As a result of the ruling, AHD has seen increased business with big global players.