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Embracing Fiber

Fiber Fiber

New functional roles for fiber help expand the market for health benefits and product development.

Non-GMO Project

Generally speaking, it is well known that fiber consumption is crucial to one’s healthy diet. It can be broken down into two types—soluble and insoluble—both of which are necessary as a result of their various functions.

On one hand, soluble fiber dissolves in water as the name suggests, and can be found in foods such as oats, beans and fruits; insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, but is a component of wheat, vegetables and brown rice among others (nutritionmd.com).

According to the National Academy of Sciences, the average female American adult 50 or younger should be eating 25 grams of fiber daily (drops to 21 grams over age 50), while men should be at around the 38-gram mark (drops to 30 over age 50). Keeping this in mind, many individuals do not actually reach the recommended amount, creating a “fiber gap.”

“Whilst the health benefits of fiber have been promoted for many years, proactive interest in ensuring adequate intake amongst consumers appears to have waned and the ‘fiber gap’ persists,” said Elaine Vaughan, who leads scientific and regulatory affairs at Sensus (the Netherlands), in a white paper. “This could be due to a number of reasons, such as conflicting scientific evidence, confusion about different types of fiber, misconceptions about reduced taste of high fiber foods or focus on other health aspects of food.”

Although there have been obstacles, both ingredient suppliers and manufacturers are aware of these facts and are featuring these fiber ingredients in finished products, which contain health benefits and are supported by promising research.

Popular Ingredients

Fiber is continuing to garner attention, and a portion of its popularity can be credited to the clean label movement, which involves more transparency when it comes to food labels.

“There are a lot of different sources of fibers and high fiber ingredients that product developers can choose from,” said Alison Raban, certified food scientist with BI Nutraceuticals (BI) in California. “When considering food and beverage trends, the mainstream trend of clean label has provided growth to whole food ingredients rich in fiber. One such type of fiber ingredient that has experienced an increase in demand is concentrated forms of fruits and vegetables that still contain their intrinsic fiber, like powders and purees. Similar to whole grains, consumers find these sources of added fiber support their desire to increase the nutritional content of their foods with familiar and enjoyable ingredients. Another example of a whole food fiber is psyllium; its natural blend of insoluble and soluble fibers help boost the dietary fiber of finished products while satisfying consumer desire for whole food nutrition.”

In fact, BI developed its own form of psyllium fiber, Psyberloid, which has both soluble and insoluble fiber, according to Raban.

Scott Smith, vice president of Taiyo International in Minnesota, said he believes that consumers are growing tired of fibers with “rapid fermentation” that can result in bloating, cramping and excess gas.

As a result, he recommended Sunfiber as a solution. “Formulators appreciate that Sunfiber is tasteless, colorless and odorless,” Smith mentioned. “It blends invisibly without changing the texture of the food or beverage. Additionally, our finished product can easily stand out amongst the many bulking fibers that simply address constipation. Having a truly regulating prebiotic fiber with less of the uncomfortable side effects is one way that our customers are positioning their products against the competition.”

Uncertainty From FDA

From one perspective, the concept of fiber innovation somewhat differs, due to the role of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). On January 6, 2017, after an original November 22, 2016 statement, FDA announced on its website that it would provide extra time to comment on documents surrounding “whether certain fibers should be added to the definition of ‘dietary fiber’ published as part of the Nutrition Facts label final rule.”

The public had until February 13, 2017 to do so.

“It is clear that an unintended and undesirable side effect of the U.S. FDA’s recent review and consultation on its fiber definition and fiber labeling requirements, is that innovation in the fiber fortification area has somewhat stalled in the U.S., purely as a result of the uncertainty that this has caused,” noted Michael Bond, global product line leader of fibres with DuPont Nutrition and Health (England). “However, this has also encouraged manufacturers to consider the more functional aspects of fiber fortification and what nutritional claims can be facilitated through the addition of fiber—including reduction of sugar, calories or fat; reduced glycemic index/sustained energy release; increased satiety; improved structure in reduced sugar products; and improved taste and texture options. As such, it is the fibers that offer superior functionality that are continuing to enjoy success in the market.” Bond also alluded to DuPont’s Litesse polydextrose family of soluble dietary fibers, which “can be used to facilitate all of the aforementioned health and nutrition benefits (sugar/calorie reduction, prebiotic, fiber fortification) as well as functional and sensory benefits (taste, mouthfeel, bulking).” He added that they could also be utilized as ingredients in various forms such as in baking, bars, dietary supplements, beverages and more.

State of the Market

As previously mentioned by Bond, there may be misperceptions as to the true definition of fiber—Smith was in agreement.

“There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty related to the updated nutrition guidelines and fiber definition,” noted Smith. “While there are those in our industry that are claiming this new direction to be burdensome and unnecessary, we believe that fibers should deliver actual, clinically substantiated health benefits … The industry is also looking beyond cost to what’s best for their brands and for consumers, without having to deal with the negatives associated with a number of alternative fibers such as excess gas, bloating, cramping and loose stools.”

However, the market does present a promising outlook, especially in the field of prebiotics.

“We see a growing interest in the use of clinically substantiated fibers to address actual regularity (not just constipation), IBS, cholesterol, satiety/weight control,” Smith continued. “We are especially excited to finally see the recognition of the importance of proper prebiotics as well as a better understanding of the microbiome and the mind-gut connection. We believe that the next few years are going to be very exciting for true prebiotic fibers that have been proven to offer beneficial physiological effects.”

Despite issues surrounding its definition, fiber will also continue to gain popularity due to its potential for growth.

“Fiber ingredients,” said Raban, “have been on the radar of developers and formulators for some time now, not only for their nutritional benefits but also their product development benefits. They are always looking for optimal sources of fiber when developing new foods, beverages and supplements, so market growth is projected to continue. However, as an increasing number of consumers seek out clean label products and prefer whole food sources of nutrients, there is a shift in where developers and formulators look for new fiber ingredients. Presently, we are seeing the shift towards fiber-rich fruit and vegetable powders, pulses and seeds.”

Challenges & Research

On a more general note, fiber creates challenges from both a production and consumer perspective—this is due to various factors that can affect both the manufacturing process and customer.

“There are technical hurdles faced by all fibers, including solubility, stability (process and end product shelf life), viscosity impact, taste and texture, and in these cases, it is therefore the more functional fibers that are being favored by manufacturers today,” said Bond. “Certain fibers can also have a negative impact on intestinal comfort (causing gas, stomach gripes and in the worst case, transient diarrhea), and as such it is those fibers that are better tolerated than others in the gut that are generally more widely used.”

According to Raban, there is still plenty of new knowledge left to be discovered, especially when it comes to both the processing and consumer sides of the equation.

“New research is always being done on new forms of fiber, as well as ones already in the marketplace, generally with two different points of view,” she said. “One point of view deals with the processing side of fiber ingredients, which involves increasing yields and maximizing sustainability at every point of the supply chain. The other point of view deals with the nutritional side of fiber ingredients. The human body is a complex system and there is still so much we, as a society, do not fully understand related to the human diet including fiber, especially since there are varying sources of fiber. It seems as though there is always a need for more research, from academia as well as industry.” NIE