Dietary fiber is a vital component of a healthy diet. It imparts a wide range of health benefits and has been shown through research to support heart health, gastrointestinal health, diabetes, immune function and weight management. Organizations such as the American Dietetic Association (ADA), Chicago, IL, recommend adults eat 20-35 grams of fiber a day, however the average American barely consumes half of this amount.
According to the 2001 Fresh Trends Survey, 56% of U.S. consumers surveyed said that increasing their fiber intake was important to them. However, while many consumers know that fiber is important, they are still unsure as to what exactly fiber is and which types of fiber are best. These types of questions have left consumers confused, however, one thing that is certain is that the lack of fiber in the American diet is contributing to increases in obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Understanding the Importance of Fiber
Ingredients in foods that are good for the body are usually absorbed and used by it to function properly and stay healthy. Fiber, on the other hand, is different because it is not absorbed by the body and passes through the digestive system largely intact. Fiber comes from the components of plants, such as fruits, vegetables and grains, which the body does not digest. The two types of dietary fiber include soluble, which forms a gel when mixed with liquid, and insoluble, which does not. Both soluble and insoluble fibers are an important part of a healthy diet because they aid normal bowel function and help maintain regularity. However, it is soluble fiber that has been associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers, diabetes, digestive disorders and heart disease.
According to Rick Kaiser, senior sales and product manager, Van Drunen Farms, Momence, IL, producers of Nutrim™ Oat Bran, there is not a great deal of consumer awareness of the distinction between soluble and insoluble fiber. "As important as it is for people to increase their intake of soluble fiber, it has to be done slowly," he said. "Experts recommend adults eat 35 grams of fiber a day, however, most adults are woefully short of that goal, eating only one-third of the amount recommended for optimal health. People should just first double or triple their total fiber intakes. The resulting health impact will set the stage for advancing the story of soluble fibers."
Fiber is an extremely important component of the diet because of the major role it plays in contributing to gut health, which is considered to be the foundation of health and wellness, according to Jim Low, general manager, GTC Nutrition Company, Golden, CO, makers of Natureal® oat bran concentrate and NutraFlora® short-chain fructooligosaccharide (scFOS™) prebiotic fibers. "Overall, the inclusion of fiber in the diet has many nutritional benefits, all of which support a healthy lifestyle. However, the importance of fiber to a healthy diet is not well known, and stereotypes about fiber and its benefits have existed for decades," he said. "Contrary to popular belief, fiber actually tastes good and does much more than simply maintain healthy regularity. It also contributes to superior mineral absorption, reinforces immunity, supports a low carbohydrate lifestyle, maintains healthy cholesterol levels, stabilizes body weight and promotes healthy digestive function." He continued, "Fortunately, the stereotypes are slowly fading and consumer awareness about the many benefits of fiber is increasing. However, for the fiber story to advance, consumers must become more comfortable in knowing that they have probiotics, or healthy bacteria, in their gut, and that these bacteria must be nourished with prebiotics to function properly and maintain optimal health."
While fiber may not be a glamorous ingredient, it has always maintained a positive image, according to Gregory Stephens, vice president, Sales and Marketing, Nurture, Inc., Devon, PA, suppliers of OatVantage™ and Nurture™ 1500, which are both derived from oats. "From an efficacy standpoint, there is clear agreement among scientists and healthcare professionals that certain fibers impart specific health benefits and consumers are increasingly becoming more aware of these benefits. For instance, 54% of consumers are aware of the link between oats and heart health, according to research conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI)," he said. "And from a safety standpoint, there is no controversy or confusion about fiber. There is broad recognition of the strong value of fiber in the daily diet."
Fiber Fortification Trends & Issues
A number of recent developments have contributed to a renewed emphasis on and awareness of the benefits of fiber in consumer health. First was the Food & Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), Washington, D.C. issuance of new daily recommended intakes (DRIs) for fiber, which significantly increased the target amount of fiber in the daily diet to 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. And ADA, in addition to other organizations, has cited the "significant impact" that fiber can have on the prevention of obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
"Publicity around these and other recommendations for increased fiber in the diet has prompted food and beverage formulators to embrace new fiber ingredients and incorporate fiber into a broader array of food and beverage products," commented Nurture's Mr. Stephens. "At the same time, the rise of the low-carbohydrate diet, with its restrictions on what kinds of fiber can be included in the diet, has also challenged formulators to find new fibers and ways to incorporate fiber into foods, beverages and dietary supplements."
The market appears to be healthy, and despite the fact that the low-carb trend is in its infant stages, it has grown at a rapid rate and appears to be accelerating, according to GTC's Mr. Low. "Market producers have had to customize their formulations and their claims to attract attention as a result of the low-carb trend. In order to do this, market producers are turning to fiber, as it can contribute in many ways to such custom formulations and claims. Fiber has long been considered one of the basic components of a healthy diet and its popularity in food and beverage formulations, including low-carb products, is steadily growing," he said. "Now entering its next phase, fiber has started to appear in processed foods and fast food restaurant chains for today's dieting consumer who, albeit more health conscious, is still demanding convenience food. As this phase continues, functional food and beverage marketers will have even more responsibility to explain the many nutritional benefits of fiber."
Discussing the low-carb trend in further detail, Rhonda Witwer, business development manager-Nutrition, National Starch, Bridgewater, NJ, said right now consumers are confused about the distinction between "good" carbohydrates and "bad" carbohydrates. "Low-carb diets tend to be low in fiber because a lot of the products that would normally provide fiber are being avoided because of their carbohydrate content," she said. "However, consumers are becoming more sophisticated and the low-carb trend is in the process of switching very strongly to the distinction of the kinds of carbohydrates included in the diet, moving toward "better-for-you" carbohydrates as consumers realize that fiber is a vital component of the diet."
In an attempt to clarify the distinction between "good" carbohydrates and "bad" carbohydrates, Ms. Witwer said National Starch has submitted a Citizen's Petition to the FDA asking that it modify carbohydrate content labeling on foods. The petition calls for separating dietary fiber from the total carbohydrates on nutrition labels, a process that would begin differentiating digestible and glycemic carbohydrates from non-digestible, non-glycemic carbohydrates on the Nutrition Facts panel. National Starch based its recommendations on the NAS's Macronutrients Report as well as the Codex Alimentarius Guidelines on Nutrition Labeling. The NAS report differentiates digestible carbohydrates from non-digestible carbohydrates in its evaluation of the physiological impact of carbohydrates and fiber. The Codex Alimentarius Guidelines, which have been adopted in most countries throughout the world, have defined carbohydrates as "available" carbohydrates, which do not include fiber.
The key functions of gums in functional food and beverage applications are the same as for traditional food applications, including thickening, gelling, stabilization, mouthfeel, suspending and emulsification. In other words, gums texturize. Now that consumers are learning about the need for soluble dietary fiber, gums are also being added to boost the fiber content of finished foods, according to Frances Bowman, marketing manager, TIC Gums, Belcamp, MD, suppliers of TIC Pretested® gum systems. "Being 85% soluble fiber on a dry weight basis, hydrocolloids such as gum acacia and guar gum are now being used when formulating foods with lower carbohydrate counts."
Sharrann Simmons, vice president, Colloides Naturels, Inc., Bridgewater, NJ, makers of Fibregum™ said that gum acacia has been around for thousands of years. In fact, she said, gums were first used as glue by the Egyptians to wrap mummies. "Gums have very good adhesive qualities and have been used for many years as emulsifiers and as film coating agents," she said. "Over the past five years, there has been an increased awareness and recognition of gum arabic products as fiber sources. They've always contained high levels of fiber, but there was never as much interest in fiber as there is now, which in large part is due to the low carbohydrate trend."
Meeting the challenges of getting functional ingredients into food or beverage systems is where stabilizers/ hydrocolloids are most beneficial, according to Susan Gurkin, ASC director, Degussa Food Ingredients, Business Line Texturant Systems, Atlanta, GA. "Hydrocolloids, in the most basic sense, texturize systems. Depending on the gum chosen, they form a closely interwoven network that provides a distinct tactile perception ranging from a slightly viscous fluid to a very firm gel," she said. "The low-carb and zero trans fatty acid movement is leading to more healthful, balanced formulations. It is in these types of formulations that hydrocolloids can go a long way in contributing to texture when the carbohydrates and/or fats are reduced. The same can be said for beverages because hydrocolloids provide body and mouthfeel to reduced/no-sugar-added and reduced-fat dairy beverages."
A wide array of gums also come from a variety of botanical sources, including tree exudates, seeds, seaweeds and beet/corn sugar. It is important to know the intended use and sometimes the combination of ingredients being used with a gum, as well as the manufacturing conditions, in order to select the right gum, according to Shirley Christian, vice president, Frutarom USA, North Bergen, NJ, which offers a full spectrum of gum ingredients. "Often one gum does not do the job and, typically, a gum blend will offer synergistic and complementary effects," she explained.
Ms. Christian also said that food manufacturers have expressed renewed interest in water-soluble gums as consumers are becoming increasingly health conscious. "Gums do not metabolize in the body and thus do not add to the caloric count of foods; they provide bulk, control mouthfeel and the texture of food products," she said. "Gums also combine with relatively large volumes of water, thus enabling low calorie foods to impart a sense of fullness. The high soluble dietary fiber content of gums also contributes to good health, especially in low-carb foods and beverages where gums offer useful functionalities to these products. Gums, such as guar, locust bean gum, xanthan and carrageenan, can be used as fat replacers and the benefits of guar gum are well documented in lowering cholesterol."
Most starches are digested and absorbed into the body through the small intestine, but some resist digestion and pass through to the large intestine where they act like dietary fiber to improve bowel health. This type of starch is called resistant starch. It has been relatively recently, within the last 10 years or so, that the first line of resistant starch was introduced by National Starch. The company's Hi-maize™ and Novelose® brands of resistant starches are derived from identity-preserved, non-GMO, high amylose varieties of corn and they test as insoluble dietary fiber according to official AOAC methods. At the present time, more than 120 nutritional studies have been published on the health benefits of resistant starches from high amylose corn, according to the company.
Within the market, resistant starches are used as a fiber source in baked goods, pasta, snacks, cereals, nutritional bars and other foods. Discussing the functional benefits of resistant starch, National Starch's Ms. Witwer said that unlike traditional fibers, resistant starches have tremendous advantages because they don't impact the taste and texture of foods like traditional fibers. "We call it 'the invisible fiber' because people can't tell that it's in the food, such as white bread, pasta, snacks and cakes.
Beyond the functional benefits of resistant starch, Ms. Witwer also discussed the wide range of health benefits. "As a dietary fiber, resistant starches deliver benefits traditionally identified with fiber including increased regularity and lower bowel pH," she said. "As a prebiotic fiber, Hi-maize and Novelose positively impact digestive and gut health. Studies have confirmed that they increase the beneficial bacteria in the gut and suppress the harmful bacteria and pathogens."
Regarding energy management, when Hi-maize is utilized to replace flour in foods, it lowers the impact of that food on blood sugar, explained Ms. Witwer. "In other words, it lowers the glycemic response. This is one of the primary features enabling Hi-maize to be used in foods for the low-carb market. This diet states that significantly lowering and controlling your blood sugar levels results in greater control of your appetite, resulting in less food consumed and weight loss," she said. "However, the implications of blood sugar control go far beyond weight control. By avoiding wide swings in blood sugar, and consequently blood insulin, people feel better through the day and don't experience energy highs and energy crashes."