By Maria Pilar Clark
Consumers are ready for roughage now that dietary fiber is an integral part of the newly revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Centuries ago, people relied on the most primitive form of “fiber optics,” otherwise known as optical communications or telegraphs, to communicate with one another. Technological advances were slow and results were not always accurate or timely. Today, food manufacturers face similar challenges as they continue to develop innovative ways to communicate to consumers the importance of fiber-rich foods.
There are two kinds of fiber — soluble and insoluble — and both have separate health benefits. Soluble fiber is digested by the body and can lower cholesterol levels. Insoluble fiber, however, simply passes through the intestinal tract and is not digested by the body. Diets high in insoluble fiber can help prevent constipation and protect against colon or breast cancer.
Fiber also can be incorporated into various applications with uses as a functional ingredient and as a means to increase fiber levels in products.
Fiberstar Inc. developed Citri-Fi, a unique, patented, all-natural food fiber made from fresh citrus pulp. The product mimics regular shortening in that it functions as a fat and transforms the properties of baked goods when added to existing formulas. In addition, Citri-Fi provides a laundry list of benefits. It reduces levels of trans and saturated fats, cuts calories and net carbs, adds dietary fiber, expands shelf life the “natural way,” and most importantly, doesn’t compromise taste.
“Functional fibers, such as Citri-Fi, can be used to improve the texture, mouthfeel or freshness of a product,” explains Brock Lundberg, vice president of Technology for Fiberstar, Inc.
“However, when the objective is to increase the fiber content of foods, there is a point at which a change in the mouthfeel or texture will be noticeable,” he adds, “but that point really depends on the usage level and the individual product.”
Bakers and other food producers can incorporate Citri-Fi into their existing formulations as a moisture-management tool since it has the ability to attract, bind and manage high levels of water up to 12 times its weight.
“High-viscosity hydrocolloids, gums and high water-holding capacity fibers, such as Citri-Fi, are generally used to provide a function as opposed to merely increasing the fiber content,” Lundberg explains.
“Functional fibers are often used for managing moisture, improving texture, gelling, emulsifying, controlling syneresis, thickening, fat replacement, etc. High water-holding capacity generally is not desired if the formulator’s objective is to only increase the fiber content of a product,” he adds.
If manufacturers are looking solely to increase fiber content in their products, Lundberg says, desirable fiber properties include a low water-holding capacity, low cost, bland flavor and neutral color.
Reformulating product is not necessarily as challenging as it sounds, although it does depend on the type of food system being used and the desired objective.
“Oat fiber is generally used within the snack food arena with several purposes, [but] primarily as a dietary fiber enhancer,” says Darren Schubert, vice president of sales and marketing, West Coast Operations, for Grain Millers, Inc. “However, it is also used as a processing aid in viscosity, water binding for shelf life, lipid binding for consistent flavor, or as an extender,” Schubert notes.
Minneapolis-based Cargill Health & Food Technologies is a developer, processor and marketer of science-based, healthy ingredients for food and dietary supplements worldwide, and is adding to fiber innovation with its latest introduction — Oliggo-Fiber Instant inulin — a natural source of dietary fiber.
Published scientific evidence regarding a placebo-controlled, randomized, double-blind study submitted to international authorities by Cargill’s inulin partner, Cosucra Group, supports the claim that Oliggo-Fiber aids digestive health. As a result, French food-safety authority, AFSSA, recently approved a prebiotic health claim for products containing native chicory inulin, specifically Cargill’s Oliggo-Fiber.
In addition, a university study completed in Belgium and published by FEMS Microbiology Ecology affirms that Oliggo-Fiber inulin delivers a digestive health benefit at a realistic dose level of 2.5 gm. twice daily.
According to the study, just two 2.5 gm., servings of the natural vegetable fiber found in items such as bars and bread have been shown to promote the growth of beneficial Bifidobacteria, a type of micro-organism known to curb the growth of harmful bacteria in the colon.
Heightened consumer interest in fiber has energized a movement dedicated to incorporating whole grains into the diet.
“Whole grains and new types of flours are one way for suppliers to deliver reasonably priced, good-tasting products,” Lundberg says.
“Low water-holding capacity fibers, such as resistant starch, and low-viscosity soluble fibers, such as inulin and resistant maltodextrin, allow for higher fiber levels to be in the formula while maintaining the taste in a product,” he adds.
For all fibers, cost is a key factor for manufacturers. According to Lundberg, the lower the cost of the fiber, the higher the probability it will be used. This makes functional fibers more attractive since they add benefits while maintaining or reducing cost.
According to Schubert, there are many fibers to choose from that cover a wide range of price levels. However, factors including flavor, nutrition panel labeling and water absorption may influence manufacturers more so than finances.
Schubert notes that inulin is an expensive option at $2 or more per lb., which provides 99% or more total dietary fiber (TDF), while oat fiber is a lower-cost solution in the $0.60 per lb. range with 90% TDF.
Consumers are demanding healthier products now that they are beginning to realize that their food feng shui is completely out of whack. In fact, more and more consumers are ditching sugar-laden high-fat foods in favor of products containing wholesome whole grains and fiber.
As a result, manufacturers are reformulating their products proactively to include increased levels of these in-demand ingredients and delivering them to market as soon as they can.
“Health groups such as the [American Medical Association], the American Heart Association, and the American Diabetes Association have played the most significant roles in educating consumers of all ages about food wellness,” says Lundberg. “However, the success of products re-engineered for improved wellness depends on their ability to maintain high quality while respecting costs.”
Fiberstar’s goal is to provide reformulated products that not only meet the standard of its control product group, but also equal or exceed it.
“Our belief is that consumers will gravitate to healthier products as long as they taste great while remaining affordable,” Lundberg adds.
An increased awareness about health and wellness coupled with a barrage of information from the media that is delving into the root causes of obesity, heart disease and early-onset diabetes is goading consumers to hop onto the fiber and whole-grain wagon train.
“Both are important in the diet, but whole grains bring many additional nutrients to the table,” says Judi Adams, president of the Grain Foods Foundation.
“Fiber has become more popular because grain food manufacturers wanted to get on the shopping lists of people on the Atkins and South Beach diets, so they added fiber to many of their products,” she adds.
According to Adams, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) is a big driver behind the whole-grain movement since it recommends that half the daily recommended intake of grains should come from whole grains. In addition, in 2002, The National Academy of Sciences recommended that consumers increase their fiber consumption from 28 gm. to 35 gm. a day. The DGA concurred with that recommendation, and as such, nutritionists are encouraging consumers to eat more fiber, especially in the form of fiber-rich foods.
“Fiber still has little appeal to teenagers, children and any adults under the age of 50. Therefore, the nutrition community is pushing foods that are healthful, and incidentally, high in fiber — fruits and vegetables and whole grains for all ages,” Adams says. “I think we are better off trying to make these foods attractive and tasty for the consumer and [should] be thankful for the nutritional benefits they provide. Most people eat foods, not nutrients.”
While manufacturers focus on making fiber-rich products palatable, ingredient developers are honing their technological expertise.
“Major technological advances [include] improvement of flavor, texture, color, odor of individual dietary fiber ingredients, modification of functionality and novel applications,” says Steve Young, tech advisor for Matsutani America and principal of Steven Young Worldwide.
“This is happening due to the natural transition of ‘low-carb’ foods into ‘high-fiber’ and ‘sugar-free’ foods. Carbohydrate-modified foods are ‘hot,’ and dietary fiber is a key component to manage to achieve novel applications,” he adds.
Fiber and whole grains are being presented as a means to make a lifestyle change more than anything else, straying far from their outdated past as a “regulator.” Both have evolved into healthy-trendy commodities and consumers are waiting in the wings for their fair share.
“Inclusion of higher levels of fiber in diets is being promoted as a true lifestyle change,” Young says. “New dietary fiber ingredients make all this happen while still being able to enjoy the unmodified appearance, color, flavor and texture of our favorite foods.”
As consumers continue to understand the benefits of a well-balanced diet including whole grains and soluble fiber, it is becoming easier for them to make permanent healthy-lifestyle changes.
“Consumers are tired of chasing easy diets that they learn later are harmful,” says Schubert. “This is no nonsense, and an obvious way of eating is easy to understand and easy to follow.”
There’s a brouhaha surrounding fiber these days, as health experts urge consumers of all ages to make fiber their food of choice. Scientific research points to fiber as a means to potentially prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and a virtual Pandora’s box of other ills and ails.
Fiber is not Gram’s daily bran supplement anymore either, nor is it a “regulation” sensation. Consumers are being introduced to its new image as a healthy, trendy ingredient that purports wellness.
What is it exactly? According to the John Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, fiber is a calorie-free, indigestible complex carbohydrate derivative that is derived from plants. Fruits and vegetables are typical sources that come to mind, and fiber also can be divided into two categories in terms of its effects on the body: insoluble fibers, which do not dissolve in water, and soluble fibers, which do. Each kind works differently and provides different health benefits.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, there are lots of natural, everyday places to find fiber and some are tastier than you might think. Insoluble fiber is bountiful in various fruits and vegetables, such as dried popcorn, brown rice and whole-grain products, including bread, cereal and pasta. Soluble fiber abounds in fruit such as apples, oranges, pears, peaches and grapes. Its legume counterparts include seeds, oat bran, dried beans, oatmeal, barley and rye. Make it fun too, by experimenting with exotic high-fiber, low-fat ethnic cuisines such as Indian or Middle Eastern.
When adding fiber to your diet, keep moderation in mind. Increasing fiber levels too quickly could result in bloating, abdominal pain and other unwanted gastrointestinal troubles. Add fiber gradually, building it up over time. How? Opt for fresh fruit and veggies with the skins on, eat whole-grain bread every day and as always, drink your daily eight. —Maria Pilar Clark