The role of proper nutrition on overall health and well-being is well documented, leading more consumers to seek functional food and beverage products made with recognizable, functional ingredients that address specific dietary needs. Data from the International Food Information Council’s (IFIC) 2018 Food & Health Survey found at least 80 percent of consumers rank vitamin D, fiber and whole grains as the top healthiest nutrients they look for when shopping for food.1
However, good intentions often fall by the wayside. Case in point: fiber. Americans consistently fall far below the recommended daily intake of 25 g of fiber, which is why the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) labeled it as a shortfall nutrient that poses a public health risk (along with vitamin D, calcium, potassium and iron for premenopausal women). 2
In the United States, the recommended dietary fiber intake is 14 g/1,000 kcal. For an average adult, this means a daily intake of 25 g for women or 38 g for men; however, most Americans only consume about half of the recommended intake (13.5 g and 18 g, respectively), according to the Calorie Control Council.
This “fiber gap” also was addressed in May 2016 when FDA released its updated Nutrition Facts label for packaged food and beverages sold in the United States to reflect new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease. The sweeping overhaul was the first in 20 years, and included FDA’s first evidence-based definition of “dietary fiber” and an increase of its daily reference value (DRV) from 25 g to 28 g. Food manufacturers must comply with the new labeling rules no later than Jan. 1, 2022.
Defining (and Redefining) Dietary Fiber
Prior to 2016, food and beverage manufacturers could declare synthetic or isolated fibers as dietary fiber on the label, even if they did not have a physiological effect beneficial to human health. The 2016 evidence-based definition allows naturally occurring fibers in fruit, vegetables and whole grains to be considered fiber, as well as seven other isolated (i.e., extracted from plant sources) or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates (NDCs) or synthetic fibers—beta-glucan soluble fiber, psyllium husk, cellulose, guar gum, pectin, locust bean gum and hydroxypropylmethylcellulose—that are well-recognized by the scientific community for their physiological benefits.
In March 2018, FDA issued final guidance explaining how it evaluates whether an ingredient meets its regulatory definition of dietary fiber. In a change from the draft science review guidance, FDA now considers evidence from studies with subjects who have a disease associated with the beneficial physiological effect of interest (e.g., lowering blood sugar and/or insulin levels) in considering whether the research supports a finding that an NDC may have a beneficial effect in “healthy” individuals who do not have the disease. Reducing the rise in blood sugar or glucose levels after people consume a food or beverage would be an example of a physiological effect that is beneficial to human health. FDA clarified that for a study to assess whether an NDC reduces blood glucose and/or insulin levels, the NDC should be added to a food or beverage containing sugar or starch, and should not replace any sugars or starches since those refined carbohydrates cause the rise in blood glucose levels. It is also important that the NDC is added to a food or beverage with the same amount of sugar or refined carbohydrate as in the food or beverage that is provided to the study’s control group.
Based on review of the strength of scientific evidence from citizen petitions submitted to the agency supporting the claim of beneficial physiological effects of these ingredients, FDA in June 2018 announced the approval of eight additional NDCs that meet its definition of dietary fiber. The new fibers include mixed plant cell wall fibers (apple fiber, bamboo fiber, cotton hull fiber, cottonseed fiber, oat hull fiber, insoluble pea fiber, pea hull fiber, soluble pea fiber, potato fiber, rice bran fiber, soy fiber, sugar beet fiber, sugar cane fiber and wheat fiber), arabinoxylan, alginate, inulin and inulin-type fructans, high amylose starch (resistant starch 2), galactooligosaccharide, polydextrose and resistant maltodextrin/dextrin. The new guidance allows these fibers to be counted in the calculation of total fiber per serving for declaration on the Nutrition Fact label, as well as the Supplement Facts label. In March 2019, FDA added “cross linked phosphorylated RS4” to the existing list of isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates that FDA intends to propose to be added to the definition of dietary fiber.
Fibers offer an array of health benefits, including improved digestive health, support for weight management, improved satiety and prebiotic benefits to support a healthy gut, underlining the importance of adequate intake. Fiber-enriched foods help bridge the fiber gap, while delivering excellent taste and additional metabolic benefits. Fortunately, product developers have a range of ingredients that not only bulk up fiber content, but also help to reduce sugar, improve mouthfeel lost from fat reduction, and extend flavor and sweetness.
“General consumer awareness toward fiber benefits and its relation to digestive health and general well-being is growing, especially fermentable fibers like inulin-type fructans,” said Eszter Heijnen, sales manager, Sensus, noting their “link to healthy microbiome development will be one of the most exciting topics for the coming years.”
It’s All About the Microbiome
Consumers have become increasingly familiar with the human microbiome and “good” bacteria, and the digestive health category nearly tripled in size in the last decade to reach US$2.96 billion in 2018, with sales predicted to achieve $3.9 billion by 2021, according to Nutrition Business Journal (NBJ). While probiotics have become commonplace in food and beverage products, prebiotics are becoming rising stars when it comes to supporting gut health.3,4
Patrick Luchsinger, marketing manager - nutrition, Ingredion Inc., said prebiotics are gaining in popularity among consumers because there is broader understanding of how the beneficial bacteria in the gut ferments prebiotic fibers to help to support digestive and immune systems. “Consumers are also increasingly aware of how a number of factors such as stress, antibiotics and poor diet can reduce the population of good bacteria, causing bacterial imbalance,” he added. “There is more understanding on the gut microbiome, and this is where prebiotics can help.”
Prebiotics play an important role in the human gut microbiome, supporting a holistic approach to wellness by shifting microbial and metabolic signatures. Prebiotics serve as a fuel source for good bacteria, helping them to proliferate and crowd out pathogenic bacteria, while increasing the absorption of minerals, like calcium, by lowering luminal pH to an optimal level and enhancing their absorption by the body.
Derived from chicory root fibers, inulin and oligofructose are prebiotic fibers that offer a sweet taste as well as digestive health benefits. They also serve as a bulking ingredient to replace texture and function of sugar, while providing a clean label option. With half the calories of sucrose, chicory root can be used in a wide range of applications from dairy, cereal and baked goods to confectionery, supplements, chocolate and beverages.
Short-chain fructooligosaccharides (scFOS) (as NUTRAFLORA®, from Ingredion) are prebiotic fibers that promote digestion5,6 support immune health5 and support increased calcium absorption7. Luchsinger said there is more than 20 years of research and over 34 human studies and several in vitro studies demonstrating the beneficial effects of scFOS on the digestive and immune health of the humans.
Kyle Krause, product manager, functional fiber and carbohydrates, North America, BENEO, said consumers associate digestive health, regularity and feeling fuller for longer as the main benefits provided by fiber. He said more than 30 studies have demonstrated BENEO’s chicory root fiber (as Orafti® Inulin and Orafti® oligofructose) consumption influences gut microbiota composition and results in higher counts of Bifidobacteria, supporting digestive health as well as bowel regularity8.
In addition to supporting digestive health and wellness9, Krause said chicory root also offers several benefits including supporting blood sugar management support,10 and support of inner resistance.11
Guar fiber (as Sunfiber, from Taiyo) has been demonstrated to promote regularity of bowel movements,12 helps promote the beneficial bacteria in the gut,13 and helps improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).14
“One of the most surprising and well-studied discoveries is the role of prebiotics in enhancing calcium absorption to improve bone mineral density,”15 said Nicole Durch, senior technical service specialist, Cargill. “Since the early 2000s, researchers have been demonstrating how prebiotics can help boost calcium absorption.”16,17,18,19
Studies have also focused on the impact of prebiotics in the early markers of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. For example, scientists in France and Belgium, using an original mouse model, demonstrated that inulin-type fructans may improve host endothelial dysfunction, an early key marker of cardiovascular disease (CVD), through changes in the gut microbiota.20 “These findings, if replicated in humans, could support positioning prebiotics as a novel dietary approach to the management of metabolic disorders related to cardiovascular disease,” Durch noted.
Almonds have long stood out as a nutrient-packed superfood that can fill a variety of needs and keep pace with the latest consumer trends. “Currently, we are seeing a lot of interest in almond ingredients, such as almond flour and almond protein powder, as manufacturers increasingly look for fiber-rich alternatives they can leverage to create better-for-you versions of popular products or recipes,” said Jeff Smith, director of marketing, Blue Diamond Almonds Global Ingredients Division.
Comprised primarily of insoluble fiber, almond protein powder (as Blue Diamond Almond Protein Powder by Blue Diamond) is a good source of dietary fiber utilized for snack bars and fortified smoothies and shakes. “In addition to being gluten-free, Almond Protein Powder is dairy-free, soy-free and non-GMO (genetically modified organism), making it well suited for consumers with a range of dietary needs,” Smith added.
Almond and almond ingredients also can be go-to ingredients for consumers who adhere to a low-FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) diet, which provides many benefits for people with common digestive conditions, Smith said. In baked goods, almond flour (as Blue Diamond Almond Flour) is naturally gluten free and provides 3.5 g of fiber in every one-fourth-cup serving along with protein, calcium and vitamin E that are nutrients often lacking in baked goods.
Fiber’s Role in Sugar Reduction
Due to the global obesity epidemic, nearly all forms of sweeteners are under scrutiny. This heightened attention to sugar intake—coupled with consumer demand for ingredients that are natural, sustainable and healthful—is forcing brands to rethink ingredient selection and seek ingredients to reduce sugar. Also at issue is the new “Added Sugars” declaration required on the updated Nutrition Facts panel, which will encourage further innovation in reduced-sugar product development.
Chicory root fiber (as Oliggo-Fiber®, from Cargill) can be used in reduced-sugar products to provide functional properties such as helping to modulate the flavor of some high-intensity sweeteners and act as a bulking agent when removing sugar from a formulation. It provides a clean label, sugar reduction solution that doesn’t affect taste or texture.
“Because chicory root resists digestion, it adds bulk to a product with fewer calories than digestible carbohydrates and has a low impact on glycemic response,” said Taylor Halstead, product manager for specialty carbohydrates, Cargill. “In reduced-sugar baked goods, chicory root fiber also helps replace some of sugar’s functionality, contributing to browning, crumb development, texture and more. Chicory root fiber also positively impacts the texture of gluten-free products, improving mouthfeel and rheology, and adds creaminess and improved mouthfeel in low-fat bakery products.
Chicory root fiber—inulin (as Frutafit®, from Sensus) and oligofructose (as Frutalose®, from Sensus)—can be used as a bulking ingredient and bring significant sweetness levels up to 60 percent compared to sucrose. “Besides a nutritional claim of reducing 30 percent of sugars compared to a reference product, a health claim may be applied on low blood glucose in Europe,” Heijnen said. “On the other hand, longer inulin chains are also able to replace fat, providing mouthfeel and maintaining good taste, which remains an important factor for consumers.”
Ingredion’s NUTRAFLORA prebiotic fiber is a highly dispersible powder that is completely soluble, well tolerated, can enhance flavors, has no viscosifying effects in beverages and does not affect the taste profile of the finished product. “Because it is made from sucrose, it has a clean, slightly sweet flavor (30-percent sweetness of sugar) and performs similarly to sugar at typical inclusion levels,” Luchsinger said. “In reduced-sugar and -calorie applications that utilize high-intensity sweeteners, it can help round the sweetness profile, helping to deliver sweetness and taste that is more sugar-like.”
But sugar is a difficult ingredient to replace because it serves as more than just a sweetening element, and affects the overall taste and texture of a product, explained Gretchen Karcher, technical service representative, fiber, ADM. Fiber (as Fibersol®, from ADM/Matsutani) can help reduce sugar in indulgent products such as icings and chocolate compounds by as much as 25 percent without the need for additional sweeteners. Studies have shown that Fibersol has been demonstrated to delay post-meal hunger and provide an increased feeling of satiety, leaving consumers feeling fuller for longer periods of time.20
While product developers can choose myriad fiber ingredients m, not all fibers are created equal, and it’s important to understand how all the ingredients work together in a recipe. Certain ingredients have their own functionalities and health attributes, and some ingredients are best suited for specific applications or processing.
For example, fiber can add viscosity, texture and mouthfeel to products such as sports performance drinks, meal replacement shakes, drink mixes, and soups and dips. “Some fibers break down in acidic or hot-processed applications, presenting significant challenges for formulators,” said John Powers, director of marketing, ADM Nutrition. “Fibersol remains stable and maintains its fiber content under those conditions, allowing for formulation and food processing versatility.”
Luchsinger agreed processing is a major consideration for the beverage category. “NUTRAFLORA is stable at high temperatures with a pH less than 4 during processing and shelf life in applications such as flash-pasteurized juices, acidic refrigerated juices and smoothies, and neutral pH shakes,” he said. “However, it’s not the right fiber for high-acidic, shelf-stable beverages such as soft drinks, flavored water and juices with a pH lower than 3.8.”
Clear, thin-bodied beverages have the most difficulty with clean label fibers because they require completely soluble fibers, added Kurt Villwock, Ph.D., director research and development, Fiberstar®. “Inulin is one option, but it can be prone to digestive distress at high levels. There are a number of soluble fibers created from starch, however they may not be perceived to be clean label.”
In baked goods, the addition of fiber can affect a range of attributes such as texture, flavor, color, moisture retention and shelf life. Product developers must choose a fiber source that blends well with the product concept, as well as the other ingredients. With the inclusion of one new fiber ingredient, the finished baked good might brown undesirably or become grainy. What’s more, fiber’s water-holding capacity can impact the machinability of the dough, as well as mouthfeel.
While high-fiber products provide better-for-you options, they must deliver on consumer perception of what the product should taste and look like. And in the world of food, taste is king. “Some clean label ingredients or plant-based proteins have undesirable aftertastes or chalky textures that cause problems when formulating good-tasting products,” said Derek Timm, technical sales director, Taiyo. “In contrast, consumers want clean label products, but expect these products to taste the same or better than the conventional formulations. This causes a disconnect between the consumers’ product choice and desired organoleptic expectations that may not lead to repeat purchase.”
The solution, Timm noted, is targeting clean ingredients that have minimal taste, color or textural impacts. This provides a win-win situation for formulators and consumers. “Our prebiotic soluble dietary fiber made from guar—branded premium ingredient Sunfiber—is an ideal solution for formulators that want fiber, but don’t want off-flavors, colors, textures or gel-forming fibers,” he said.
Natural citrus fibers also are gaining popularity as clean label alternatives because they don’t compromise texture, stability or quality. Citrus fibers (as Citri-Fi®, from Fiberstar) provide functionalities such as high-water holding and emulsification properties that improve a product’s quality while contributing to fiber claims. “Citri-Fi can be labeled as citrus fiber, dried citrus pulp or citrus flour that resonate well in the natural and clean label markets,” Villwock said.
In meat and poultry applications, citrus fiber can improve yields, reduce purge, increase juicy texture and replace phosphates when used with other ingredient solutions such as rice starch, carrageenan or sodium carbonate. In bakery, it improves freshness over time, moisture retention, natural emulsification and texture after freeze/thaw conditions. “When Citri-Fi is exposed to high shear, this natural fiber opens more to provide additional viscosity and stabilization, which is beneficial for sauces, dressings, dairy and beverage products,” he added.
Historically associated with the bakery, bars and cereals categories, brands are rolling out innovative fiber-enriched products across range of applications including beverages, dairy, confectionery and meat to help bridge the fiber gap.
“Nondairy applications such as alternative milks and plant-based yogurts are using chicory root fiber for its ability to provide creaminess and reduce sugar,” Krause said. “Meal replacement applications, such as beverages and cookies, also are using chicory fiber for these same benefits, all while providing a healthy source of prebiotic fiber.”
In dairy applications, he said oligofructose can be used in conjunction with high-intensity sweeteners to help mask undesired off-tastes, while inulin contributes to body and creamy mouthfeel, making it particularly suitable for fiber-enriched beverages like meal replacement beverages, coffee drinks, smoothies or chocolate shakes.
“Interest in fiber-rich bars and beverages is increasing—meeting the needs for today’s busy consumers who are seeking out convenient and portable meal replacement options that meet their needs for high fiber and a dense nutritional profile,” Karcher said. “We’re also seeing fiber show up more in products such as juice beverages and indulgent treats in an effort to help consumers close the gap between the recommended daily value and their actual consumption.”
Timm said there’s been an uptick in fiber fortification in ready to drink (RTD) and powdered weight management shake categories “to help increase the satiety effect and enhance their effectiveness.” He also said bar manufacturers are using more fibers for formulations to reduce digestible carbs and become more keto friendly.
“Any products focusing on gut health are looking to fibers to help support their digestive claims and play in the burgeoning gut microbiome space,” he added.
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