Shifting fiber definition requires a new game plan

by Laurie Gorton
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Breakfast cookies with added dietary fiber help consumers start their days in a healthy way.
 

Talk about mid-season roster changes. That’s essentially what happened to “Team Total Dietary Fiber” when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published the final rules that updated the Nutrition Facts Panel, a mandatory part of food package labeling.

Many definitions of dietary fiber have circulated, written by AACC International, Codex Alimentarius and other industry and government groups. Some insisted that the only food components that qualify as dietary fiber must be those placed there solely by Mother Nature. Others asserted that any food ingredient that analyzes chemically as a non-digestible carbohydrate should be considered dietary fiber.

But until May 27, 2016, FDA had not weighed in, and when it did, the agency set the bar high. It established a brand new, three-part definition. First, it listed “non-digestible soluble and insoluble carbohydrates (with three or more monomeric units) and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants.” Second, it acknowledged “isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates (with three or more monomeric units) determined by FDA to have physiological effects that are beneficial to human health.” And third, total dietary fiber (TDF) was recognized as the sum of “intrinsic and intact” and “isolated or synthetic” present in the food.

That definition is quite literally a mouthful. But it means that the rules of the game have changed drastically for choosing fiber ingredients and making claims about the amount of dietary fiber contained in a food product.

The good news is that “intrinsic and intact” fiber is found in many bakery ingredients such as flour, cereal brans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. The bad news is that FDA named only seven of the marketplace’s numerous fiber additive ingredients — now termed “isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates.” It left more than two dozen in limbo. Suppliers of such ingredients can get them onto FDA’s list through the citizen petition process, and several have filed already.

Still, the fact is that fiber and baked foods go together. “Fiber is a natural for baked foods,” said Cathy Dorko, regional product manager, DuPont Nutrition & Health.

Consumers do understand that dietary fiber is good for them, observed Douglas Raeder, product manager, DuPont Nutrition & Health. “We see a lot of positive feedback about fiber’s positive effect on health,” he said. “And many consumers feel they fall short on fiber intake. Fiber occupies a very important space.”

A compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.4% through 2020 is projected for the dietary fiber market, noted Renee Beall, food marketing, Roquette America. “Consumers — looking to address health risks, weight management and simply to make better choices for themselves and their families — recognize that fiber is a critical part of a healthy eating pattern,” she said. “Adding fiber is an easy, cost-effective way to add a health-related claim and differentiate your product. It can also lower fat, calories and sugar content of your product.”

With FDA’s new definition, bakers and snack food producers — and their fiber ingredient suppliers who want to make fiber claims — have been put into a third-and-long situation. “Although this new rule poses some challenges to the food industry, the purpose is to update packaged foods labels to reflect new scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease,” said Tom Carrington, senior regulatory scientist, Ardent Mills. “The intent is for the new label to make it easier for consumers to make better informed food choices.”

Continue reading to learn how the new fiber definition came to be.

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