Theresa Cogswell: Busting Fiber's Myths

by Theresa Cogswell
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Oh, the misconceptions about food sources of fiber! As a food scientist, baker, product development specialist, marketer and even baking industry CEO, it is kind of scary to learn that consumers are so uneducated about fiber. As reported on www.bakingbusiness.com, Kellogg Company commissioned a survey late last year that summarized consumer misconceptions:

  • 20% of American consumers believe meats and seafood provide dietary fiber.
  • 10% said there was fiber in water (maybe Vitamin Water).
  • 15% only eat fiber when experiencing irregularity.
  • 80% of respondents believed they were getting enough fiber.
  • Less than 10% actually meet the recommended daily intake of fiber.

Opportunity abounds for education and increased consumption, and what better vehicle to provide these benefits than baked foods and snacks? With luck, that equates to increased profitability for bakers and snack manufacturers and improved consumer health.

FIBER’S EARLY DAYS.

In the grand scheme of selling more baked goods while increasing the intake of dietary fiber in American diets, opportunities continue to grow every day. We have come a long way since the early days of light bread in the 1970s and 1980s. The fiber of choice then was powdered cellulose. The use of this fiber allowed bakers to make a “40 Cal per slice” claim for the first time in history. The fiber sources carried very high levels of total dietary fiber (95 to 99% TDF) and absorbed many times their weight in water. The high water absorption and the abrasive nature of the fibers, however, caused other issues in the baking process. Bakers typically had to add high levels of gluten to the dough to help improve crumb strength and strengthen weak cell structure. Bake times lengthened compared with those of typical bread doughs to bake out the extra moisture absorbed by the fiber. Such bread is still on the market today but has greatly improved in quality, thanks to new fiber sources and dough conditioners.

When the idea of fiber enhancement took off all those years ago, it was amazing to see what companies tried to turn into viable fiber options. One of my least favorites was pecan shell fiber. When you eat a pecan, on occasion you will get a piece of the internal shell, which you will detect immediately because of its bitter taste. Pecan shell fiber was a fine dark fiber that was very bitter, and you couldn’t taste it without getting a sour look on your face. Thank goodness some products are off the market.

FIBER TODAY.

As the saying goes, “We have come a long way, baby.” Fiber ingredients today are more neutral in flavor and color. They are available in soluble, insoluble and combinations of the two. Technology advances and innovations with fibers provide bakers and product development professionals a wide variety of options.

At home in my cabinet today, I have a variety of “delightful” and “smart” bread products that take different approaches to added fiber. One baker worked to make its bread the “smart” choice for customers by selecting a number of nutrition enhancements found in many competitive bread products. To move a typical slice of bread (around 25 g) from 70 Cal per slice to 50 Cal takes a combination of grains, fibers and gums. Whole-wheat flour, cottonseed and soy, along with xanthan and guar gum, impart varying amounts of fiber to create a 2-slice serving that provides 20% of the Daily Value for dietary fiber, which amounts to 5 g of fiber. That one serving provides more dietary fiber than most Americans get from their entire daily diet.

From the early days of light bread to our delightful varieties today, the quality difference is amazing. A former employee told me, “The quality is so dramatic a blind man could see it.” The slice has body and substance and does not tear apart when you spread peanut butter on it. Also, this bread is rarely discounted, so if you wait to purchase a loaf when it is on sale, you will be waiting a long time. That is good news for the baker and hopefully equates to an improved profit margin. The bowl cost of this bread is significantly higher than what a baker typically wants to manage. This increase is largely due to the choices of fiber used to make the bread. So will the market bear a loaf of bread with a higher price point? The product has been on the market for more than five years and is still there; you be the judge.

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