Pyler says: Fiber conveys health benefits

by E.J. Pyler and Laurie Gorton
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From Chapter 1: Basic Food Science — Fiber

The scientific study of food, its technology and its role in nutrition stretches back more than two centuries, yet the field remains fresh, and new discoveries abound even now. Such is the case of dietary fiber, a food component long acknowledged to be “good for the body” but long ignored, or at least underestimated, by researchers, formulators and consumers. One writer even termed fiber “the carbohydrate that cannot be named” (Best 2007).

That all changed in the relatively short period of time since the previous edition of this book was published. Today, dietary fiber’s well-recognized health benefits contribute to a growing range of better-for-you foods.

Many foods contain dietary fiber as a native component, and the cereal grains carry relatively high levels of fiber in their bran. But they are not the only source of fiber available to the bakery formulator.

Fiber’s contribution to food products cannot be measured by the usual yardsticks. The body does not digest it, so fiber contributes little to no energy value. It seems to add bulk only. Its flavor runs the gamut from bland to bitter, especially for fiber derived from bran sources, and some forms carry colors that deter its use in light-colored food systems. For these detrimental reasons and more, when processors refined cereals into useful ingredients, their methods tended to remove much of the natural fiber content just as winnowing separates the chaff from the grain.

By the middle of the twentieth century, however, public health authorities identified coronary heart disease (CHD) and cancer as leading causes of death. These trends particularly affected Western societies, and medical researchers intensified their work to define risk factors and devise preventative strategies. Fiber, or “roughage” as it was also known, was acknowledged to play a physiological role in waste elimination, but it was about to get big boost in status as a nutritional star.

Observing populations in rural Africa with low incidences of CHD and cancer, physicians and epidemiologists found a big difference to be diet: These groups consumed far more fiber-rich foods than did Western peoples. Reports published by Burkitt (1975, 1983) and Walker (1974) attributed fiber consumption to reduction in the risks of many chronic diseases of the modern world: obesity, diabetes, CHD and some forms of cancer. Later researchers added to the tally of fiber’s health benefits, noting its potential to help manage type 2 diabetes as well as weight loss and maintenance.

Fiber-rich foods helped launch the health-and-wellness trend in food formulating that continues to this day. To achieve the low-carbohydrate and low-fat status so desired by many consumers, formulators often add fiber-enhancing ingredients to grain-based foods, taking advantage of fiber’s functional, as well as nutritional, properties.

More continues to be learned about the physiological effects and benefits from consuming fiber, and the number of food components recognized to offer such benefits also continues to increase. To accommodate these developments, the definition of dietary fiber also has been changing, shifting away from attributes based on plant source to those involving physiological effects.



Best, D. 2007. Dietary fiber’s state of confusion,” Prepared Foods 176 (10): 93-100.

Burkitt, D.O., 1983. The development of the fibre hypothesis. Pages 21-27 in: Dietary Fibre. Birch, G.G. and Parker K.J., eds. Applied Science Publishers: London.

Burkitt, D.O., and Trowell, H.C. 1975. Refined Carbohydrate Foods and Disease: Implication of Dietary Fiber. Academic Press: London.

Walker, A.R.P., 1974. Dietary fibre and the disease pattern. Ann. Inter. Med. 80: 663-664.


More on this topic can be found in “Baking Science & Technology, 4th ed., Vol. I,” Page 20, by E.J. Pyler

and L.A. Gorton. Details are in our store.

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