Questions raised by a consumer watchdog group caused a flurry around use of inulin to add dietary fiber to foods at the time the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its proposed changes in the Nutrition Facts panel. The concerns are unwarranted, and inulin’s status as a scientifically verified-effective dietary fiber is assured, according to Joe O’Neill, president and general manager, BENEO, Inc., Morris Plains, NJ, in exclusive Q&A with Baking & Snack.

Baking & Snack: We heard that there is talk about redefining inulin at the regulatory level and removing its designation as a fiber. Is this true, and how will this affect inulin's perception and use?

Joe O’Neill: In fact, this information is not true; however, we are aware that misleading information around this topic erroneously appeared in the media when FDA published their proposed rules for nutrition labeling

What FDA actually is proposing is that manufacturers of non-digestible carbohydrates, i.e. all types of dietary fibers, should provide scientific evidence to FDA to demonstrate a beneficial physiological effect. Upon positive review by FDA, these non-digestible carbohydrates will be listed by FDA and be eligible for dietary fiber labeling.

BENEO’s inulin and oligofructose, derived from chicory root, are the most well- researched fibers worldwide. Many health benefits have been scientifically proven, including but not limited to increased regularity, increased calcium absorption, increased bone mineral density, reduced food intake for weight management benefits. With this wealth of scientific data, we look forward to have our data reviewed by FDA and are confident that we will obtain a positive ruling.

The dietary fiber status of inulin has been confirmed in the past by numerous authorities and institutions worldwide. Most recently (April 2013), both inulin and oligofructose were included on the initial list of “accepted dietary fibers” by Health Canada. In Europe, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has acknowledged the dietary fiber status of inulin (and oligofructose) as stated in their scientific opinion of 2010. Similar in the US, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report included inulin and oligosaccharides as examples of dietary fiber and reported evidence that their ingestion resulted in benefits that are associated with the consumption of dietary fiber.

Even though it’s a low-intensity sweetener, how have you seen inulin used as a sweetener?

There’s no question that consumers are a key driver in demanding that manufacturers provide healthier choices in food and beverage options — ranging from confectionary products to baked goods, dairy and beverages. Worldwide, there’s intensity for products that help people better manage their weight, lower blood glucose levels and provide less sugar, but consumers don’t want to sacrifice taste. All of this is inspiring food manufacturers to explore new ways to deliver solutions from companies like BENEO that meet customers’ expectations.

Prebiotic fibers inulin and oligofructose are being used in delicious healthy foods such as yogurt, dairy spreads, baked goods, confectionary, cereals and beverages. Thanks to their high solubility, these prebiotic fibers can be easily formulated in all kinds of snack food products to enhance their digestive health benefits. As they additionally help to replace the sugar in a formulation, they are also valuable for reducing the sugar and calorie content of a variety of snack and dairy products. These natural fibers exhibit lower sweetness levels than sucrose and can be complemented by stevia in many applications.

What does it bring to the table?

Consumers are looking for healthy tasty convenience in their beverages and snacks. Formulators have identified inulin and oligofructose as natural fibers and ingredients of choice in low-caloric and sugar-reduced systems. Oligofructose is available in both a powder and liquid form and provides humectancy and shelf life extension benefits in nutrition bar manufacture.

Inulin also improves the textural characteristics of baked goods and has been used to replace fat in baked good systems.

Compared to fully available, high-glycemic carbohydrates, inulin-type fructans from chicory provide only half the calories. As a result, prebiotic fibers enable food manufacturers to produce lighter versions of traditionally indulgent food products like ice cream, yogurt, dairy drinks or smoothies where consumers don’t want to sacrifice when following a healthier diet.