It’s hard to go wrong when promoting the fiber content of a product. Surveys show consumers generally have a favorable impression of fiber, especially when it comes to digestion benefits. Yet there are more promotable options out there, such as reduced sugar and lowered cholesterol, and improving the nutritional qualities of grain-based foods sold at schools is possible.

“There is a lot of evidence linking high fiber diets to reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity and improvement in gastrointestinal health and immunity,” said Laura Cooper, marketing manager for SunOpta Ingredients Group, Chelmsford, Mass., and a registered dietitian. “Insoluble fibers, such as oat fiber and wheat bran, are known for their laxative effect, which is important as constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints in the United States.

“Soluble fibers also contribute to gastrointestinal health, especially due to their prebiotic function. Beta-glucan soluble fibers, from both oats and barley, are known for their ability to lower cholesterol levels. Both types of fiber help people feel full, which helps with weight control, and they slow the absorption of sugar, which helps people with type 2 diabetes.”

Products with fiber claims reached $4,229,890,273 in sales for the 52 weeks ended Feb. 20, 2010, which was an 11% increase from $3,800,009,007 in the previous 52-week period, according to the Nielsen Co. Sales covered U.S. food stores with sales of $2 million or more, excluding supercenters.

According to research presented by Tate & Lyle at Wellness 10 in Chicago in March, 87% of respondents in 2010 said including fiber in the diet may help maintain a healthy digestive system, which compared with 79% in 2009. Managing weight came in second at 63% in 2010, which compared with 53% in 2009.

Rounding out the benefits were maintaining energy balance through the day (48% in 2010 and 31% in 2009), lowering cholesterol (44% and 42%), supporting the immune system (40% and 35%), improving mineral absorption (30% and 21%), improving calcium absorption (28% and 16%) and reducing/enhancing bone density (25% and 12%).

Consumers have much to learn about the different types of fiber. According to research presented by Tate & Lyle, 44% of U.S. consumers are familiar with the term dietary fiber. The percentages fall to 17% for soluble or insoluble fiber and 6.5% for prebiotics and probiotics.

Another presentation from Wellness 10, which was put on by the Institute of Food Technologists, involved five Chicago-area mothers. They recognized Quaker high-fiber oatmeal and General Mills’ Fiber One bars in the presentation led by Lu Ann Williams, head of research for Innova Market Insights. Yet none of the mothers had heard of prebiotics, which refer to fiber that has digestion benefits. The mothers had heard of probiotics, but they were not aware probiotics were healthy bacteria.

Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth of one or a limited number of bacterial species in the colon, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, which have the potential to improve host health. Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli are both forms of probiotics.

Scott Turowski, technical manager for Sensus America, Inc., Lawrenceville, N.J., said U.S. consumers lack knowledge of prebiotics.

“It’s not understood here,” he said. “Prebiotics in the United States falls under the umbrella of ‘supports digestive health.’“

Ms. Cooper added, “The product information provided by some food companies focusing on probiotics has helped with awareness of prebiotics. Both terms are still confusing to most consumers, but some advertising and food label information is starting to make an impact.”

Resistant starch, named for its ability to resist digestion, offers prebiotic effects. Recent scientific studies have focused on resistant starch.

A study that appeared on-line in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed the quantity of

resistant starch in foods correlates with blood glucose response and reduced food intake after two hours. A University of Toronto research team found Hi-maize whole grain flour and Hi-maize resistant starch increased satiety and reduced food intake after two hours. National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, N.J., offers Hi-maize products.

“This study suggests a dose response for resistant starch and satiety because of this positive correlation,” said G. Harvey Anderson, principal investigator of the study and professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. “It also suggests that the resistant starch content of starch-based fiber ingredients should be utilized as a predictive model in designing foods for enhanced satiety.”

Another study appeared on-line in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition and involved Promitor resistant starch from Tate & Lyle. It showed incorporating 25 grams of Promitor per day promotes regularity in healthy adults without producing significant gastrointestinal side effects.

Inulin, another ingredient with dietary fiber and prebiotic qualities, comes with an added bonus of imparting sweetness.

Sensus America will introduce Frutalose SF75 at I.F.T. 10, the I.F.T.’s annual meeting and food expo set for July 17-20 in Chicago. The inulin-based ingredient has been shown to reduce the amount of sugar used in sweet baked foods by at least 33%, Mr. Turowski said. Since it contains 75% fiber, Frutalose SF75 has been shown to add 3 to 5 grams of fiber per serving. A product with at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving may qualify for a claim of a “good source of fiber.” A product with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving may qualify for a claim of an “excellent source of fiber.”

Fred Kaper, president of Sensus America, described Frutalose SF75’s benefits as “sugar out and fiber in.” Frutalose SF75 has the same functional properties as sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, he said.

“Fiber has been very popular in the last couple of years,” Mr. Kaper said. “Now we’re seeing sugar replacement coming more to the forefront.”

Mr. Turowski said of Frutalose SF75’s flavor, “It’s extremely clean. It tastes just like corn syrup.”

At the July I.F.T. event, Sensus America will make a presentation on how Frutalose SF75 may be used to increase nutritional content in school meals. Besides sweet baked foods such as cookies, the ingredient may be used in chocolate milk, Mr. Turowski said, and it may increase fiber content in white bread or pasta without taking away from the taste and texture of those products.

“We’re all about reduced fat, reduced sugar, reduced calories, and adding fiber on top of that,” Mr. Turowski said.

Reducing calories should be of high priority in school food plans, Ms. Cooper of SunOpta said.

“With the school initiatives that are focusing on childhood obesity, reducing calorie intake is key,” she said. “Insoluble fibers contribute little or no calories to a food and can be used to replace caloric ingredients like flour.

“A common strategy is to reduce portion size to reduce calories. Fiber allows you to provide a normal portion size with fewer calories.”

Other specific forms of fiber offer heart health. A heart health claim approved by the Food and Drug Administration exists for oats and barley.

ConAgra Mills, Omaha, offers Sustagrain Barley, an identity-preserved waxy barley variety. More than 50% of its carbohydrates are dietary fiber, and 40% of the fibers are in the form of cholesterol-lowering beta-glucan.

Minneapolis-based Cargill offers Barliv barley betafiber. A clinical study conducted at the University of Minnesota indicated that a heart-healthy diet including 3 grams per day of beta-glucans from Barliv barley betafiber significantly reduced total and L.D.L.-cholesterol levels among the subjects.

Grain-based food formulators may have trouble deciding which fiber benefit to promote in a product — digestion, heart health or reduced sugar. They should remember multiple benefits are possible for promotion.

Krista Faron, lead innovation analyst for Mintel International, spoke at Wellness 10 in Chicago in March. She said she is seeing a blurring of categories with products offering double, triple and quadruple benefits.

Combining different forms of fiber is another option.

“The general recommendation is to consume 75% insoluble and 25% soluble as that mimics what is found in nature,” Ms. Cooper of SunOpta said. “For example, kidney beans are 75% insoluble and 25% soluble and a banana is 70% insoluble and 30% soluble.”

SunOpta offers MultiFiber blends.

“All of our MultiFiber blends work well in grain-based foods,” said Cathy Peterson, group vice-president of applications for Sun-Opta. “MultiFiber 1100 (oat fiber and inulin) is recommended for a wide variety of products, including bread, bagels, snack bars and pasta, and is made with fibers that are approved for use in Canada.

“MultiFiber 1210 (oat fiber and dextrin) is recommended for delicate baked goods such as cakes and muffins and is also excellent for reducing fat. MultiFiber 1500 is a more complex blend of fibers and is best for products targeting fiber levels higher than 6 grams per serving.” 

Consider beans as a source of fiber

Information on how beans may serve as a source of fiber in grain-based foods will be available at I.F.T. 10, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition set for July 17-20 in Chicago.

Ana R. Bonilla, a professor from the University de Costa Rica in San Jose, Costa Rica, will give a presentation entitled “Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) as an ingredient for functional foods.” The National Center for Food Science and Technology at the university developed several bean products through a Bean Cowpea Collaborative Research Support Program.

The bean-rice baked chips, low-fat muffins, bean-wheat cookies and bean-wheat pasta were evaluated for fiber and resistant starch, starch digestibility, glucose bioavailability, folic acid, antioxidant activity and fat content. Evaluations showed the products may be considered functional foods with commercial potential due to consumer acceptance and production and marketing feasibility.

Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill., will have a booth at the I.F.T. expo. The company offers VegeFull cooked ground beans as ingredients that add fiber to foods. VegeFull ground cooked bean powders have been shown to substitute 10% to 25% of flour or the added fat in baked foods. The powders also have been shown to work starting at a 30% replacement when used in pastas or snacks.