It has become common knowledge that consuming more fiber helps avoid certain digestive problems, but grain-based foods manufacturers may have been hesitant to promote this benefit in the past. Many consumers did not feel comfortable speaking about matters such as regularity or hearing about them in food advertisements. That consumer attitude seems to be changing.

"Seven or 10 years ago, people really didn’t want to hear about laxation or irregularity," said Cathy Peterson, vice-president of applications for SunOpta Ingredients Group, Bedford, Mass. "We’ve really seen a shift. It’s okay to talk about it."

According to the "2008 Food & Health Survey," a report from the Washington-based International Food Information Council (IFIC), 76% of respondents agreed that specific foods or beverages may improve digestive health. In fact, digestive health ranked near the top of the list, just behind improve heart health (78%) and improve physical energy or stamina (77%) and tied with maintain overall health and wellness (76%).

The report also showed 77% of respondents were trying to consume more fiber and that 52% checked fiber levels on the Nutrition Facts Panel of food and beverage packages. This number was up from 43% in 2007 and 42% in 2006.

The Kellogg Co., Battle Creek Mich., was not afraid to mention digestive benefits when introducing its All-Bran Fiber Bars and Drink Mix.

"It is incredible how irregularities ‘down there’ can affect everything you do," Kellogg said when launching the products in June Both items contain 10 grams of fiber per serving, or 40% of the daily value. The All-Bran Fiber Bars are made from wheat bran and whole grain rolled oat. They are available in Apple Cinnamon Streusel and Strawberry Drizzle flavors.

"Everyone should be looking for more ways to up their fiber intake," said John Johanson, M.D., a practicing gastroenterologist at the Beloit Clinic in Beloit, Wis. "And because these products are so convenient to fit into your daily routine, they are ideal for those who are experiencing irregularity caused by prescription medications or pregnancy, too."

Because of their ability to aid in digestion, prebiotic fibers have become a hot topic of discussion lately. IFIC calls prebiotics the food for beneficial bacteria and uses this definition to describe them: "Nondigestible 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." IFIC also lists Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli as types of probiotics, or beneficial bacteria.

They act like fiber

Digestive benefits are key reasons for adding inulin or resistant starch to a product. Suppliers promote them as prebiotic fibers. Julie Miller Jones, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minn., said the Food and Drug Administration should consider recognizing inulin and resistant starch as forms of fiber because they are not digested in the small intestine and, therefore, may be classified as dietary fiber.

"It really ought to be included," Ms. Jones, national nutrition adviser for the California Raisin Marketing Board, Fresno, Calif., said of inulin. "All kinds of science say it’s an okay thing to do." Attune Foods, San Francisco, includes 2 grams of inulin in each of its Wellness Probiotic bars. "Consumers seem to understand the concept of digestive health and the importance it plays in delivering overall health," said Rob Hurlbut, chief executive officer of Attune Foods.

Asked how companies should promote prebiotics such as inulin to consumers, Mr. Hurlbut said, "In the case of prebiotics, I think they need to hear that this fiber helps nourish the good bacteria already in your gut."

Orafti inulin and oligofructose may work in such grain-based applications as nutritional bars, bread, cookies and cereal, according to Beneo-Orafti, Morris Plains, N.J. Oligofructose, also known as fructooligosaccharide, or FOS, generally provides more sweetness to a product than regular inulin. Liquid syrups and oligofructose products are used as binders in nutritional bars and provide up to 50% of the sweetness level of sucrose. Inulin and oligofructose are 50% of the caloric value of sugar.

Other inulin and FOS suppliers have scientific results to back up their claims, too. A study published earlier this year in the British Journal of

Nutrition highlighted the ability of NutraFlora short-chain FOS to support the body’s natural immune system and reduce the incidence of common digestive symptoms. The intensity of minor functional bowel disorders decreased 44% in a group taking FOS, according to the study, while the placebo group showed a 14% increase. The symptoms of minor functional bowel disorders were 75% less frequent in the FOS group. GTC Nutrition, Golden, Colo., a business unit of Corn Products International, Inc., offers NutraFlora.

"This study indicates that regular consumption of NutraFlora shortchain FOS prebiotic fiber may assist the body’s natural immune system to improve the quality of life for individuals struggling with minor functional bowel disorders," said Coni Francis, Ph.D., senior manager of science, marketing and technical service for GTC Nutrition. "Consumers are increasingly seeking new ways to address digestive health issues, and NutraFlora provides a natural solution that can be used in a variety of product applications."

Sensus America, Inc., Monmouth Junction, N.J., offers Frutafit inulin and Frutalose inulin/ FOS as soluble, prebiotic dietary fibers. Frutalose "Sweet Liquid Fiber" delivers 50% of the sweetness of sugar and is 90% soluble prebiotic fiber.

Chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes, or wild sunflower roots, are prime sources of inulin — both have up to 20 grams of inulin per 100 grams, Ms. Jones said. She also pointed out that a serving of raisins offers 9% of the daily value of fiber, but that percentage does not include their inulin content. Raisins have 1 gram of inulin per 100 grams, ranking it ahead of bananas (0.7 grams) and wheat flour (0.6 to 1 grams). Because consumers eat so much wheat flour, it accounts for about 70% of people’s inulin intake, Ms. Jones said.

Resistant starch to the rescue

National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, N.J., considers its Himaize 5-in-1 resistant starch a prebiotic fiber because it is fermented in the large intestine. Resistant starch derives its name from its ability to resist digestion.

MGP Ingredients, Inc., Atchison, Kas., offers Fibersym RW and Fiber-Rite RW resistant starches. Fibersym RW resistant starches have low waterholding capacity, which allows for easy incorporation into a range of applications, including white pan bread, pizza crust, flour tortillas, cookies, muffins, pastries and cakes, according to MGP Ingredients.

Cargill Texturizing Solutions, Minneapolis, offers ActiStar RT 75330, a resistant starch that may be used in baked foods, cereals, snacks and pasta.

"Resistant starches such as ActiStar are virtually invisible sources of fiber," said Dorothy Peterson, starch development leader in North America for Cargill Texturizing Solutions. "Even at high inclusion levels, ActiStar does not impact texture or eating qualities. Good to excellent source claims can be easily achieved with high consumer appeal."

Additionally, the low water binding of ActiStar has little to no impact on dough rheology, processing, baking product quality or shelf life.

Last year, Tate & Lyle P.L.C., London, launched Promitor resistant starch for use in puffed snacks, tortilla chips, breakfast cereals and cookies. It also may reduce fat absorption in fried snacks, batters and breadings. Promitor resistant starch may be labeled as corn starch.

More forms of fiber

Corn, soy and oats are other sources of fiber for inclusion in grain-based foods. TruBran corn bran from Grain Processing Corp. (GPC), Muscatine, Iowa, is 85% insoluble dietary fiber, offers a clean flavor profile and is available in two particle sizes for incorporation into a variety of grain-based foods applications, said Casey Lopez, associate scientist for GPC. Because it is corn-based, TruBran does not present any major allergen concerns. Mr. Lopez said TruBran has water absorption and retention properties similar to those of other insoluble, grainbased fibers.

"The high fiber content of TruBran requires less bran to achieve the desired fiber claim; therefore, there is less effect on the entire formulation’s moisture balance," Mr. Lopez added.

SunOpta offers several ingredients based on oat and soy fibers. Using either form of fiber makes it easy to achieve a good source or excellent source of fiber health claims, Ms. Peterson said. She said she has seen more interest lately in fortifying cookies and crackers with fiber. And with crackers, formulators must maintain the proper crunch in the finished product.

"Sometimes when you add high levels of fiber, you can change the texture and lose the crispiness and crunchiness," she said. "Some forms of fiber impart a better crunchy texture than others."

Formulators also may incorporate both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber for different health benefits. When deciding on fiber ingredients, formulators should take into account several factors, including the moisture level of the product and the other ingredients in the formulation.