Fiber may be sourced from fruits, vegetables and grains. Fiber options such as ancient grains continue to expand in availability in the food and beverage industry. Ingredients with fiber-like effects, such as inulin, polydextrose and resistant starch, also are on the market.
"The ability to get fiber into almost anything has expanded a lot with these newer types of fiber," said Dr. Joanne Slavin, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul. "Pretty much any type of packaged food could have a fiber addition."
While more fiber in food generally leads to more healthy food, Dr. Slavin said not all forms of fiber are the same. They may vary in health benefits and the ability to qualify foods for health claims. For example, she said wheat bran has a laxation effect but has little effect on lowering cholesterol. Forms of fiber recently made more available may be in shorter supply of scientific studies supporting health benefits, she added.
ConAgra Mills, Inc., Omaha, recently launched Ancient Grains flours with fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals.
"There’s nothing old-fashioned about the taste-tempting flavors, textures and undisputed nutritional credentials of grains like amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff," ConAgra Mills said.
Dr. Slavin said, "The more variety we have in grains the better off we’ll be. Ancient grains are historically interesting, but there is no real clinical data or comparative data for them."
In contrast, fiber from oats and barley both may qualify foods for heart health claims approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, she said.
"The dry bean industry is trying to get more studies going," Dr. Slavin said. "There is a little bit of information, but not enough trials to get a health claim going."
Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill., this year launched VegeFull bean ingredients made from black, red, navy and pinto cooked ground beans. A good source of fiber claim may be achieved by using VegeFull ingredients in many food formulations and extruded snacks, according to ADM.
"Beans have now been made more convenient for food processors to use in every type of application," ADM said. "Cooked beans ground to pieces, grits or powders, this whole food line of ingredients offers fiber as nature intended it to be consumed, ‘pre-mixed’ (if you will) with protein, starches, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants."
Other ingredients with fiber-like effects are produced commercially. For example, resistant starch, polydextrose and inulin are potential functional fibers, according to the American Dietetic Association. Resistant starch reaches the large intestine and would function as dietary fiber, according to the association.
Dr. Slavin was one of the authors in a "Low-Digestible Carbohydrates in Practice" report that appeared this year in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. The authors listed fiber, resistant starch and sugar alcohols, or polyols, as types of low-digestible carbohydrates.
"Low-digestible carbohydrates are carbohydrates that are incompletely or not absorbed in the small intestine but are at least partly fermented by bacteria in the large intestine," the authors wrote.
Dr. Slavin said commercially produced carbohydrates such as resistant starch, inulin and polydextrose may not have the same health effects as certain forms of fiber, but they may work as fat replacers in foods. Ingredient suppliers also promote their prebiotic digestive effects.
"If you can get them into the snacks and foods that people eat, it’s better than nothing at all," she said.
Dr. Slavin said she recommends food and beverage companies keep their fiber promotions to consumers simple. Products may qualify for a "good source of fiber" if they contain 2.5 grams or more of fiber per serving and for an "excellent source of fiber" if they contain 5 grams or more of fiber per serving.
"Food manufacturers do not need to get any more complicated," she said. "You confuse people if you are too technical."This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, October 14, 2008, starting on Page 46. Click here to search that archive.