Formulating With Fiber: Do we have Cause for a Pause?

The FDA's re-definition of fiber is causing some processors to rethink label claims, but it remains a consumer-favored and health-imparting nutrient.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

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Protein bar maker NuGo Nutrition (NuGoFiber.com) offers Fiber d'Lish soft-baked fiber bars, packed with soluble and insoluble fiber, in 10 fruity, nutty, dessert-like flavors. They mix six grains and seeds plus prebiotic inulin, which provides soluble and insoluble fiber not found in other bars, the company says. "Knowing the benefits of diets rich in fiber – like reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes and improved digestive health – we really wanted to offer a superior and tasty, on-the-go fiber option," notes CEO David Levine.

General Mills' Cascadian Farm (www.cascadianfarm.com) kicked off 2018 with an organic granola in Lemon Blueberry and Strawberry, made with organic whole-grain oats, organic pumpkin seeds, dried fruit and vitamin E. Available nationally, the granola has 3g of dietary fiber and no cholesterol.

Grainful SteelCut Oat SidesAlthough much of the fiber and whole-grain supplementation has focused on breakfast and snacking, dinner time can up the ante as well. Grainful (www.grainful.com) has taken oats to dinner with Steel Cut Sides, oats with savory spices and vegetables, which can serve as side dishes or even entrees, especially if meat or other proteins are added, suggests Jeannine Sacco, co-founder and chief food officer. "We were immediately drawn to steel cut oats, the less processed sibling of rolled oats, for being chock-full of fiber, complete proteins and loads of other nutrients, all in one gluten-free, heart-healthy package." Grainful sides can also be added to taco filling and burger patties for grilling.

Changes for fiber

The very definition of fiber is going through a big regulatory change. Last May, the FDA re-defined dietary fiber as naturally occurring fibers; all others will have to prove a physiological benefit. Seven non-digestible carbohydrates — beta-glucan soluble fiber, psyllium husk, cellulose, guar gum, pectin, locust bean gum and hydroxypropylmethylcellulose —currently meet the existing dietary fiber guidelines.

So food processors – more accurately, their fiber suppliers -- will have to demonstrate one beneficial physiological effect to human health to meet the definition's requirements. So far, the FDA has reviewed 26 isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbs. These include gum acacia, bamboo fiber, pea fiber, soluble corn fiber, soy fiber and xanthan gum.

The agency's delay in certifying these fibers has some food companies limiting their label's fiber declaration or removing dietary fiber altogether in some products. "Bakers and other fiber users cannot move forward until the ruling has been finalized," warns the American Bakers Assn. The state of prebiotic fibers also remains at a standstill as of presstime, as the agency continues to review the many comments received about them.

"Manufacturers still gain a fiber benefit from using whole grains, considered intrinsic and intact. Therefore, they'll be approved by the FDA under the proposed definition of dietary fiber," says Colleen Zammer, Bay State Milling. "This makes whole grains a safe bet for delivering fiber in new food products. Refined wheat flour that inherently contains fiber, such amylose-derived resistant starch, is also considered intrinsic and intact, and can be used to deliver fiber in food products under the current and future proposed fiber definitions."

"Reformulating with a new fiber source can be very difficult," adds Zammer. "It's not a simple substitution effort, as these are highly functional ingredients."

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