In recent months, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), segments of the food industry have petitioned the agency to define carbohydrate nutrient content claims such as "low carbohydrate," "reduced carbohydrate" and "carbohydrate free." National Starch and Chemical Company has entered the dialogue, submitting a petition to the FDA that asks for simplification and standardization of carbohydrate labeling on food packages.
"We believe that a standardized label that lists fiber independently and excludes it from the 'Total Carbohydrate' declaration listed on the Nutrition Facts label will remove much of the confusion over carbohydrate content claims and help consumers to make better educated food choices," said Rhonda Witwer, business development manager of nutrition at National Starch.
National Starch based its recommendations on the National Academy of Sciences' (NAS) Macronutrients Report, as well as the Codex Alimentarius Guidelines on Nutrition Labeling. The NAS report differentiates digestible carbohydrates from non-digestible carbohydrates in its evaluation of the physiological impact of carbohydrates and fiber. The Codex Alimentarius Guidelines, which have been adopted in most countries, have defined carbohydrates as "available" carbohydrates, which do not include fiber.
"Due, in part, to popularity of two diets -- Atkins and South Beach -- carbohydrates have become a greater focus of weight loss plans of Americans," said Mike Klacik, senior director of nutrition and bioscience, National Starch. "Given this area has grown so fast and consumers are increasingly looking for credible information about carbohydrates, especially on food packages, the FDA and all of us in industry face the challenging task of clarifying carbohydrate definitions."
In general, carbohydrates can be divided into two categories: those which are digested in the small intestine and those which are not. Sugars and most starches fall in the first category. They are rapidly digested to glucose and absorbed, and subsequently used for short-term energy needs or stored. These are considered available, digestible and glycemic carbohydrates. Fiber, by definition, passes through the small intestine and provides no short-term energy but has a variety of physiological effects in and emanating from the large bowel. These are referred to as non-digestible, non-glycemic carbohydrates. Separating dietary fiber from total carbohydrates would begin the process of differentiating digestible and glycemic carbohydrates from non-digestible, non-glycemic carbohydrates on the Nutrition Facts Panel, believes National Starch.
National Starch notes that more than 50 human clinical nutritional studies have shown resistant starches provide a range of nutrition benefits associated with dietary fiber.