The healthful attributes of fiber have long been touted, even if those benefits may have been misunderstood.

At one time, fiber was thought to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, a benefit which has been disproven. Nevertheless, fiber does have its selling points that leave it with a definitively healthful aura: it slightly reduces bad (LDL) cholesterol; it improves insulin resistance (a common precursor to diabetes); and it is linked to a lower rate of heart disease and obesity. In the latter case, it does so by increasing the bulk of foods and creates a feeling of fullness.

A Duke University study this week predicted more than 42% of Americans will be obese and that obesity’s medical-related costs are projected to run as much as $147 billion a year. In all likelihood, the weight-management benefits of fiber are likely to come to the fore of marketing efforts.

Introductions of high-fiber and whole-grain products have soared in recent years. According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database, 2010 saw 20 times the number of whole-grain launches as there were in 2000. Global Industry Analysts (GIA) predicts this could just be the tip of the iceberg: it predicts the global market for whole-grain and high-fiber foods will hit $27.6 billion by 2017, with the U.S. as the largest regional market for the products, though Asia-Pacific is emerging. In fact, GIA predicts Asia-Pacific will be the fastest growing regional market, with a compound annual growth rate of 6.82% through 2017.

Recommended fiber consumption actually varies by age and gender, but it ranges between 21-38g per day.
- Men 50 and younger: 38g per day
- Women 50 and younger: 25g per day
- Men over 50: 30g per day
- Women over 50: 21g per day

Considering Americans average roughly 15g of fiber per day, there is clearly room to grow.

"Years of research point to the health benefits of fiber for cardiovascular health, blood glucose control, digestion and gut health, yet average intake is approximately half the recommended amount," explained Joanne Slavin, PhD, RD, of the University of Minnesota and a member of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, while speaking at the 2012 Experimental Biology conference. "With more than 90% of adults and children falling short of meeting their daily fiber recommendations, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans classified fiber as a nutrient of concern, since it's one of the critical nutrients most lacking in people's diets."

By introducing more whole-wheat breads, whole-grain cereals, brown rice, bran and oat products, manufacturers are helping consumers bridge the gap with fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods.

Clif Bar introduced several Luna Bar high-fiber snacks  in an effort to blend healthy with indulgent. Squarely aimed at women, the Luna Fiber bars boast 7g of fiber, and the 70% organic snacks also feature calcium, folic acid, iron and vitamin D. The soft-baked, fruit-filled bars contain 120 calories each and can be found in such indulgent flavors as chocolate raspberry, vanilla blueberry and peanut butter strawberry. Those 7g of fiber come from a range of sources: organic oat fiber, organic inulin (agave extract), inulin (chicory extract) and whole grains.

“LUNA Fiber not only offers an excellent source of fiber, but it also includes vitamins and minerals that are most essential to women’s health, such as calcium, folic acid, iron and vitamin D,” explains Tara DelloIacono-Thies, registered dietitian and manager of nutrition strategy for LUNA. “Women shouldn’t have to choose between nutrition and great taste.”

Fiber consumption actually has several potential benefits, per research released at Experimental Biology 2012. One study examined the effect of soluble corn fiber on the absorption and retention of dietary calcium in adolescents. The double-blind, randomized-controlled, cross-over study had male and female subjects consume a daily diet of 600mg of calcium with either no or 12g of soluble corn fiber. When the subjects consumed the soluble corn fiber, calcium absorption increased by 12%, though there was no overall effect on calcium balance. Another study explored the digestive health benefits of fiber and found that polydextrose and soluble corn fiber increased fermentation in the gut.

For consumers who are just unable to get enough fiber-rich cereal in their diet, one Glastonbury, Conn., company hopes to convince consumers to turn to coffee for their fiber fortification. Brioni’s Coffee has introduced a fiber-rich java in the form of Healthy Morning, which promises 4g of fiber per 12oz. cup, whether it is the light, medium or dark roast. A decaffeinated variety is also available, as is a hazelnut version. As The Hartford Courant notes, the product went through multiple iterations, particularly in its fiber source, before settling on the roots of the endive plant along with powdered inulin made from chicory root.

 From the May 14, 2012, Prepared Foods E-dition