The health benefits of fiber have been well established, with a plethora of scientific evidence substantiating the claims. An FDA-approved health claim specifically recognizes the role of soluble fiber in reducing the risk of heart disease as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Another FDA-approved health claim for whole grains in 1999 indirectly implicates fiber’s benefits: “Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.”

Since then, knowledge about the benefits of fiber has not diminished. In his paper “Dietary Fiber: The Influence of Definition on Analysis and Regulation,” published in the May/June 2004 edition of the Journal of AOAC International, Jonathan DeVries writes: “if it were not for the physiological effects of dietary fiber, there would be no interest in the subject on the part of researchers, consumers, regulators and manufacturers.” DeVries specifically addresses the beneficial physiological role of fiber in laxation, blood cholesterol and blood glucose attenuation. Within the blood cholesterol category, high-fiber diets have been shown to reduce cholesterol in both normal and overweight individuals, indicating the role of oat fiber particularly in reducing LDL-C in conjunction with a reduced-fat diet. Diets high in soluble fiber appear to “exhibit the highest therapeutic effect” among individuals with diabetes, with fiber appearing to slow the rise in serum glucose.

Given the current body of scientific evidence and the rise in incidences of chronic diseases, particularly obesity and diabetes, integrating fiber ingredients into products appears to be a winning proposition. With this in mind, Mintel International’s Global New Products Database (GNPD, Chicago) was queried to examine how manufacturers have formulated and marketed fiber, and what trends are emerging. Queries for statistics in this article, unless otherwise indicated, were conducted for the period of December 2003 through mid-January 2005, with prior years examined for comparative purposes only. Searches were restricted to North America and for only new food and drink product introductions (not for reformulated, relaunched, repackaged products or line extensions).

What a Difference a Claim Makes--In Time

Since 2002, the number of reported products in the GNPD carrying an “added fiber” claim has increased over 400%. Conversely, gluten-free claims increased by more than 500%, calorie reduction claims by more than 600% and low-carb claims by more than 2,000%. These manufacturers' efforts appear to track well the trends of the time, namely a rise in obesity and other chronic diseases, as well as the popularity of carbohydrate-restricted diets.

Products carrying references to reduced glycemic (load) also rose more than 800%; however, this trend is in its mere infancy compared to the international arena.

A search specifically for products claiming added fiber yielded nearly 180 new products, representing an almost 100% increase over the period of December 2002 through January 2004. Equally dominant categories, representing approximately 22% of product introductions with an added fiber claim were snacks, breakfast cereals and bakery items, followed by side dishes at 12% of recorded introductions/range extensions.

Whole Grains' Role in the Fiber Story

Despite receiving health claim status for whole grains in 1999, their incorporation into products has been slow. Searching the GNPD under “whole grain” yielded some 230 new product records from December 2003 to mid-January 2005, versus some 150 items from December 2002 to January 2004. Within this query, breakfast cereals dominated, with 43% of all recorded introductions. The GNPD was then queried for products with both “whole grain” and “added fiber,” and some 25 results appeared. This may suggest some trending and perceptions.

Either manufacturers feel that consumers link whole grains to a higher fiber intake, or they are positioning to distinguish whole grain products as being natural, wholesome and healthy (as opposed to being ingested specifically to manage or prevent a fiber-related health issue). Alternatively, possibly a more plausible explanation is that whole grains can negatively impact the taste and texture of some products. Formulation and processing adjustments can overcome these obstacles, but these steps potentially reduce overall fiber and nutritional content, affecting the product's ability to meet FDA thresholds for fiber in order to qualify for a health claim. By incorporating resistant starches (RS) into whole-grain products, manufacturers are able to bolster fiber content. According to a leading ingredient supplier, RS commonly is incorporated as a source of fiber into foods marketed as “made with whole grains.”

Notable in the whole-grain, added-fiber category were Kraft Foods' (Northfield, Ill.) Kraft South Beach Diet Frozen Pizzas, featuring whole-grain crusts. The products are “made in accordance with South Beach guidelines.”

Ancient Grains in the Face of Fiber

A growing interest in the nutritional profiles, high fiber content, and benefits of “ancient grains” such as spelt, amaranth and quinoa (technically not a grain, but referred to as such), and their popularity in health food channels prompted a query into their ingredient use in the “added fiber” category.

Query results indicate a level of comfort associated with the use of readily recognized grains, wheat, bran, barley and oats. Manufacturers and consumers may not yet be ready to embrace less-mainstream, “ancient grains,” despite their nutritionally competitive (even superior) profiles. Eden Foods (Clinton, Mich.) introduced Twisted Pasta to the Organic Biologique line, featuring 100% kamut and quinoa. Nutrilicious Natural Bakery (Willow Springs, Ill.) introduced a low-carb, wheat-free Windmill Oatmeal Walnut Cookie made with organic whole spelt flour, with 5g of dietary fiber and 9g of net carbs.

Low-carb Products and Fiber Pals

With the interest in low-carb products and the carbo-phobic consumer, the GNPD was queried for products carrying a no-, low- or reduced-carb claim. The database indicates roughly 1,300 new low-carb launches or variety/range extensions in North America during the period of December 2003 through December 2004, versus slightly over 50 items the year before. By comparison, slightly over 200 low-carb products were introduced in the U.K. in 2004. Querying for low-carb products with added fiber, some 30 products were reported. LowCarb Success (Hutto, Texas) added new flavors to their Flax-O-Meal hot cereals. The products claim to be high in protein and fiber and are “designed for the healthy low-carb lifestyle.” Keto Foods & Snacks (Neptune, N.J.) added new varieties to its low-carb Pasta Sauce line, emphasizing its high-fiber and low-sugar content, with three net carbs per serving. J.S.B. Industries, parent company of Muffin Town Pastries (Winthrop, Mass.), introduced Aesop's Bagels Carbsational, Multigrain Low Carb Bagels, containing 11g of dietary fiber with 18g of net carbs per serving.

Low-glycemic, a Trend with Traction?

According to Mintel, 41 new products with no- and low-glycemic claims were reported during 2004 in North America, representing 39% of reported products worldwide.

Michael Leidig, manager for a research group at Children's Hospital Boston (Boston) shed some light on the glycemic story. Leidig's group investigates the role of the glycemic index in weight management, diabetes and heart disease. According to Leidig, the quality of the carbohydrate ingested or used (in product formulation), is key. Less-processed or -refined carbohydrates, where the actual grain remains more intact, generally have a lower glycemic index, eliciting a lower glycemic or blood glucose response. Leidig cautions, however, that even with low-glycemic, high-fiber (soluble) products such as oatmeal, the procedures used to prepare the product also can affect glycemic response. Overcooking or over-processing a product can potentially change the structure of the grain, thereby altering the metabolic response.

Leidig points out that, in general, higher fiber foods have lower glycemic indices. Soluble fibers increase the viscosity of food, slowing absorption. Protein, fat and cooking also can reduce glycemic response, making a case for understanding the synergy of different food components and how they interact with each other to produce an overall glycemic response. Leidig adds a note of caution to the glycemic tale: while formulators may know the glycemic index of an individual item such as barley or soybeans, they may not understand how the glycemic response is affected when the grain is transformed into a breakfast bar, or the soybean processed into a soy chip.

Recognizing the complexity of this synergy, the Glycemic Research Institute (Washington) offers four “Low Glycemic Seals of Approval” for products meeting their protocol criteria. U.S. Mills' (Needham, Mass.) Uncle Sam cereal carries the Low Glycemic Seal of Approval for its all-natural breakfast cereal containing whole-wheat kernels, whole flaxseed and barley. In July 2004, Fifty50 Foods (Florham Park, N.J.) added new varieties to its low-glycemic, crème-filled wafer line, which positions itself “for use in a low-glycemic diet,” with notably 50% of the profits gained from product sales donated to diabetes research. Royal Numico NV (The Netherlands) markets a Low Glycemic Meal Replacement Formula under the GNC (Pittsburgh) label that contains oat bran and oat fiber, which “have a low-glycemic response.”

Whole grains or foods contain all the essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, lightly pearled and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed. Examples of generally accepted whole grain foods and flours are: amaranth, barley (lightly pearled), brown and colored rice, buckwheat, bulgur, corn and whole cornmeal, emmer, farro, grano (lightly pearled wheat), kamut, millet, oatmeal and whole oats, popcorn, quinoa, sorghum, spelt, triticale, whole rye, whole or cracked wheat, wheat berries and wild rice. NS

Much of the information in this article was derived from Mintel International's Global New Products Database,, 312-932-0400.

Sidebar 1: On the Web: Dietary Fiber

  • - Whole Grain Council's definition of a whole grain

  • -- Set the search field at “Entrez” and type the phrases within quotation marks as follows:

  • “Physiological Mechanisms Relating to Obesity, Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease” for D. Ludwig's paper on the glycemic index

  • “The Influence of Definition on Analysis and Regulation” for J. DeVries paper on dietary fiber

  • “Applications and Uses of Resistant Starch” for I. Brown's paper on resistant starch

  • -- Glycemic Research Institute

  • -- American Diabetes Association

  • -- Wheat Foods Council

    Sidebar 2: Going Global

    Kiyora (Taiwan) Goo-Pita Weight Control Cookies contain konjac, a root that is high in the water-soluble dietary fiber glucomannan. Although not prevalent in the U.S., glucomannan, which also appears as konjac glucomannan, is said to have a history spanning thousands of years in Asian foods. Goo-Pita cookies have 7g of dietary fiber per 45g. The product also contains apple fiber.

    National Health Foods (Sydney, Australia) launched Fibre 7 Multigrain breakfast cereals in New Zealand last December. The cold cereal has more than 10g of dietary fiber per 100g. It contains a natural mix of seven grains including wheat, barley, oats, brown rice, amaranth, corn and soy. Mintel's GNPD has some 134 records of new products containing amaranth having been launched since 1999; 65 amaranth-laden products debuted in 2004. Amaranth is said to have ancient roots dating back to the Aztecs, and is reported to be one of many gluten-free remedies that recently have entered the limelight.

    Inulin just keeps getting hotter and hotter, and that has nothing to do with the prebiotic/sweetener's tingling taste sensation. Originating from the chicory root, inulin has been the source of fiber in ever more products lately. For example, in the Czech Republic, GSN (N.J.) released ChitoSlim Weight Control tablets with an effective combination of chitosan and inulin fiber. Oat, turnip, rice bran and seed peels of Indian clover also are included as a source of fiber. For every 100g, 30.3g of chitosan fiber is counted which, along with vegetable fiber, adds up to a total of 35.7g of fiber. Chitosan is branded as a fiber that does double duty as a fat blocker. Fiber-enhanced jelly drinks are very popular in Asian countries. Donald Health Food's (Pingzhou, Nanhai, Guangdong, China) Xianyibu Fruit Fibre Jelly Drink has only 0.5g/100g.

    --Marcia A. Wade, Technical Editor