Exploring the benefits of fibre beyond the gut

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Interest in fibre is no longer about digestive health alone, as consumers have become aware that added fibre could help with many dietary and health concerns, helping increase satiety, reduce inflammation and even improve mood.

Most consumers are aware of the need for a high fibre diet, but few reach recommended quantities. Dietary advice for fibre intake varies from country to country, but in general, adults are advised to consume around 30 grams a day. Average daily fibre consumption in Europe stands at around 18 grams. In Europe, foods and drinks can carry a high fibre claim if they contain at least six grams of fibre per 100 grams.

“When we talk about ingredients for digestive wellness, certainly one of the most popular and traditional ones is fibre,” said Megan Eade, Innovation Technologist at RSSL, speaking at the Fi Europe 2021 hybrid event. “Fibre is obviously very important for overall gut health, not only in the area of prebiotics but also in helping food move through the intestinal tract, and despite its importance – and our knowledge of its importance – still many of us are not reaching anywhere near our recommended fibre intake per day. So this still remains a huge opportunity for development in innovations for digestive wellness.”

Different types of fibre have different benefits, with insoluble fibre known to increase stool bulk, for example, while soluble fibre has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels and help regulate blood sugar. Research also has suggested fibre could protect against bowel cancer and diseases associated with obesity, such as type 2 diabetes.

Fibre for immunity

And now, immune health benefits have come to the fore during the Covid-19 pandemic. Researchers already have explored links between Covid-19 and poor microbial diversity in the gut, and in April 2021, new research found a high fibre diet might help control Covid-19 inflammation. According to Innova Market Insights, products with a fibre claim often also feature digestive health claims and immune health claims.

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However, although these claims are growing on high fibre foods globally, companies should be aware that they are still not permitted in Europe. Eade said:

“You do have to be careful with claims as EFSA currently does not permit immunity claims on any digestive wellness ingredients.”

Nutrition guidelines tend to focus on naturally fibre-rich foods such as grains, fruits and vegetables to boost intakes, but a growing number of packaged food and beverage companies is using fibre ingredients to help consumers reach their fibre goals. And the range of foods and drinks with added fibre has expanded in recent years as suppliers have introduced various soluble fibre ingredients, including from corn and oats, as well as chicory fibre. Rice fibre also has found a strong niche in gluten-free products.

New applications

Eade says the most popular fibres for foods carrying a high fibre claim are inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides, before more traditional cereal fibres such as oat and wheat.

“What we are seeing in terms of innovation here is the inclusion of fibres into new products less traditionally associated with high fibre,” she said. “This is a really key way to get consumers to consume more fibre and be more interested in these products that are fortified.”

Beverages, for instance, have become a popular vehicle for fibre ingredients, although developers still must be careful not to add too much if they want to avoid issues with taste and texture.

When it comes to claims, soluble fibre such as inulin is the most well-known prebiotic, but companies are not able to link a prebiotic claim to a wellness claim unless it is related to the fibre content itself. That said, prebiotic claims are on the rise, up 42% in the past five years.

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