Fibre: a single source of heart health functionality and consumer appeal


George Pontiakos, President and CEO, BI Nutraceuticals, comments on the non-GRAS status of PHOs and the growth of fibre’s popularity

This time last year, I was writing an article on cardiovascular health for this very magazine. In it, I mentioned the possibility of the US FDA banning the use of partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) in food products owing to their contribution towards cardiovascular disease.

A year later, on 16 June 2015, the FDA announced that PHOs were not GRAS and food manufacturers will have until 2018 to remove them from their products.

This retraction not only shows the government’s recognition of the unhealthiness of PHOs, but it also shows the significance placed on cardiovascular health. 'The FDA’s action on this major source of artificial trans fat demonstrates the agency’s commitment to the heart health of all Americans,' stated FDA's Acting Commissioner, Stephen Ostroff, MD.

To match the government’s efforts, consumers and manufacturers are also taking steps towards heart health. Consumers are increasingly taking their health and wellness into their own hands, reading nutrition labels and seeking heart healthy ingredients … and manufacturers are addressing these demands. One such ingredient that has particularly become popular, amongst both consumers and manufacturers, is fibre.

Fibre encompasses an expansive group of ingredients, made up of isolated fibres and fibre-rich ingredients. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are particularly good sources of fibre, fitting perfectly into the mainstream trend of clean label. Fibre sources are typically split into two types — soluble and insoluble — each contributing to cardiovascular health in their own way.

Soluble fibre helps to lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure, risk factors for heart disease. Insoluble fibre helps to prevent obesity, another risk factor for heart disease. However, they can also contain equal parts of soluble and insoluble fibre. Although different fibre sources have varying benefits, the bottom line is that consumers know that fibre, in general, is beneficial for their health. In addition, owing to the FDA health claim, most know that when combined with a diet that’s low in saturated fat and trans fat, fibre can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.

For formulators, this variety offers flexibility when developing products with a high fibre content; it gives them enough options to find the fibre ingredient that’s right for their particular application. In addition, some even provide product development benefits as well; again, addressing the mainstream trend of clean label. Fibre sources that inherently contain product development benefits can replace the synthetic ingredients specifically incorporated for those functionalities. This gives manufacturers a double benefit of adding functionality and consumer appeal with just one ingredient.

For instance, psyllium thickens in the presence of liquids to add mouthfeel to beverages, especially diet shakes that may be lower in fat. Psyllium can make low fat diet shakes seem creamier and indulgent while simultaneously providing dietary fibre, benefiting both consumer and formulator. Other fibre sources can affect colour and flavour: apple fibre adds a favourable flavour to fruit snacks whereas carrot fibre adds a pleasing orange colour.

Similarly, formulators can replace refined flours with whole grain flours to not only increase the fibre content but also add texture and an artisanal feel to baked goods. With today’s range of high-fibre ingredients with varying functionalities and health and wellness benefits, product formulation is made easier while, at the same time, increasing consumer appeal.