Gut health (part 1): Functional fiber's growing applications

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28 May 2018 --- The importance of fiber is intimately tied with gut microbes. A healthy, fibrous diet feeds and allows the gut bacteria to thrive. In turn, they increase and enhance the gut microbiome. NutritionInsight focuses on fiber in this special report on gut health, speaking to Beneo, CFF, Taiyo and Roquette on the evolving space of fibers for gut health and its growing suite of markets including gluten-free, meat-free and weight management.

Fibers are essential for a healthy gut microbe. The more microbes that are in the intestine, the thicker the mucus wall and the better the barrier between the body and the bacterial population. This mucus wall has been found to protect the body from infection. While the mucus barrier lowers inflammation throughout the body, the bacteria aid in digestion. Therefore, creating a dual benefit.

There are two main types of fiber: insoluble and soluble.

Insoluble fibers, while necessary, are primarily efficient for stool bulking, i.e., they pass through the body unaltered. Typical insoluble fibers include brown rice and fruit skins. On the other hand, soluble fibers also pass through the digestive system but these fibers bind to substances such as cholesterol and sugar, thereby slowing their absorption into the blood. Furthermore, soluble fibers also boost the intestinal flora by stimulating beneficial bifidobacteria growth. These fibers are found in the diet in oats, nuts and beans.

Most people do not reach the daily recommended intake levels for fiber. In the UK, a recent Public Health England survey found that only 9 percent of adults were achieving the daily intake goal of 30g. A range of manufacturers supply functional fiber's that can be used across a variety of applications, in turn tackling low fiber levels.

Soluble fibers
Beneo’s Orafti inulin and Oligofructose are soluble chicory root fibers that “can be easily integrated into various applications while supporting excellent taste and texture,” Katrien Lambeens, Product Manager Functional Fibers at Beneo, tells NutritionInsight.

“And, in terms of versatility, they are suitable for a range of technical applications.” 

“The soluble fibers can be easily used in most food and drink applications such as biscuits, cereal bars, yogurts, smoothies or even waters. Thereby boosting the health profile of these foods,” she adds.

Roquette also offers a soluble fiber that is obtained from non-GM corn or wheat: Nutriose. “Nutriose can be easily incorporated to boost the fiber content of a range of foods: bread and biscuits, cereal bars, yogurt, beverages, etc. Used alone as a table-top fiber, Nutrose is a convenient way to enrich our everyday foods with fiber,” a Roquette spokesperson tells NutritionInsight.

Insoluble fibers
In terms of insoluble fiber, CFF offers its Sanacel range of water-insoluble fibers that derive from a range of wheat, oat and bamboo raw materials. The fibers are high in cellulose “that has been shown to promote good gut microbes, aid digestion and produce enzymes to break down foods,” Jennifer Zamanifar, Nutritionist and Team Leader for Food and International Sales at CFF, tells NutritionInsight.

“CFF produces dietary fiber concentrates with almost 100 percent cellulose content that can easily be added to any food , including processed foods.”Click to Enlarge

A move away from dairy for gut health 
In terms of exciting prospects for the fiber market, Lambeen notes that “although consumers have traditionally seen dairy products as key drivers of digestive health, there is a move towards plant-based alternatives such as almond and soy products. According to Beneo’s analysts, both ‘plant-based’ and ‘digestive wellness’ are two of the top ten trends for 2018. Unsurprisingly, when combined, these products are proving very popular with consumers.”

Innova Market Insights' data similarly reveals such patterns in the plant-based space, noting that the global market for dairy-alternative drinks is expected to reach US$16.3billion in 2018; a dramatic rise from US$7.4billion in 2010. In terms of dairy-alternative beverages that feature a “gut” positioning, the data shows a rise of +16 percent from 2012 to 2016. 

Both Chr.Hansen and Calfifa have tapped into this plant-based-gut axis with probiotic interventions. 

Moreover, a snack evolution is taking place. This evolution, coined snackification, has seen snacks becoming healthier, more wholesome and more nutritious. Lambeen further explains that consumers are prioritizing dairy-alternative drinks, biscuits, breakfast cereals and cereal bars for snacks that deliver strongly on fiber for snacks. This, she speculates, is an area that is set for further fibrous growth.

Meat and gluten-free living
The demand for plant-based alternatives has never been higher, as consumers try to eat more ethically and more healthfully. Zamanifar, of CFF, speaks about the use of Sanacel not only in meat products but in vegetarian and vegan meat analog products.

“In meat applications, fibers are popular as price pressures have led to companies trying to reduce the meat content of their products. The sensory properties of Sanacel fibers are also better quality than the properties that come with the original high meat content product, especially regarding texture,” she says.

“In vegetarian and vegan markets for meat substitutes, Sanacel fiber blends imitate the properties of meat, and so create a meat-like texture. This helps consumers accept the final product,” she adds.

Quorn, a meat substitute product originating in the UK, already utilizes fibers to copy the meat-like texture in its products. Quorn uses mycoprotein, which is made up of tiny hair-like fibers that have a similar length and diameter ratio to that of meat.

Furthermore, gluten-free products can benefit from fiber as, “Sanacel fiber blends can imitate the properties of gluten, to help gain higher baking volumes. Sanacel fibers are also e-number free, and as a result are becoming more and more important when producing natural, healthy and gluten-free foods,” Zamanifar adds.Click to Enlarge

Fiber and weight-management
Besides bringing goodness to the gut, Lambeen predicts that the link between fiber and weight-loss is yet to be fully tapped into.

“More and more research is highlighting the importance that blood sugar management plays in maintaining a healthy weight. This is not surprising, seeing as a major driver of metabolism – insulin – is influenced by blood sugar levels.”

Importantly, Beneo’s chicory fibers, Orafti inulin and Oligofructose, have been verified as “having a blood glucose lowering effect. Beneo’s fibers have been shown to support weight management efforts and to stop weight gain in 15 clinical interventions in both adults and children.”

“This link between gut health and weight management is only just beginning to be understood, but using prebiotic fibers to promote stable blood sugars is an area that has real growth potential in coming years.”

Novel fiber ingredient combinations for health applications
Taiyo produces Sunfiber, a soluble fiber derived from the guar bean that is touted as providing all the benefits of a dietary fiber, without the negatives. The company plan to combine Sunfiber with other bioactive ingredients, thereby entering a new market: urinary tract health.

“We are looking to combine our guar with soluble cranberry juice concentrate from Fruit d'Or. They produce a standardized powdered cranberry product, which is tested for soluble PAC, or proanthocyanidins, content. What we are targeting here is urinary tract health combined with the gastrointestinal improvements from the Sunfiber,” Derek Timm Ph.D., Taiyo’s Technical Sales Director tells Nutritioninsight.

Click to Enlarge
Schär low FODMAP, high fiber
panini rolls

Taiyo is also looking toward the gut-brain axis. Timm describes how by combining Sunfiber with Taiyo’s Sunheanine, a product that targets both the gut and the brain could emerge. “We are in a really strong position to take leadership in this emerging area of gut-brain products,” he concludes.

Furthermore, Schär has released the first low FODMAP range for patients suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) in the UK, which is marketed as high in fiber. 

“Under the supervision of a registered dietitian, the adoption of a low FODMAP diet can be extremely beneficial in managing the symptoms of IBS. However, the diet can often be restrictive or difficult to follow so we’re delighted Schär is providing consumers with rigorously tested clearly labeled low FODMAP options to support them in managing their condition,” says Alison Reid, CEO of the IBS Network.

Essentially, functional fibers can enter a range of markets and applications. As their gut-health benefits are more widely understood, consumers may seek out food and beverage products that come with the fiber and gut health tag. Part two of this special report series on gut health focuses on probiotics.

By Laxmi Haigh

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