The Food and Drug Administration approved eight non-digestible carbohydrates to augment fiber content in foods. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that manufacturers will be able to include them when calculating the total amount of fiber per serving listed on Nutrition Facts labels and Supplement Facts labels.
The eight ingredients are mixed plant cell wall fibers, such as sugar cane fiber and apple fiber; alginate; arabinoxylan; inulin and inulin-type fructans; high amylose starch; galactooligosaccharide; polydextrose and resistant maltodextrin/dextrin. Gottlieb said the agency may approve additional dietary fibers as it works through related petitions. The FDA denied two petitions "because we did not agree that the evidence submitted met the scientific standards," he said.
The approved dietary fiber ingredients must provide a health benefit and not merely function as a non-digestible carbohydrate, Gottlieb noted. "Our goal is to make sure that consumers can trust that the latest, tasty fiber-rich snack food or cereal that comes on the market can offer them some real health benefits," he said in a statement.
FDA determined the approved ingredients provided several beneficial physiological effects: lowering blood glucose and cholesterol levels, lowering blood pressure, increasing frequency of bowel movements, increasing mineral absorption in the intestinal tract and reducing energy intake from the fiber providing a feeling of fullness. The eight approved add to seven others FDA also has backed, including cellulose, guar gum and psyllium husk.
Research shows dietary fiber can provide numerous health benefits, such as limiting blood glucose and potentially preventing Type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and heart disease. However, most consumers don't get the minimum daily 28 grams recommended. Average consumption is about half that — 15 grams a day.
Ingredient manufacturers were pleased by the FDA decision since it gives a green light to many of their branded products. For example, inulin and inulin-type fructans, often made from chicory root, are in products such as General Mill's Fiber One, Food Business News reported. The publication said branded inulin products include Frutafit and Frutalose from Sensus America, Oliggo-Fiber from Cargill and Orafti from Beneo.
Fiber is being added to all types of foods, including Activia yogurt and Fiber One ice cream. It's even showing up in beverages as consumers look for healthier add-ons. As a result, consumers may believe these items are healthier due to the fiber content. According to the Associated Press, a Fiber one brownie contains 5 grams of fiber and 90 calories, while a small bag of Smart Sweets gummy bears has 90 calories and 28 grams of fiber.
For this reason, the Center for Science in the Public Interest said added dietary fiber is confusing people about what are truly healthy food choices. Bonnie Liebman, the group's director of nutrition, told the AP the situation could influence consumers to choose a brownie with added fiber over a peach, for example, and that the added fiber may not deliver the health benefit consumers expect.
In addition, manufacturers may need to explain what type of fiber they're using in their products and what beneficial health impact it may have compared to natural fiber found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables — all sources recommended by nutritionists. They also should also be careful not to market what may really be indulgent products as healthier because of added fiber content. No company wants to be sued for false label claims.
As FDA approves more types of dietary fiber, it's likely additional products will be launched making fiber claims. However, consumers may prefer the taste and texture to remain the same, giving manufacturers another challenge in developing new products with fiber.