Georgia State University researchers found that feeding mice the fermentable fiber inulin prevented metabolic syndrome caused by a high-fat diet, Ingredients Network reported. Metabolic syndrome is connected to obesity and features high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess waist fat and high cholesterol or triglyceride levels. When those factors occur together, they can elevate the risk of heart disease, stroke or diabetes.
The scientists fed mice a grain-based rodent chow, a high-fat diet, or a high-fat diet supplemented with fiber. After four weeks, they found the diet supplemented with inulin decreased weight gain and obesity caused by a high-fat diet. The inulin-enriched diet also lowered cholesterol levels and limited abnormal blood sugar levels, they reported. The study was published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.
"We found that manipulating dietary fiber content, particularly by adding fermentable fiber, guards against metabolic syndrome," Andrew Gewirtz, professor in the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State, said in a statement. "These results contribute to the understanding of the mechanisms that underlie diet-induced obesity and offer insight into how fermentable fibers might promote better health.”
Many studies have underscored the fact that dietary fiber enhances the growth of so-called "good bacteria" in the colon. Studies also have found eating a high-fiber diet can balance blood sugar levels, aid in digestion, lower cholesterol and possibly reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Nutritionists recommend getting the daily recommended amount of fiber from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Consumers are generally aware of fiber's health halo, but recent surveys found while 87% consider it to be healthy, and about 60% are looking to consume more, many say they are still not getting enough roughage due to a lack of products on the market. The new Nutrition Facts label should help by requiring products to include measurements of dietary fibers, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't yet defined what counts as a dietary fiber.
While this study from Georgia State University was conducted in mice, it's just the latest evidence highlighting the health benefits of fiber. The results could potentially spur more consumer interest in products with fiber, which undoubtedly will capture the attention of food companies eager to boost sales in a challenging environment. Regardless, food companies would be wise to tout on the label the fiber already in their products and the potential health benefits to shoppers.
Food and beverage manufacturers already have been responding to consumer demand by making more products with higher levels of fiber. In addition to it being added to Activia yogurt and Fiber One ice cream, there are high-fiber bars for breakfast, snacks and post-exercise.
There also are new ways to add soluble fiber to drinks. Promitor, a soluble corn fiber, is being added to beverages, as is PromOat, which is made from non-bioengineered Swedish oats. Fibersol is another corn-based soluble fiber added to health-focused items such as juices and meal-replacement beverages. And a prototype of spiced cold brew coffee with Fibersol was at the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting and food exposition in Las Vegas last June. Such products could be popular with consumers as long as the added fiber doesn’t adversely impact the taste or mouth-feel of the beverage.
The interest in dietary fiber isn't just occurring among older consumers looking for regularity, according to a recent article in Food Ingredients First. Younger consumers also are purchasing products with the ingredient because of the health benefits associated with a high-fiber diet. This trend could play to the strengths of General Mills, Dannon, Tate & Lyle and ADM in developing and promoting fiber-rich products.
Manufacturers of baked goods might also keep an eye out later this year for a new high-fiber wheat being grown in Washington and Minnesota. The new variety — to be marketed on a trial basis under the HealthSense brand — is said to contain more than 10 times the resistant starch of conventional wheat. According to Baking Business, resistant starch, known as amylose, may improve digestive health, protect against the genetic damage that can lead to bowel cancer and help fight type 2 diabetes.
The question isn't whether the consumption of soluble fiber is advisable, or whether it can enhance gut health. Those have already been resolved. The questions now are how much fiber to consume, in what form, and how food and beverage makers can develop new products to help move things along.