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Fiber: Today's 'It' Ingredient

From breakfast cereal to chocolate bars, fiber is the new darling of the food world.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Fiber. It's the new all-star ingredient stealing the spotlight in toaster pastries, yogurt, canned soups, even ice cream.

Some fiber standbys are bumping up their servings, too. From whole-wheat bread to cereal bars drizzled with dark chocolate, the number of processed foods with extra fiber is growing.

Manufacturers introduced 782 products with fiber claims on package labels in the past year, according to the Nielsen Company, a marketing research firm. In the summer of 2005, some 2,000 products advertised fiber on the label. In 2009, according to Nielsen, nearly 3,500 do.

Among the familiar foods with newly added fiber are some varieties of Progresso Soup that contain more than one-fourth of a day's recommended intake, and Kellogg's Froot Loops and Apple Jacks cereals.

Is this sudden infatuation with dietary fiber just another food fad? Have Americans finally embraced the once-lowly ingredient long-associated with prune juice and bran muffins? WebMD examines the forces driving fiber's newfound fame.   

Froot Loops and Fiber

Kellogg is one company seeking to satisfy the demand for more fiber. It plans to boost the fiber content of most of its cereals to at least 10% of the recommended daily amount by the end of 2010.

Kellogg is starting its fiber-boosting campaign with children's cereals because of research that shows mothers are concerned about how much fiber their children get, says Nelson G. Almeida, PhD, the company's vice president of global nutrition science, labeling, and marketing. A serving of revamped Froot Loops has jumped from less than a gram of fiber to 3. The sugar content remains the same at 13 grams, about 3 teaspoons. 

"If we can find a way to provide more fiber to our consumers, if we need to add a little bit of sugar or sweetness to the product to be able to have them eat it, I think it's a good thing," Almeida says.

Boosting Fiber Is Easier Than Ever

The boom in foods with added fiber comes as food manufacturers are tapping into demand for functional foods, which supply health benefits beyond nutrition. New technologies have created fiber that is easier to add to foods and tastier, Almeida says.

Much of the fiber added to the newest wave of fortified foods is soluble and comes from inulin, a plant compound commonly extracted from chicory root that can make low-fat foods taste creamier and add sweetness. Inulin also is derived from byproducts of sugar production from beets. Soluble corn fiber, which replaces traditional sweeteners as well as adding fiber, is also turning up on ingredient lists.

"Companies have been realizing this is a relatively easy thing to do to enhance a food," says Mary Camire, PhD, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine and president of AACC International, formerly the American Association of Cereal Chemists. "The technology is there, and the science on the benefits of fiber is improving."

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