As many of you were wrapping up from the 2009 IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo and preparing to celebrate Independence Day, the Codex Alimentarius Commission was formalizing a new definition for fiber that it hopes will gain global recognition. The new definition is consistent with the previous debated Codex definition in that it describes fiber as one of three categories of carbohydrate polymers: naturally occurring edible carbohydrate polymers; carbohydrate polymers obtained from food raw material by physical, enzymatic or chemical means; and synthetic carbohydrate polymers.

“Dietary fiber inherently present in food - the first type - does not need substantiation to be called fiber; however, dietary fiber ingredients added to foods do require substantiation of health benefits to qualify and be quantified as fiber,” says Christine Pelkman, business scientist, National Starch Food Innovation, Bridgewater, N.J.

The previous definition that Codex had been debating for more than 15 years recommended that the carbohydrate polymers must have a degree of polymerization not lower than three (to exclude mono- and disaccharides). In contrast, the definition adopted the first week of July states that the carbohydrate polymers must have 10 or more monomeric units. However, a footnote included in the provision suggests that the “decision on whether to include carbohydrates from three to nine monomeric units should be left to national authorities.”

Another difference between the new definition and the former one is that the new one does not - yet - provide guidelines on the methods of analysis for quantifying dietary fiber. The old definition specified use of the method developed by the Association of Official Analytical Chemists.

Formalities aside, dairy foods are an ideal delivery vehicle for all types of fiber ingredients. Fiber can be added “invisibly” to milk or it can be delivered via an inclusion crunch yogurt topping. The opportunities are limitless. And the good news is, consumers want more ways to increase their fiber intake.

Recent research indicates that consumers want healthier foods and believe fiber can help them reach their healthy living goals. Here are five facts straight from consumers that Tate & Lyle, Decatur, Ill., found in its U.S. market research.

1. Simple, label-friendly terminology: When it comes to consumer understanding, promoting monikers such as insoluble fiber, soluble fiber and functional fiber with virtually no consumer education earn failing grades. In fact, research shows that less than 10% of consumers are familiar with each of these terms. On the other hand, consumers seem to have a greater affinity for simple terms: 75% are familiar with whole grains, 65% are familiar with fiber and 44% are familiar with dietary fiber.

2. Whole grains are misleading: Research found that more than half of consumers (55%) say the more whole grains in their food, the more fiber it contains. When they find out whole grains and fiber are not the same, consumers report feeling misled. Specifying fiber content on packages may help manufacturers continually build brand loyalty while maintaining credibility.

3. On-pack information helps sales: Ingredient information, particularly about fiber, on packages has been shown to positively influence consumer purchases. Nearly 50% of consumers trust on-pack information about fiber.

4. Taste is an opportunity: With 57% of consumers seeking healthier products these days, manufacturers integrating good taste with health benefits may see a boost in the health of their bottom lines. In fact, nearly 50% of consumers believe fiber-rich foods and drinks can taste good.

5. Fiber means healthy digestion: Seventy-nine percent of consumers agree with the statement “maintaining digestive health is directly related to including fiber in their diets.” And, 52% of consumers believe healthy digestion is the most important reason to add fiber to their diets. Consumers believe other benefits exist as well. Fifty-three percent agree that weight is affected by fiber intake and another 35% say fiber helps support a healthy immune system.

Fiber at IFT

If you missed this year’s IFT meeting - maybe you were at the Codex meeting in Rome - you can still access the numerous papers presented on fiber research and ingredient innovations. In fact, audio recordings can be purchased online and downloaded to your computer. Access, scroll down to “presentation number” and enter any of the following presentations in the accompanying chart that you would like to explore for more details.