Consumers are searching supermarket shelves for tasty foods that contain fiber, according to new U.S. consumer research independently garnered for Tate & Lyle, a global food and beverage ingredient supplier.

Although most consumers don’t know how much fiber they need for optimal health or how much they’re currently consuming, they know they’re not getting enough—and are willing to pay a premium to get it. (For the record, the recommended daily fiber intake for men is 38 grams and for women 25 grams. The average daily intake for men is 19.5 grams; for women 12 grams.)

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s "2010 Food & Health Survey," 72% of Americans are trying to consume more fiber. That’s a good thing since only 5% meet fiber intake recommendations, leading the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to classify fiber as a “nutrient of concern.”

The Institute of Medicine defines total fiber as the sum of dietary fiber and functional fiber. Dietary fiber includes nondigestible carbohydrates and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants; functional fiber includes the isolated nondigestible carbohydrates that have beneficial physiological effects in humans (isolated nondigestible animal carbohydrates, pectins or gums, resistant starch formed during processing, and synthetic fibers such as resistant maltodextrin, fructo-oligosaccharides and polydextrose). This definition for fiber has not yet been adopted for the purposes of food labeling.

The health benefits of adequate fiber intake are many. According to the "Position of the American Dietetic Association: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber (2008)," obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, diverticulosis and constipation can be prevented or treated by increasing the amounts and varieties of fiber-containing foods. High-fiber diets also have been linked to lower body weights.

In August 2010, the National Institutes of Health reported that the health benefits of added isolated fibers are still unclear. Research suggests they may not have the same effects (i.e. on blood cholesterol and regularity) as the intact fibers found in whole foods, although certain isolated fibers may function as prebiotics. Nevertheless, nutrition experts believe it’s better to meet fiber recommendations with the help of fiber-fortified food than to not meet the recommendations.

Dairy foods are low in fiber, but fiber can be added. And consumers are looking for fiber across many food categories: mainly breakfast foods, but also milk, yogurt and cheese. Fiber in cheese? It’s possible.

“In food like yogurt, it’s easy to add fiber ingredients because whatever is added ends up in the final product,” says Donald McMahon, PhD, director of the Western Dairy Center, Dairy Technology Innovation Laboratory, Utah State University.

“In terms of cheese, the process is more complex because when you add fiber to milk, 10% of the fiber ends up in the cheese curd and 90% in the whey.”

To improve the palatability of low-fat cheese, McMahon developed a double emulsion process incorporating inulin that enables 90% of the inulin to remain in the cheese curd. In this way, 0.5 grams of fiber per serving can be added low-fat cheddar cheese and larger amounts can be added to reduced- and full-fat cheddar cheese. McMahon plans to submit his research to the "Journal of Dairy Science."

For more information, Dr. McMahon can be reached at or 435-797-3644.