Dietary Fibre: “The Protein Of The Future”

Monday, May 6th, 2019

Globally, there is a huge fibre gap in human nutrition but increased consumption of dietary fibre is a powerful tool to reduce chronic inflammation, says Henk Hoogenkamp, Author & Protein Application Specialist.


Gut health is a top concern for many people. Dietary fibres help contribute to digestive everyday wellness and overall health, beyond simply keeping people regular. However, average fibre consumption has drastically declined in developed countries over the past few decades. Colonic health is affected by the amount of fibre consumed, a process by which the mucus layer responds to dietary modifications and subsequent bacterial changes.

Globally, there is a huge fibre gap in human nutrition; increased consumption of dietary fibre is a powerful tool to reduce chronic inflammation. Future dietary fibre intake recommendations for humans will significantly increase from current levels. For men, the current daily intake will increase from 25 to 40 grams per day and from 20 to 30 grams for women. The question is if these goals are attainable.

Digestive health is increasingly focused on plant-based nutrition ingredients. Many plant-based proteins and fibre ingredients have a strong colour, aroma, and aftertaste, which can be a challenge—for example—for people who struggle with loss of appetite, thus failing to meet their daily nutrient requirement.

Beyond keeping people regular, dietary fibres hold strong prebiotic value for microbiome or digestive health support. The more microbes present in the intestine, the thicker the mucus wall and the better the barrier between the body and the bacterial population. It is known that the mucus wall protects the body from infection and thus helps lower inflammation. An added benefit is that some types of dietary fibres—like inulin—are excellent alternatives for sugar replacement.


Dietary Fibre: “The Protein Of The Future”

Frequent consumption of highly-processed food stripped of many naturally-occurring components has transformed into a diet that does not promote a healthy gut. Very often, “modern” food choices are low in dietary fibre and subsequently contribute to a lower diversity of microbiota. This is especially true for people living in affluent industrialised societies.

Unfortunately, ever since the dietary habits changed because of the increased consumption of overly-processed foods—which are typically low in fibre—many people are not getting the necessary amounts of dietary fibre.

There is a growing awareness of the role of fibres in gut health, including healthy digestion. Particularly in the developed countries, disorders of the digestive system are a major public health issue. It is estimated that between 10 and 20 percent of the population has symptoms of gut health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and colitis. Research has shown that diets with higher levels of fibre are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes. Most plant fibres are natural, which means that they are clean label with a high level of digestive tolerance.

Lifestyle habits, lack of freshly prepared meals, and overconsumption of processed foods are the most common reasons why consumers are fibre deficient. The lack of whole grains, fruits and vegetables are specifically the leading causes; as the percentage of processed foods in the diet increases, the amount of fibre consumption decreases. In addition, in the eyes of most consumers, dietary fibres are considered good nutrition with a bad rap. In other words, water insoluble fibres don’t taste good.

Most consumers—especially women—are aware of the link between fibre and digestive health. Unfortunately, not many follow through by adjusting their diet accordingly. A significant number of people experience one or more negative side effects when consuming high-fibre foods. These side effects might include stomach cramps, diarrhoea, bloating and gas, which might very well be a deterrent to purchase high-fibre foods.


Performance And Functionality

Functionally, dietary fibres provide texturising properties to formulated food products. Food-fibres are not created equally; they greatly differ in physical properties and organoleptic performance. Regarding functionality and performance, plant fibres deliver both water management and texture. Dietary fibres usually reduce the calorie count while providing dietary support regarding prebiotic, probiotic or synbiotic performance, as well as regulating transition time in the dietary tract and colon. Prebiotics help feed probiotics, which are also known as the “good” bacteria for the gut. Specifically, prebiotics are soluble, fermented fibres.

Prebiotics and probiotics grouped together are called synbiotics, and these components are expected to signal market innovations with new products taking hold within their specialised space. These products are designed to improve the bacterial health of the intestinal tract will continue to attract consumer interest. As such, fermented foods and beverages like smoothies with kefir and kombucha will grow in popularity.

Increased intake of fibre has been linked to health benefits, including lower fatality risks due to cardiovascular conditions, infections, inflammation, and respiratory diseases. With increased dietary fibre consumption, there are potential health benefits like binding potentially carcinogenic chemicals in the intestines.

Dietary fibres are a relatively new ingredient in the portfolio of food formulators. Dietary fibres are considered bioactive compounds that can either be soluble or insoluble. Soluble fibre or probiotic slows down digestion, lowers LDL-cholesterol, and helps to manage blood sugar. Insoluble fibre or prebiotic not only improves the health of intestines, but also decreases the risk of some cancers and kidney disease.

There is an association between dietary fibre intake and obesity. High fibre intake reduces the risk of gaining weight. This is especially true for cereal fibre, which is mainly insoluble compared to vegetable and fruit fibre, which is typically more soluble. In general, insoluble fibre has more impact on satiety than soluble fibre. However, it is true that insoluble fibre can be a challenge for product formulators because of the “sandy” and dry mouthfeel. Also, the high degree of sedimentation makes insoluble fibre less suitable for inclusion in ready-to-drink beverages.

Dietary plant fibre is increasingly recognised as a “proactive” nutrient, considering that sufficient daily intake is linked to longevity. Although food marketing companies often portray a different picture, only a minority of consumers are interested in fibre-enhanced products with digestive claims. This is partly because an increasing number of modern consumers are separated from the natural food chain. Taste often deters consumers from eating fibre-added foods that have numerous health benefits. There are numerous studies that have linked lack of dietary fibre consumption to various cancers, heart disease, T2 diabetes, as well as bowel irregularity problems.

Adding dietary fibre to formulated food remains a considerable obstacle for marketers to overcome. A concerted effort with the help of educational initiatives must be made to dispel further negative consumer impressions.


Fibre & Mortality

Increased dietary fibre intake has been associated with a lower risk of mortality. However, findings on the association of different sources of dietary fibre with mortality are conflicting. Despite purported health benefits of (cereal) fibre, its mechanisms remain unknown. A possible explanation is the decreased faecal transit time, hence, lower potential for carcinogens to come into contact with the colon. Diets high in cereal fibre are also known to be rich in folate, phenolic acids, lignans, phytochemicals and antioxidants, which reportedly play a protective role in health and wellness (British Journal of Nutrition, 2016, Vol. 116, 343-352).

Higher intake levels of dietary fibre and wholegrains are linked with a lower risk of non-communicable diseases, body weight, and cholesterol levels. Studies suggest that a 15 – 30 percent decrease in all-cause and cardiovascular-related mortality, when comparing people who eat the highest amount of fibre to those who eat the least. For every 8 g increase of dietary fibre consumed per day, total deaths and incidences of coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer decreased by 5 to 27 percent. Protection against stroke and breast cancer also increased (The Lancet, January 14, 2019).


Hoogenkamp’s latest release, ‘Best of both worlds? Meat innovators consider taking the hybrid leap’ is now available on his website.