VIDEO: Should we define dietary fiber on the basis of what it is or what it does?

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Dietary fiber

Which ingredients should be classified as dietary fibers and why? Elaine Watson caught up with Dr Dennis Gordon from North Dakota State University (NDSU) at the IFT show in Las Vegas as the FDA considers petitions from suppliers of everything from inulin to gum acacia.

According to the FDA​, dietary fibers are non-digestible carbohydrates that are intrinsic or intact in plants - basically stuff we can’t digest from plant cell walls. 

It also agrees that some isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbs such as beta glucan and locust bean gum should be classified as dietary fibers.

But that still leaves a whole bunch of other ingredients currently being marketed as fibers in a state of regulatory limbo as suppliers wait for the FDA to respond to a series of petitions arguing that their ingredients demonstrate “a beneficial physiological effect in humans​.”

While the uncertainty is frustrating for industry, said Dr Gordon, Professor Emeritus, NDSU, you can see the logic behind the FDA’s approach: “In the past fiber was just defined by what is measured, now the government is saying it has to have some benefit…”

According to fiber suppliers we spoke to at the IFT show, The FDA is expected to release its determinations about the 26 dietary fibers subject to petitions all at once, rather than in a drip drip fashion, with more clarity about the timetable expected in late summer.

The fact that the FDA has now extended the deadline for compliance with the new-look Nutrition Facts panel​ beyond July 2018 to an undetermined date in the future (some commentators are predicting 2021) has also provided some much needed breathing space, said some exhibitors.

Under the FDA’s new definition​, dietary fiber now means: 

1 - Non-digestible soluble and insoluble carbohydrates (with 3 or more monomeric units), and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants ​[these don’t need FDA pre-approval and automatically meet the definition];

2 - Isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates (with 3 or more monomeric units) determined by FDA to have physiological effects that are beneficial to human health​ [the FDA has approved six: Beta-glucan soluble fiber, psyllium husk, cellulose, guar gum, pectin, locust bean gum, and hydroxypropylmethylcellulose], but said all others must submit petitions.

Isolated and synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates FDA says need to be supported by petitions if they are to be classified as dietary fiber include:

Gum acacia, alginate, apple fiber, bamboo fiber, carboxymethylcellulose, corn hull fiber, cottonseed fiber, galactooligosaccharides, inulin/oligofructose/synthetic short chain fructooligosaccharides, karaya gum, oat hull fiber, pea fiber,* polydextrose, potato fibers, pullulan, rice bran fiber, high Amylose cornstarch (Resistant Starch 2), retrograded cornstarch (Resistant Starch 3), resistant wheat and maize starch (Resistant Starch 4), soluble corn fiber, soy fiber, sugar beet fiber, sugar cane fiber, wheat fiber, xantham gum and xylooligosaccharides.

*​Margaret Hughes, VP Sales and Marketing at pulse ingredients supplier Best Cooking Pulses, Inc, told FoodNavigator-USA: "Pea hull fiber, dry-milled from the outer [seed] coat or hull of peas, is considered by the FDA an 'intrinsic and intact' dietary fiber,"(see page 5 of the November 22 draft guidance​) whereas inner pea fiber, a by-product of the wet milling process, is not​ approved as a fiber, and will require submission of a citizen’s petition in order to be approved as a synthetic or extracted fiber."

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