Analyst Insight by Simone Baroke – Contributing Analyst
“Old school” diet lore taught us that fiber “fills you up”, but recent research shows that there is much more to it than that. Dietary fiber has the power to alter the composition of the intestinal micro-flora, triggering the release of satiety hormones that communicate to the brain that we are full. The message, however, has not yet trickled through to consumers, leaving high fiber foods at the risk of stagnation.
Fiber More Complex than Previously Thought
After general well-being, weight management remains by far the most important health and wellness positioning platform. In 2013, the category accrued global value sales of US$156.3 million for thus positioned packaged food and beverage products.
Fiber has long played a pivotal role in weight management. For decades, pharmacies and health food shops have been selling fiber tablets based on the simple concept that, if taken with enough water, the fiber swells up in the stomach and this is meant to produce a lasting feeling of fullness. In more recent years, various types of dietary fiber have been added to weight management foods and beverages in order to enhance the feeling of satiety produced after consuming these products.
We now know that it is not just a case of “fiber fills you up”. It turns out that there are many complex biochemical pathways involved that cause the brain to register a state of fullness. These mechanisms are gradually being uncovered and officially recognized.
Fiber Alters Gut Flora
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), for instance, approved a health claim pertaining to weight loss for glucomannan, a soluble dietary fibre derived from konjac root, which triggers the release of cholecystokinin, a satiety-inducing hormone. Last year, Carmit Candy, a US-based manufacturer of private label health and wellness confectionery, added a glucomannan-fortified chocolate wafer with a weight management positioning to its portfolio.
Recent research provides some more astonishing insight into the wondrous workings of dietary fiber. A small human study published a year ago in Nutrition Journal stipulated that the fiber contained in barley kernels had a profound effect on the study subjects’ gut micro-biota, resulting in the release of the satiety hormone GLP-1, which subsequently led to a reduction in energy intake at meal times.
The researchers pointed out that previous investigations had already shown that the intestinal flora of people of normal weight differs quite markedly from that of obese people. Hence, the impact of indigestible fibers on the human digestive system and its implications for weight management are now a major area of scientific research with much promise for exciting future NPD.
In May 2014, the journal Nature Communications published a paper submitted by Imperial College London and the Medical Research Council which had concluded that the acetate molecules that are released when dietary fiber passes through the gut produce a signal in the brain, which tells the person to stop eating.
The researchers made the salient point that the diet of the average European contained just 15g of fiber a day, compared to the 100g that would have been consumed by a human in the Stone Age. Considering that our digestive systems are still on a Stone Age setting, a lack of dietary fiber has many negative implications for our health, including obesity.
Turning Consumers Back on to Fiber
Our data show that naturally healthy (NH) high fiber food achieved global value growth of 7% in 2013, and that while the category had been gaining in dynamism globally and in Western Europe over the 2008-2013 review period, North American growth rates have gradually diminished, lingering at an unexciting annual 2% for the past three years.
A renewed emphasis on weight management benefits could give high fiber food a second wind, and propel it out of the doldrums in the North American region, which was, not so long ago, its most buoyant growth market.
As yet, there is precious very little consumer awareness of how dietary fiber manages to produce weight management benefits, besides the rather simplistic rationale that it provides extra bulk in the stomach. Manufacturers of weight management foods and beverages may want to pay attention in the coming years to providing fresh scientific angles when hammering out their marketing strategies in order to drive it home to consumers that fiber has lost nothing of its relevance.