As consumers adopt healthier lifestyles, functional fiber ingredients are making a strong play in food and beverage applications.

Rob Brewster, President

July 14, 2023

6 Min Read
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Hippocrates is credited with suggesting all disease begins in the gut, although the modern-day version for the health and nutrition industry may be more akin to “good health starts in the gut.” To complicate things, back when the pandemic was raging, a 2020 meta-analysis on gastrointestinal (GI) involvement in Covid-19 noted afflicted patients were reporting a range of GI symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Over the past couple of years, consumers have become more aware of their whole-body health, and what steps they need to take to achieve it. According to the 2021 Food & Health Survey from IFIC (International Food Information Council), consumers have become increasingly interested in using probiotics and prebiotics in supporting a healthy gut microbiome.

The pros of prebiotics

Health benefits associated with probiotics are well documented, and their popularity has soared over the past couple of years. According to a 2020 survey conducted by DuPont Nutrition and Biosciences and the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), the number of U.S. consumers taking probiotics increased by 66%, amounting to 25% of total supplement users (compared to 15% of total users six months prior.)

As of press time, searching #probiotics on Instagram returned close to 2 million posts, while posts tagged with #prebiotics easily surpassed 400,000.

Prebiotics have been around for a long time and have a lot of potential, especially as more research is done. While probiotics are widely talked about, consumer education is needed regarding what prebiotics are and what they do, so the public can gain a better understanding of the value these ingredients play in a healthy lifestyle.

Soluble prebiotic fibers, commonly found in foods such as oats, peas, beans, apples, citrus fruits, carrots and barley, help slow digestion to better absorb glucose and help the body manage cholesterol levels for better heart health. These prebiotic fibers have a broad assortment of potential benefits beyond heart health, including:

• Promotion of beneficial bacteria growth for a healthier gut

• Enhanced immune system

• Management of blood sugar and weight

• Improved calcium and magnesium absorption.

Insoluble fibers can be found in foods such as wheat bran, vegetables and whole grains, and are most notably recognized for their ability to help digestion, providing support to the intestines and more. So while both types of fiber are associated with digestion, they each provide unique benefits from the way they function.

People are what they eat

It is no secret that what people put in their bodies can directly affect their overall well-being, and yet, it doesn’t stop many consumers from eating largely unhealthy or imbalanced meals. Americans have fallen into this pattern for numerous reasons, including convenience, comfort or perhaps a learned behavioral pattern. Regardless, one of the most common omissions in the U.S. diet is fiber.

Studies show many Americans still fall well below the fiber intake they need. A review article in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine concluded 95% of adults and children don't consume the amount of fiber recommended for good health.

It appears the body’s need for fiber is not being emphasized enough, nor are the health challenges that can stem from a fiber-deficient diet. In general, fiber helps support gut and microbiome health, and some of the challenges associated with a deficiency can range from irregular bowel movement, constipation, blood sugar fluctuations, lack of satiety after eating or a rise in cholesterol levels.

A lack of fiber can result in an unhealthy digestive system—and if good health starts in the gut, then consumers can ill afford to leave fiber out of their lives. Results of low-fiber diets can lead to both short- and long-term health challenges.

The future of fiber

According to Global Market Insights, the global dietary fibers market size surpassed $5.3 billion in 2019 and is estimated to grow at over 12.5% through 2026.

With consumers becoming more aware of the value of proactive health and developing healthier lifestyles, ingredient manufacturers and suppliers are looking to introduce additional functional fiber ingredients into everyday diets.

By incorporating fiber into food and beverage formulations, consumers now have more convenient options to influence their health. Functional foods and beverages are becoming increasingly popular among consumers, and according to a 2019 global report from Allied Market Research, this sector was valued at $177.7 million in 2019 and is estimated to reach $267.9 million by 2027.

Over the last few years, great strides have been seen with the use of citrus fibers. Sourced from oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit, citrus fibers naturally fit into the soluble fiber category and make easy additions to food and beverages, satisfying the need for dietary fiber supplementation. One strong benefit of citrus fibers is they are natural sources of pectin that improve gelling, thickening, stabilizing and water-binding capabilities when compared to other available fiber.

Citrus fiber can also be rich in various polyphenols, when retained during the extraction process, which deliver an extra boost of antioxidants as a value-added benefit, as noted in the scientific publication, “Phytochemicals in Citrus.” Formulators can consider including citrus fibers in applications such as drinkable yogurts, smoothies or snack bars. Some citrus fiber ingredients may also be appropriate in powdered drink mixes, including protein powders.

A unique functional fiber ingredient is now available that is made from the pomace of luo han guo, also known as monk fruit. One thing that makes monk fruit fiber distinct among other functional fiber options is that it is also able to deliver the sweet profile that customers are currently hoping to find in products with no to little sugar.

Monk fruit is a great source of insoluble fiber, and, like citrus fibers, it can deliver multiple benefits for food and beverage applications while also potentially helping to improve insulin sensitivity for better blood glucose support and providing digestive support within the GI tract. Monk fruit pomace is also a good source of mogrosides, which are involved with delivering antioxidant and blood glucose management benefits.

As consumers look to purchase products with improved benefit profiles, citrus fibers and monk fruit fibers are two great options of dietary fiber able to be formulated into a wide variety of applications.

The future of fiber is bright, and with endless possibilities to make the supplementation of fiber easier, tastier and healthier. With increased education and consumer awareness and demand, the dietary fiber movement is a healthy movement indeed.

As a third-generation ingredient manufacturer for the natural products industry, Rob Brewster is proud to be part of the health and wellness world. He followed in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps, helping their company Brewster Foods grow since he joined in the 1990s, and then partnering with Syntech to form Ingredients by Nature, a world leader of citrus bioflavonoids and extracts. As president, Brewster takes pride in citrus science and continues to invest heavily in citrus flavonoid science for condition-specific applications and holistic wellness.

About the Author(s)

Rob Brewster

President, Ingredients by Nature

As a third-generation ingredient manufacturer for the natural products industry, Rob Brewster is proud to be part of the health and wellness world. He followed in his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps, helping their company Brewster Foods grow since he joined in the 1990s, and then partnering with Syntech to form Ingredients by Nature, a world leader of citrus bioflavonoids and extracts. As president, Brewster takes pride in citrus science and continues to invest heavily in citrus flavonoid science for condition-specific applications and holistic wellness.

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