In recent years, factors such as growing urbanisation and production of processed food, as well as ‘on-the-go’ lifestyle changes, have contributed to a shift in consumers’ dietary patterns, according to the World Health Organisation. This has led to diets that are high in energy, fats, sugars or sodium, rather than rich in fruits, vegetables and dietary fibres.
Such diets have contributed to the rise of chronic diseases such as diabetes, which has become a serious problem in Asia Pacific. In fact, the 2015 International Diabetes Federation’s Diabetes Atlas report revealed that the region has one of the world’s highest rates of diabetes.
Thankfully, this looks set to change. Various government education campaigns in the region are driving consumers to take a more active role in their health, starting with their diets. For example, the Minister for Health in Singapore has declared a “war on diabetes” in 2016, and laid out a multi-year strategy for tackling this issue. As an increase in consumer awareness about disease prevention gains momentum, knowledge on the health benefits associated with increase dietary fibre consumption is also on the rise.
Additionally, numerous research studies have shown that an increase in fibre consumption can provide multiple health benefits such as managing type 2 diabetes, controlling the blood sugar levels and maintaining a healthy weight.
A high-fibre diet also reduces the risks of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, constipation and colon cancer, found the University of California San Francisco’s medical centre. As the scientific evidence for the benefits of fibre mounts, it is no wonder that there is a growing demand for high-fibre foods in the Asian market.
To help consumers achieve their minimum daily intake, manufacturers are fortifying many commonly consumed foods with fibre and also in foods where fibre is least expected. However, the challenge lies in balancing the positive health benefits and label claims with the potentially negative impacts on taste, texture and appearance.
How Manufacturers Are Responding: Boosting Fibre Content
Analysts from Future Market Insights have forecasted the Asia Pacific functional food ingredients market to grow at a CAGR of 5.9 percent during the period 2016-2026. This signifies that health foods are gaining momentum across the region, and growing consumer awareness and knowledge about dietary fibre and its health benefits are also on the rise.
According to a 2015 Nielsen Global Health & Wellness report, 36 percent of respondents rated foods high in fibre as very important, with the Asia Pacific region closely mirroring global averages for the desire for foods that are high in fibre, low in carbohydrates, and with reduced calories.
In fact, the region is projected to lead the growth of dietary fibre demand and make up more than 17 percent of the global dietary fibre market share by 2020, reported Mordor Intelligence.
As a result, manufacturers are incorporating fibre into popular foods. One of Asia’s instant noodles manufacturers has just launched a fibre fortified instant noodle. It now carries claims including “made with 50 percent whole grain oats” and “goodness of fibre in one bowl of oats”.
White rice has also been a focus of attention, with its high glycaemic index (GI) and link to health concerns such as diabetes. A lower GI version has been created to promote consumer acceptance as well as improve the health benefit status of white rice.
Rice that is classified as low GI means that it is digested more slowly by the body, preventing a sudden rise in blood sugar and, at the same time, providing a sustained energy release.
Bread is another staple food where food manufacturers are experimenting with different ingredients such as resistant starch. Several bakery manufacturers have fortified white bread to boost the level of fibre while maintaining the softness and taste of white bread. Such innovative products are great for increasing the fibre intake in children and consumers who dislike the taste and texture of wholemeal breads.
How To Make High-Fibre A Success
For high-fibre foods to be successful, a continuous balance between attaining positive health benefits and maintaining the appealing taste and texture is critical. Thankfully, fibre has come a long way, and it is now possible to precisely control the dosage of fibre to have little or no impact on product taste, texture or appearance.
Novel fibres can be easily applied to a wide range of foods including bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, breakfast drinks, snacks, and noodles. Additionally, manufacturers are also able to achieve clean label and grain-free products with differentiated fibre and health benefit claims to further appeal to health-conscious consumers.
Resistant Starch—The Hidden Fibre
Resistant starch is an invisible fibre, which makes it suitable for use in products such as bread, pasta, fruit smoothies and protein shakes. This allows manufacturers to include fibre into everyday foods, so that consumers enjoy the benefits of high-fibre products, without compromising on quality or their food choices.
Resistant starches are fermented only in the large intestine and have bifidogenic properties, which in turn brings several beneficial changes to digestive health. Resistant starches have been clinically proven to lower the risk of diabetes.
Backed by over 300 clinical studies, a particular RS2 type of resistant starch made from non-genetically modified high amylose corn has been clinically proven to lower the risk of diabetes. At the end of last year, this starch was awarded by the US Food and Drug Administration a qualified health claim to communicate its impact on reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Manufacturers can leverage on such health claims to communicate a healthy blood sugar messaging and also differentiate themselves from the competitors. These starches also allow for clean label and gluten-free claims to be made.
Asian consumers are now said to be more susceptible to type 2 diabetes, in part due to the ready availability of processed and ‘fast’ foods. In fact, the Asia Pacific region leads the curve in the incidence of prediabetes and diabetes globally. This has generated a greater demand for healthier food options with added fibre.
With the help of the latest specialty ingredients, it is now possible for manufacturers to differentiate using health claims and easily incorporate fibre into formulations to satisfy these consumer demands.