The new report 'Carbohydrates and Dietary Fibre' states: "Through innovation by the food industry, one option is to develop a wider range of foods that include non-digestible carbohydrates as ingredients." The term fibre has considerable resonance with consumers and frequently appears on food packages to denote healthy carbohydrates. However, studies have shown that consumers are not meeting recommended daily intakes of fibre, highlighting the need for innovation by industry to create products that may bridge this gap. Dietary fibre has been reported to have many health benefits, but the 'big five' with the most science to back them up, are: improvements in gastrointestinal health; improvements in glucose tolerance and insulin response; reduction of hyperlipidaemia, hypertension and other coronary heart disease (CHD) risk factors; reduction in the risk of developing some cancers; and increased satiety and hence some degree of weight management.
As our understanding of fibre has improved it was becoming clear that a better definition was required. The authors define dietary fibre as: "A primary characteristic is resistance to digestion and absorption in the small intestine and fermentation in the large intestine; and demonstrate that fibre has physiological properties."
The authors also comment that there is "a convincing argument for including slowly fermented components, such as resistant starches, that are well tolerated in the digestive system and can bring about improvements in gut function." Such a definition, they state, would ensure that components, such as resistant starches and oligosaccharides, are considered to contribute to the total dietary fibre in the diet.
Such statements are in-line with proposals from Codex. Although a definition currently exists within the framework of Codex guidelines, the matter was thrown open in 2005 when a FAO representative informed the committee that a FAO/WHO expert working group was reviewing evidence on the physiology of carbohydrates and relevant definitions.
If a new definition is adopted and comes to bear on nutritional claims, 'fibre-like' ingredients in supplements, resistant starch and oligosaccharides could be assessed on their own individual merits and not bundled together under the broad umbrella of 'fibres'.