Getting the ‘fiber’ definition helpful but not a panacea for putting word out about prebiotic benefits

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Taiyo isolates its Sunfiber prebiotic ingredient from the guar plant. Taiyo International photo.
Taiyo isolates its Sunfiber prebiotic ingredient from the guar plant. Taiyo International photo.
Prebiotics that have been classified as dietary fibers still have work to do to educate consumers on their benefits, a supplier says.

Taiyo International has been developing a prebiotic fiber for years now that was isolated from the guar plant. Called Sunfiber, the resulting ingredient has a raft of studies supporting its benefits.

Clearing the fiber bar

The ream of studies backing the ingredient was comprehensive enough that when FDA released its draft guidance in 2016 on the definition of dietary fiber,​ guar fiber was among the prebiotics that made the initial grade. Many other isolated and purified fibers sold both as prebiotics and as easy add-ins to boost the fiber numbers in products like nutrition bars—notably inulin—were not immediately acknowledged by FDA as meeting the definition. Those fibers had to go through a subsequent process of submitting scientific dossiers to prove that what those products do in the body matches how dietary fiber is supposed to behave.

Many of those suppliers made do in the interim by harping on their products’ prebiotic benefits, for which they had evidence. The grams of fiber on a label is just a number, after all. More important is what that ingredient is actually doing in the body.

“When that initial FDA guidance came out in 2016 the fibers that weren’t on the list but also had prebiotic evidence shifted their marketing,”​ said Derek Timm, technical sales director for Taiyo. “Since 2018, many of those fibers have been accepted.”

Taiyo has continued to do research on the ingredient. Its most recent study, published earlier this year in the Journal of Functional Foods​, backs the ingredient’s ability to blunt blood glucose spikes among a cohort of glucose intolerant subjects.

Confusion about guar gum

But even with that history and evidence, Timm said consumers and even customers still get confused about the ingredient’s provenance.  Sunfiber is a proprietary form of partially hydrolyzed guar gum. But Timm said even at the most recent Expo West trade show, when people came up to the company’s booth and saw the word ‘guar’ their minds went off in a different direction.

“Oh, so this is guar gum, is what they’d say,” ​Timm said. “Guar gum is extremely viscous and generally used as a hydrocolloid. What we have done with Sunfiber is to eliminate almost all of the viscosity while still keeping the benefits of the fiber.”

“It’s a message I have to convey over and over again,” ​he said.

Market move toward prebiotics

Now that more consumers seem to understand what the term ‘prebiotic’ means, and there seems to be a move in the market to favor these ingredients over probiotics​. 

Timm said prebiotics have the advantage as gut health ingredients of hitting a broader target. A prebiotic product could boost a range of bifidobacteria in the gut, whereas a probiotic introduces a single strain or a select few.  And prebiotics are easier to formulate with, and could have a price advantage, too.

“You have a lot of overlap in benefits at actually a lower price,”​ he said.

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