CHICAGO — The Food and Drug Administration has ruled in favor of 17 ingredients and said they met its dietary fiber definition because of beneficial physiological effects. That number may increase, but slowly.

“I think that the way they are going at it and getting tougher, they’ll probably add one new fiber per year,” said Rajen Mehta, PhD, senior director, specialty ingredients for Grain Millers, Inc., in a March 2 session at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech in Chicago. “They rejected a couple of fiber (petitions), which I was surprised about.”

Companies wanting its ingredient to meet the FDA fiber’s definition may present a citizen petition to the FDA. Time and research are needed to craft a petition.

“People don’t realize how big a deal that is,” Dr. Mehta said. “In my mind that makes the United States one of the toughest countries in the word in terms of getting approval as a fiber.”

Recently, cross-linked phosphorylated RS4 received approval in March 2019, and glucomannan received approval in January of this year.

The FDA defined fiber for the first time in 2016 as certain naturally occurring fibers that are “intrinsic and intact” in plants and added isolated or synthetic non-digestible soluble and insoluble carbohydrates that the FDA has determined have physiological effects that benefit human health.

The FDA, when determining whether isolated or synthetic non-digestible soluble and insoluble carbohydrates meet its fiber definition, already considers several physiological benefits: improved laxation/bowel function, lowered blood glucose/cholesterol/blood pressure, increased mineral absorption and reduced energy intake.

The FDA has said it plans to allow other physiological benefits, but Dr. Mehta said he has seen little movement there. In the session he spoke about physiological benefits related to the microbiome but said the FDA has yet to give an indication it will add that to its list of physiological benefits.

“I think the FDA is getting tougher rather than more lenient,” Dr. Mehta said.

Besides physiological benefits, fiber adds functionality to food as well. Insoluble fiber offers resiliency, strength, reduced breakage and texture control, Dr. Mehta said. Gums provide absorption, viscosity and suspension, and soluble fibers may bring prebiotic claims, low absorption and soft texture.

Dr. Mehta pointed to information showing consumer interest in fiber. The International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2019 Food and Health Survey found more than 80% of respondents said they considered fiber to be healthy. Data from Innova Market Insights, Arnhem, The Netherlands, showed 44% of US consumers are looking to increase their consumption of fiber.