The new value of two calories per gram has been established in a European Union directive after scientists discovered more about how fibre ferments in the gut, and how energy is absorbed in the process.
Until a few years ago, it was assumed that fibre had no calorific value at all.
The directive also set out an official definition for fibre in order to provide a clear basis for nutrition claims stating that a food is ‘high fibre’ or a ‘source of fibre’.
Manager of the product and ingredient innovation department of Reading Scientific Services Limited (RSSL) Gaelle Buffet told BakeryandSnacks.com: “There was not a proper definition before, but what is more important is the energy conversion factor. There has been more and more scientific evidence over the past four or five years to show that some fibre is digested, so there was a need to establish a correct and fair calorific value.”
As for what this means for food manufacturers, Buffet highlighted that high fibre claims are often made by those targeting health conscious consumers. If the calorie count were to climb significantly, she said that the traffic light labelling system in use in the UK would make the change particularly apparent.
“If it goes from say, green to orange, that would be quite obvious to the consumer,” she said. “If people are positioning a product as healthy it could be a real problem.”
She suggested that in order to avoid this, manufacturers might want to look at other ingredients in their formulation and bring the fat or sugar content down instead, perhaps by incorporating fat replacers or sweeteners.
“It will particularly affect bakery, yoghurts and some confectionery products that have added fibre,” she said. “The main challenge that people are going to face is how to keep the calorie content down, while maintaining the good taste and texture that the consumer expects.”
The directive was published in the EU’s Official Journal in October and will come into effect across Europe on October 31, 2009.
“A little development work now could save a lot of problems in the future, and of course, it takes time to implement supply chain changes brought about by reformulations, so it makes sense to do any reformulation work as soon as possible,” added Buffet.
The new definition takes into account that while fibre is mostly composed of carbohydrate, there is a distinction to be drawn between carbohydrates and sugars, in terms of polymer length.