Washington, July 6 : The benefits of oat bran are pretty much well known. Now, dates, fenugreek, purslane and sweet potato greens are adding their names to the list of dietary fiber providing edible items.
Several scientists and business leaders recently convened to discuss novel sources and functions of dietary fiber at the Institute of Food Technologists' Annual Meeting and Food Expo in New Orleans.
"These sources create great opportunities for the food industry," said Cal Kelly, president of Emerald Seed Products in Saskatchewan, Canada, where his company cultivates and processes legumes and fenugreeks for fiber.
"Consumers are aware that fiber is good for us and that we need to eat more of it," Kelly added.
Fiber helps to regulate appetite by creating a feeling of satiety. It enhances intestinal health and modulates blood sugar. In addition, fiber reduces low-density lipoprotein and increases high-density lipoprotein (the good cholesterol). Fiber has roles in adding texture to food, providing stabilization and replacing fats.
In the United Arab Emirates, where dates are a major component of individual diets, the fruit's fiber is having a favorable role in baked goods, so date cultivation is encouraged.
By reducing flour and replacing it with date fiber by 10 to 30 percent, breads, cookies and muffins have become as tasty as their flour counterparts but healthier. owever, with more date fiber, the volume of a loaf of bread shrunk too much, said Isameldin Hashim, Ph.D.
Purslane, a green familiar to Mediterranean diets but not to western ones, is high in dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and phytochemicals. In terms of the amount of dietary fiber it contains, it exceeds other green vegetables like green lettuce and spinach, said Norma Dawkins, Ph.D., with Tuskegee University's food science department in Tuskegee, Ala.
Her research shows that sweet potato greens, part of the vine, match purslane's dietary fiber power and add Vitamin B and beta-carotene to the diet. Purslane and sweet potato grains appear to have roles in reducing heart disease and cancer, but more studies are needed, Dawkins said.
Making false claims about sources of dietary fiber will turn off the consumer, said Sakharam Patil, PhD, president of a global business consulting firm.
He sees potential for more dietary fiber in fast food: "We don't chew that stuff. We just swallow it."
Ultimately, sophisticated tastes will rule what dietary fiber sources will be the most successful, Patil adds.
Kelly said: "Taste is the final arbiter of whether it will work in the marketplace."