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Nutrition 2017: What is the Data Telling Us? In a World of Overconsumption, Fibre is the Odd One Out

October 23rd, 2017

A treasured protector of our health, fibre is certainly an interesting nutrient that often perhaps doesn’t receive the consumer accolades it deserves. In the world of excess and overconsumption, it seems strange that fibre is the odd one out.  Commonly described as a component of a plant, which cannot be completely broken down by human digestive enzymes, fibre is associated with a tremendous array of health benefits. There are two main kinds of fibre: soluble and insoluble. The first may help reduce cholesterol in the blood, while the latter assists in maintaining regular bowel movements and through that acts as a protective substance against toxins in our gut, not to mention, it has a role in maintaining healthy gut microbes.

Calories today

According to our latest data, 33 out of 54 countries researched, purchase over 2,000 calories a day, from retail alone. Interestingly, 12 of those countries experienced a growth in calorie consumption since 2011. On the other side of the spectrum, India, the Philippines and Vietnam all buy under 1,000 calories per capita per day from retail, making them the lowest energy consumers globally. Unsurprisingly, developing markets such as these hugely rely on fresh foods for nourishment, which are typically less calorie dense than packaged foodstuff.

calories purchased in 2016 by country compared to calories purchased growth over 2011-2016

Source: Passport Nutrition, Euromonitor International

Fibre recommendations and the reality

To understand the negativity around fibre it is worth looking at the official literature that is influencing consumers. The WHO recommends one should consume at least 30g of fibre a day regardless of gender, however according to Euromonitor International’s 2017 Passport Nutrition data, only three countries have more than this recommended amount.

If the advised energy intake was no more than 2,000 calories, and fibre was at least 30g per capita per day, as it is in the UK, then fibre should make up at least 3% of one’s total calorie intake. According to the newly published Passport Nutrition data only two countries, Turkey and India, have this healthy 3% proportion. However, with India’s calorie consumption far below the necessary, this is a poor representation of what a healthy diet should be. This calorie to fibre ratio is lowest in Asia Pacific with Hong Kong, South Korea and Malaysia, all purchasing only around 1% of their daily calories from fibre. This is suggestive of Asian diets primarily dependent on white rice instead of pulses, whole grains or starchy root vegetables.

countries which consume the lowest and highest proportion of calories from fibre 2016

Source: Passport Nutrition, Euromonitor International

Packaged food versus fresh food

44 out of 54 countries consume more calories from packaged than fresh food. In comparison, only 20 countries receive more fibre from packaged than fresh food. This data shows two things. First, the majority of markets heavily rely on packaged food as a primary source of adequate nourishment. Second, there is too little fibre coming from those most relied-on sources. This is emphasised in countries like the US, UK, France or Germany, where approximately 60% of fibre is consumed in the form of packaged food.

fibre from packaged versus fresh food in select markets 2016

Source: Passport Nutrition, Euromonitor International

This is different when looking at the global average, incorporating developing markets, where fresh food takes up a much more significant portion of the diet. Nevertheless, similarly to India, many developing countries under-consume calories. The question is, how to overcome this imbalance of calories and fibre as a country becomes more advanced and hence dependent on convenience foods. How to make fibre sexy?

Fibre gives a lot to work with

Fibre is extremely desirable in terms of health benefits, and there are a whole list of approved health and nutrition claims, which showcase them globally. Also, according to a 2017 survey at Euromonitor International 33% of Americans consider added vitamins or fibre a preferred food attribute. In regions of South America, such as Colombia or Brazil, this figure reaches over 60%. Luckily, fibre wonderfully fits into many current trends in the food and drinks industries.

To start with, the fast growing gluten-free category, offers a range of unconventional whole grains, vegetable mixes and pulses – ingredients all naturally high in fibre. For example, Really Healthy Pasta offers an array of gluten-free products, made from ancient grains and pulses, which naturally boost its fibre content. Its Black Bean Penne contains 15g of fibre per 100g, in comparison, a classic durum wheat pasta, only has about 2.5g.

The case is similar with the vegan/vegetarian and plant-based trends. For example, chia seeds have become a common egg-replacement in vegan products and beyond. Compared to fibreless eggs, chia seeds are a fibre gold mine. They contain an impressive 30% fibre, in just two tablespoons (or 30g), which is a third of the daily requirement; that’s the same amount as in 100g of oats. Due to their high fibre content, they are extremely viscous when in a moist environment, so work perfectly in products like cakes, yoghurt or porridge pots and dry hot cereal mixes.

The vegan and plant-based movements also relate to an enormous area of fast-growing food and drinks categories, also naturally higher in fibre. For example, veggie burgers, or the currently popularised concept of the “flexitarian” meat-vegetable burger blend, contain up to 6% fibre, compared to none in an all-meat one. Interestingly, many of the products mentioned above, do not promote their high fibre content on labels.

Fibre – the bane of our lives or the most attractive nutrient yet?

With tremendous versatility in form and action, and an endless list of health benefits, fibre is the next best nutrient. Fitting perfectly into current trends, it can easily be an attractive element and turn almost any food and drink into a “better-for-you” option. With a desperate need for better nutrition globally, this is the time to explore the endless possibilities of fibre in packaged food and soft drinks, both for the industry’s and consumers’ benefit.

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