Fiber is most sought info on nutrition labels, USDA

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Dietary fiber information is the only labeling component to have seen an increase in use by US consumers, suggesting growing interest in the ingredient’s health benefits, reveals a new report by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The report was prepared to help the US government understand the trend in use of various nutrition labels ahead of changes it is thinking of implementing.

It examined how frequently consumers use information on nutrition labels, and differences in use based on demographics, age and type of information. Overall, the study found that during the 10-year period between 1995-96 and 2005-06 consumer use of nutrition labels when making food purchases declined.

Use of the Nutrition Facts panel fell 3 percentage points during the period. There was an 11 percent decline in use of the ingredients list, and a 10 percent decline for the panel’s information about calories, fat, cholesterol, and sodium. The percentage decrease was greatest for health claims (17 percent).

In contrast, use of information about sugar remained steady, while only the use of information about fiber saw an increase of 2 percent.

The increased interest in information about fiber was led by an increase in over 30 year-olds.

“This increase in use may be the result of the increasing popularity of low-carb diets, interest in identifying whole grain foods, or an aging population that is more aware of dietary fiber’s health benefits,”​ wrote USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) in the report, entitled The Decline in Consumer Use of Food Nutrition Labels, 1995-2006.

Fiber benefits

Interest in dietary fiber has been increasing with scientific studies linking increased intake to reduced risks of cancers such as colorectal and cardiovascular disease.

Soluble fiber in particular has been researched for its benefits to digestive health, as well as weight management since it can boost satiety - that is, help the consumer feel fuller for longer, thus reducing the tendency to snack.

As consumers start to become more aware of the benefits of fiber, food and drink manufacturers are seeking new sources of dietary fiber as functional ingredients, and new ways to incorporate these into products.

The fact that most US consumers do not receive adequate fiber in their diets contributes to a growing interest in ensuring that intake increases.

In the US, the daily recommended intake for fiber is 25g for women and 38g for men. Average consumption falls short, with current intake ranging between 12 and 16g per day.

Fiber market

In the US, the entire fiber market was worth $192.8m in 2004. Insoluble fiber dominates the market with $176.2m and $16.6m for soluble.

But market research firm Frost and Sullivan predicts that by 2011 the fiber market will more than double in the US to $470m. And growth in the soluble fiber sector is expected to outpace that of insoluble fiber - 26.3 percent compared to 13.1 percent.

Changing nutrition labels

The current format of food nutrition labels was developed in 1994 when the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) took effect.

In addition to a standardized Nutrition Facts panel, the NLEA standardized serving sizes and placed limits on the content and format of health and nutrition claims on the front of packages.

The aim was to increase access to nutrition information and improve consumers’ ability to make healthy food choices.

However, the current format of these labels is now over a decade old. Technological change has since introduced new sources of nutrition information and the consumption of food away from home has continued to increase.

As a result, this may mean that the labels are not as useful to consumers as they could be. And with the Food and Drug Administration currently considering modifications to the format and content of food nutrition labels, USDA’s report provides crucial information for the consideration of any changes.

“Understanding the changing pattern of nutrition label use in the United States 10 years after NLEA can help inform changes to nutrition labels and interventions aimed at increasing use,”​ wrote USDA.

To view the full report, click here​.

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