NAD rules some Benefiber prebiotic supplements can’t be called ‘natural’

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

An NAD ruling has concluded that the processing steps used to convert wheat starch into a high fiber wheat dextrin used in some of GSK's Benefiber products mean the product should not be called "100% natural." ©Getty Images - stsmhn
An NAD ruling has concluded that the processing steps used to convert wheat starch into a high fiber wheat dextrin used in some of GSK's Benefiber products mean the product should not be called "100% natural." ©Getty Images - stsmhn

Related tags prebiotic fiber Prebiotic ingredients Prebiotic Prebiotics natural additive natural claims

The National Advertising Division has ruled that GSK must stop calling some of its Benefiber prebiotic supplements ‘100% natural.’ It’s a ruling that could be viewed as troublesome for other prebiotic ingredients.

The NAD decision in a case brought by competitor Procter & Gamble found that GSK had provided insufficient evidence to show that the Benefiber Original and Benefiber Healthy Shape can be called “100% natural,”​ and that its claims that the products are “clinically proven to curb cravings,”​ and “helps you feel full longer” ​were not supported by sufficient evidence.  

NAD: Complicated process doesn’t match ‘100% natural’ claim

 In delving into the sticky issue of what can be called natural, the NAD ruling noted that the two Benefiber products in question (not all GSK Benefiber prebiotic supplements use the same ingredients) are made using wheat starch as a raw material feedstock.  Through a complicated process involving hydrochloric acid and enzymes the starch, which has no dietary fiber content to start, is transformed into an 85% dietary fiber wheat dextrin ingredient that is less viscous, more soluble and is somewhat sweeter than the starting material.  That multi stage process and some of the inputs used don’t match what most consumers would consider to be ‘natural,’ NAD ruled.

“NAD carefully reviewed the evidence and arguments set forth by both parties and determined that the processing of wheat starch to yield the wheat dextrin found in Benefiber represents a significant alteration of the source ingredient that is inconsistent with a consumer’s reasonable understanding of a product that claims to be ‘100% natural,’ and recommended that the claim be discontinued,” ​the organization said in a statement.

In a statement, GSK said it, “Respectfully disagrees with the NAD’s findings and will appeal the decision in its entirety.  GSK firmly believes that the challenged claims are supported and that the NAD’s decision is inconsistent with the evidence in the record and NAD precedent. GSK appreciates the opportunity to participate in the self-regulatory process and looks forward to resolving this matter with the National Advertising Review Board.”

Which processing steps make something no longer natural?

The NAD ruling could have implications for many prebiotic ingredients.  Many of these ingredients involve a series of processing steps to go from the source material, for example a chicory root, to a powdered or syrup form of inulin that is stable, well characterized and has well known formulation properties and clinically supported health benefits.  It’s a slippery slope to start slicing and dicing production processes to determine which steps or inputs take the resulting ingredient outside of the ‘natural’ realm, said Global Prebiotics Association president Len Monheit.

“Consumer understanding and industry use of the term ‘natural,' and especially the phrase ‘100% natural’ is a contentious issue with a long history and a variety of implications. One of the practical discussions involves understanding what processing steps create material changes and where NDI applications may be needed,” ​Monheit said.

 The majority of prebiotics are from natural sources. This means that they are sourced from natural materials and are not artificial or synthetic in their origin. Some prebiotic ingredients may have to undergo multiple steps such as isolation and purification before they are able to be used in foods or supplements, while other prebiotics are simply extracts of whole foods like roots, berries or beans,”​ he added.

 The processing steps required to isolate or purify certain prebiotic ingredients should not take away from the fact that they are natural in their origin. However, GPA understands that the use of the term ‘100% natural’ may have unintended implications or meanings for consumers and recommends industry use the term ‘from natural sources,’ ”​ Monheit concluded.

GSK prevails in second ruling

It was not all doom and gloom for GSK when it comes to NAD rulings.  In another recent challenge, also brought by Procter & Gamble, NAD ruled that the claims on another GSK Benefiber product were supported and could continue to be used. 

Benefiber Healthy Balance is made with partially hydrolyzed guar gum as its principle active ingredient.  GSK submitted 15 clinical studies supporting the product’s claims—relieves occasional constipation, relieves abdominal discomfort and does not cause diarrhea—and NAD concurred that the body of evidence was sufficient to support the claims.

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