The wonderful health benefits of dietary fiber don’t usually come up in casual conversation with peers; that is unless you’re at the International Dietary Fiber Conference organized by the International Association for Cereal Science and Technology (ICC). This year, I was fortunate enough to travel to the Netherlands to attend this conference, which gave me the opportunity to make some new connections from around the globe, meet up with existing colleagues and learn about the latest and greatest research in the world of fiber. Researchers presented on topics ranging from the gut microbiome to satiety; and fiber sources discussed ranged from general categories like “oat fiber” to more specific terms like “butyrylated high amylose maize starch.” The depth and quality of the research presented was amazing, and it was a lot to pack into three days. I think by the end of the conference, we were all pooped!
One of the more popular subject matters throughout the conference was how dietary fiber can influence our gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is a collection of over 100 trillion microorganisms and their genes that take up residency in our large intestine. Emerging research is beginning to show that the gut microbiome controls everything from how we digest and absorb food, to how our brain functions. One presentation focused on how diets rich in arabinoxylans and resistant starch (both of which can be found in our HealthSense™ High Fiber Wheat Flour) positively influence the microbiome by increasing mucus and butyrate production in the colon. While increasing mucus production doesn’t sound all that glamorous, it is actually very beneficial to us because it helps trap and eliminate bad bacteria, which prevents them from getting into our bloodstream and causing nasty immune responses. And while “increasing butyrate production” sounds mundane and complex, the important thing to remember is that the more butyrate means more fuel for our colon cells, which makes them happier and healthier.
The conference also threw out a few topics where both presenters and audience members could provide their thoughts and opinions through an open forum. The panel discussion that wrapped up the conference was focused on whether or not we should increase the recommendations for fiber intake and whether or not we should distinguish between added fibers and naturally occurring fibers on a food label. This panel discussion was particularly relevant to attendees coming from the United States, as the FDA recently published a ruling that defined dietary fiber as non-digestible carbohydrate sources that are intact and intrinsic to plants. All other non-digestible carbohydrates that are isolated from their natural plant source and/or synthetically produced are not defined as dietary fiber unless they have a proven health benefit. There was a lot of debate on this topic, and there was no clear consensus at the end. For me, it was enticing because I got to hear a lot of different perspectives and it opened up some doors that I didn’t even know were closed. It will be interesting to see how the opinions and recommendations of groups like these continue to influence how people understand what dietary fiber is, why it’s good for them, and how much they need to consume.
Before walking into the 7th International Dietary Fiber Conference, I felt that dietary fiber was one of the most important, yet underrated nutrients and I was really looking forward to learning more about the up and coming research within the field. While the conference was only three days long, I feel like I brought home a plethora of knowledge. Not only do I now have a better understanding of the mechanisms behind the health benefits of fiber, but I also have some new perspectives on how I can work to promote dietary fiber consumption and its health benefits.