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RMIT scientists add invisible fibre to foods for a healthier food regimen

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Scientists have converted native starches, akin to cassava, wheat and maize, to dietary fibre that could be added to foods to make them healthier without changing their texture, color or taste.

Researchers at RMIT University worked with Microtec Engineering Group, a technology-based engineering company that supplies starch processing equipment, to develop the starch-based product, called FiberX, which resists digestion within the human gut, similar to fibre.

Not only is FiberX smooth and tasteless, but it surely’s also suitable for fortifying low-calorie and low-GI foods and could be gluten-free, or for adding to low-fibre foods akin to white bread, cakes, pasta, pizza and sauces to make them healthier.

Project lead from RMIT’s Food Research and Innovation Centre, Associate Professor Asgar Farahnaky, and his team used advanced starch modification technology with approved food grade materials to create what they describe as ‘invisible fibre’.

“We will now add extra fibre to foods like white bread and other staples without changing the taste or texture, which has been certainly one of the most important issues with many commercially-available fibre supplements thus far,” he said.

“Our product just isn’t even noticeable once added. It’s similar to a parent hiding vegetables in a toddler’s meal to make it more nutritious.”

Fibre is a kind of carbohydrate that just isn’t digested within the human gut and may help improve the health and performance of our digestive system. It will possibly also help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes and reduces the chance aspects of some cardiovascular diseases.

Increasing the fibre content of food products by greater than 10-20 per cent while also maintaining nice taste and texture is a challenge across the food industry. Current foods with added fibre can have a troublesome texture or different flavour to the unique product.

Associate Professor Asgar Farahnaky and Dr Mahsa Majzoobi

As a part of the research, Farahnaky’s team conducted taste tests and texture evaluation on bread and cakes with various amounts of added FiberX. They found they were in a position to add as much as 20 per cent fibre to food while maintaining the unique taste and texture of the product.

“This latest technology means we will increase the quantity of fibre that goes into the food so we will receive our advisable each day intake, even while consuming less foods, which has potential to assist with weight management and diabetes,” he said.

Co-researcher and vice-chancellor’s senior research fellow, Dr Mahsa Majzoobi, said the structure of starch was modified on a molecular level and tested to see the way it reacted with digestive enzymes.

“Once the resistant starch goes through this process, it must have high levels of resistance to be counted as a successful conversion to dietary fibre,” she said.

Using this latest technology, the team can convert greater than 80 per cent of starch into dietary fibre, Majzoobi said.

FiberX was tested using internationally approved methods at RMIT and the accredited Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre.

Farahnaky said his team are actually the subsequent phase of FiberX technology, which can use green alternatives to convert starch to fibre.

Farahnaky said beyond the health advantages, FiberX technology also had the potential to enhance supply-chain challenges, reduce food waste and increase local jobs.

“Australia currently exports large amounts of grain for creating value-added products, akin to plant- based meat. We then need to import these products back to Australia and wait for them if there are delays in the provision chain, as we saw with COVID,” Farahnaky said.

“As an alternative of growing and exporting more grains, we must always be using existing grains to create value- added products here in Australia.”

To do that, Microtec and RMIT’s Food Research and Innovation Centre have also partnered with Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre to stop starch and fibre-rich by-products of plant protein production from going to waste.

Farahnaky said by processing this waste into dry pulse starch, FiberX technology can convert the starch to fibre on a big scale.

“Not only will this partnership help reduce food waste on a large scale, but it is going to result in creating latest premium food products which are high in dietary fibre,” he said.

With the assistance of Microtec, FiberX technology is now ready for the food industry to make use of for large-scale production of dietary fibre.

“This latest technology will enable the production of dietary fibre using a cost- and energy-effective process at a big scale,” Farahnaky said.

“Scaling this technology will mean the food industry can have access to large quantities of invisible dietary fibre at an inexpensive price to offer high-fibre foods to consumers.”

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