Increasing the public’s awareness and consumption of fibre is at the heart of UK Flour Millers’ annual Fibre February campaign, which is launched again this month.
The aim is to encourage people to think about increasing fibre intake by making small swaps – such as amending recipes to include wholemeal flour, choosing 50:50, seeded or wholemeal bread products.
But behind the scenes, research aimed at increasing the amount of fibre in white bread is also proving successful.
An international group of scientists led by Rothamsted Research and the John Innes Centre have pinpointed genes responsible for the dietary fibre content of flour.
They say this new white flour is otherwise identical and makes a good quality white loaf – but with all the added health benefits that come from eating wholemeal bread, including reduced cancer, diabetes and obesity risks.
Addressing attendees at the latest UK Flour Millers webinar last month, Peter Shewry, a project leader at Rothamsted, explained how his team are working to increase the current amount of white bread fibre from 4% to 6% percent through breeding techniques rather than genetic engineering.
“Around 49% of bread bought in the UK is white bread, compared with just 5% wholemeal,” he said. “This is perfectly understandable, because it’s cheap, has a long shelf life, and consumers prefer the taste.
“But while you can’t change what people eat, we’ve been looking at increasing the fibre content of white bread without transforming it into something totally different which consumers won’t buy or increasing the price.
“We’ve developed genetic markers that can easily be used by plant breeders to identify which individual wheat plants have the high fibre genes. This will allow them to incorporate the high fibre into elite wheat lines – and opens the possibility of significant increases in dietary fibre intake for everyone.”
Finding that balance is the major challenge for Peter and his team. While in theory the percentage of fibre could be increased, anything beyond 6% affects stability.
There is also the need to convince UK wheat breeders to adopt the new techniques.
A slice of typical white bread has about 1g of fibre, whereas wholemeal has about 3g. A slice from a high fibre white loaf could contain up to 2g.
The new research provides an alternative to manufacturers producing loaves that contain both white and wholemeal flours, or have fibre from other sources added.
“We hope to go on and identify further genes that increase fibre content, thereby providing plant breeders, millers and food producers with even more options,” Peter said.