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A Health Pack for Snack Attack

Researcher finds way to add fiber to munchies

FRIDAY, July 20, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- If you think snack foods are all empty calories, think again.

Charles Onwulata, a food technologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has created a special processing formula that he says boosts the fiber content of some munchies by more than 15 percent.

Many familiar snack foods are created through a process called extrusion, where the food is compressed into a semi-solid mass, then forced through small openings into different shapes.

In the past, Onwulata says, the challenge has been how to keep the crunch in your chips while making them better for you.

By mixing in the milk-derivative proteins of casein and whey as a binder to hold everything together during extrusion, Onwulata says he found more fiber could be added without compromising flavor or crispness.

"It's all about balancing the moisture content," he explains.

"Normally, when you extrude, you want to go to high moisture. But if we drop the moisture down to 15 percent, we get dried crystal products coming out," he says. It's a matter of combining ingredients in just the right proportions.

Onwulata says he's boosted fiber content of some snack foods to 15 grams of fiber in a 50-gram bar. Most snack foods have less than a gram of fiber.

Current dietary guidelines, he points out, call for 20 grams to 35 grams of fiber per day. Fiber in the diet can help ward off heart disease, some cancers, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Now, says Onwulata, it's up to the industry to take this technology and run with it. It's not a long way, he says, from his lab to the marketplace.

But Nadine Pazder, a registered dietitian at Morton Plant Hospital in Florida, cautions that "you shouldn't be misled into thinking that your favorite cheese curl is a health food."

The best way to get fiber, she says, is "to eat the whole grain. If not, you're missing out on other nutrients."

But more fiber in snack foods might help give people that full feeling long before they reach the bottom of the bag, and that's not a bad idea, she adds.

What To Do

Use the Food Guide Pyramid to help you plan a healthy diet.

Learn more about dietary fiber from the American Dietetic Association.

SOURCES: Interviews with Charles Onwulata, Ph.D., food technologist, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Md.; Nadine Pazder, registered dietitian, Morton Plant Hospital, Clearwater, Fla.
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