Thursday, May 8, 2014

Dairy Foods: Opportunities to Address Digestive Health

Photo source: PB Creative

The past few weeks wreaked havoc on my sensitive digestive system. Thankfully I understand the benefits of synbiotic dairy foods and was able to self-medicate and make my tummy all better.

This is definitely TMI, but for starters, I tasted a total of 18 student-developed innovations over a 10-day period as a judge with two different collegiate new product competitions. Then I had a few business dinners out at edgy restaurants where the chefs don’t always reveal their secret ingredients…but are willing to accommodate allergies. My intolerances, which include cruciferous vegetables and pulses, most notably dried beans and peas, are not “allergies” and often impossible to avoid. (Every culinary specialist wants to work kale into a recipe. To my GI, kale is the enemy.)

But here’s what really got my bowels in an uproar. On Wednesday afternoon, while having a celebratory lunch with some friends (yes, I turned 29 again!), the waitress asked if we had any food allergies. I replied no, but mentioned a preference to avoid my intolerances. The waitress replied: Are you sure it’s those foods? I suggest you cut out dairy—the lactose--and all your symptoms will go away!

Who knew the college student waiting tables at the trendy small plates wine bar in Lincoln Park was a medical student…and a misinformed one at that! I explained to her my body loves lactose and that lactose intolerance is often used as a scapegoat by the medical community in place of proper testing and diagnosis. 

That brings me to opportunities with dairy foods to address digestive health. In a few weeks, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation will release results from its 2014 Food & Health Survey. All indications suggest that digestive health will remain a key health and wellness concern.

According to last year’s survey, both probiotics and prebiotics were most associated with maintenance of a healthy digestive health. This association is expected to be greater in 2014. The good news: dairy foods are well poised to be the preferred delivery vehicle of these beneficial digestive health ingredients.

Simply, probiotics are live microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amount, confer a health benefit on the host. They positively alter the body’s bacterial composition to encourage overall wellness. Some strains provide specific benefits such as improved intestinal function and increased immune response. Prebiotics are food for probiotics and are selectively fermented by these beneficial bacteria. When the two are found together, they work in synergy, with the process described as synbiotic.

I recently wrote an article entitled “Probiotics and prebiotics: The future is now” for Food Business News. You can access it HERE.

In particular, there’s a great deal of opportunity for inclusion of prebiotic fibers in dairy foods. Not only do they add dietary fiber, a nutrient of concern according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, and function as a prebiotic, they can also assist with sugar reduction and weight management.

For example, Organic Valley, La Farge, WI, uses unrefined organic pure cane sugar to sweeten its aseptic organic low-fat vanilla-flavored milk. To keep calories at 150 per 8-ounce serving, the company includes 2 grams of inulin fiber to assist with sweetness. The product does not flag fiber content nor use inulin in its chocolate-flavored version. The fiber in the vanilla variant is an added bonus.

There’s been a lot of regulatory talk about fiber. FDA currently plans to define fiber. An article published April 12 in Nutrition Journal makes the case for a definition that includes both fiber found intrinsically in food and also added to food. The latter is often referred to as novel fiber food ingredients.

According to the paper’s author, Julie Miller Jones, professor emeritus, foods and nutrition, St. Catherine University, St. Paul, MN, “Since the intake of dietary fiber is significantly below recommended levels throughout the world, the recognition that ‘all fibers fit’ is an important strategy in bridging the fiber gap by enfranchising and encouraging greater intake of foods with inherent and added dietary fiber. Fortifying foods with added dietary fiber makes it easier to increase intakes while maintaining calories at recommended levels.”

To read a comprehensive summary of this paper written by my colleague Jeff Gelski at Sosland Publishing, link HERE.

He also wrote another excellent piece on the potential changing regulations on added fiber. It can be accessed HERE.

In addition to the opportunities with adding probiotics and prebiotics to dairy foods to address consumer desire for improving digestive health, another HUGE opportunity is to make your product lactose free. This can be accomplished through physical or enzymatic treatment of the milk.

“The Expanding World of Lactose-Free Dairy Products” will be addressed in two weeks at IDFA’s Milk and Cultured Dairy Conference in Indianapolis. There’s still time to make plans to attend this event to be among the first to hear about an exciting new generation of lactose-free products and how they’re made. Traditionally confined to milk and ice cream, the world of “lactose-free” products is quickly expanding to include cottage cheese, yogurt, Greek yogurt, kefir and other fermented and non-fermented creations. Better yet, new inroads are being made in using enzymatic reduction of lactose to increase sweetness in fluid milk, flavored milk and fermented milk products, allowing a reduction in added sugar.

Combining these technologies with prebiotic fibers, with or without probiotic cultures, is a HUGE opportunity for dairy foods manufacturers to address consumers’ desire for improved digestive health. After all, digestive health is positioned to become the largest segment of the functional foods market worldwide.

You can read more about dairy foods and digestive health movement HERE.

Here’s a noteworthy innovation from Arla Foods in the United Kingdom. Wing-Co Light Chocolate Flavoured Milk Drink is targeted to men. The chocolate milk drink claims to “shoot down hunger fast” thanks to an additional 40% protein in its composition, which comes through the creative use of filtered milk and whey protein. The addition of chicory inulin also helps. The beverage comes in 500-gram plastic bottles, with a 100-gram serving containing 50 calories, 0.6 grams fat, 5.2 grams protein, 3 grams fiber and 4.6 grams sugar. The formulation includes lactase enzyme, which assists with sweetness management…and a lower lactose positioning.

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