Delivering functional benefits

by Keith Nunes
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As the health and wellness trend evolves consumers are becoming more comfortable with the addition of ingredients to food and beverage products that offer an additional healthy attribute. Dairy products have proven to be ideal delivery vehicles for many ingredients, including omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics and plant sterols. But even as consumer demand increases, there are issues processors must address.

Taste and texture are the obvious ones, said Dean Sommer, cheese and food technologist at the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

"Initially, omega-3s were very fishy flavored and had a negative impact on some delicately flavored dairy products; it came through loud and clear," he said. "(But) in that particular case, the suppliers of omega-3s have come up with newer ingredients that have the same functionality, but don’t have the fishy flavors. There are a lot of dairy products out there today with omega-3s."

The same issues have arisen with the development of products containing probiotics.

"Sometimes, when you add some strains of probiotics, it will affect the flavor; resulting in flavors that are not what you are used to in cheese," Mr. Sommer said. "It can leave a tangy, off flavor in cheese and some cultures have produced gas that resulted in small eye formation in the cheese, called pin gas, which the cheese should not have."

Mr. Sommer said another concern related to cheese is the stability of nutrition enhancement over time with probiotics.

"Probiotics may have to survive in some products for five to six months because many cheese varieties have a shelf life of that long," he said. "Will the probiotics live and survive that amount of time? Processors also have to consider is it stable in dairy products at the claimed nutritional levels?"

From a nuts and bolts standpoint, Mr. Sommer said processors also should ask how they are going to add a functional ingredient during processing — Will it have an affect on additional ingredients coming out of the processing stream?

"Cheese manufacturing is a partitioning process," he said. "You are adding something to the milk and making cheese out of it, but there is also whey being processed as well. Will the functional ingredient added stay in the cheese or will some go out in the whey and affect the whey as well?"

The potential of plant sterols

Dairy products containing plant sterols have appeared on retail shelves during the past few years. Last July, for example, The Kroger Co., Cincinnati, introduced its Active Lifestyle milk containing plant sterols, which are recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.) for cholesterol lowering attributes.

With more than 100 million people in the United States with high or borderline-high cholesterol, Kroger viewed the Active Lifestyle milk as a positive addition to the dairy case. Two 8-oz servings of the milk provide the minimum daily amount recognized by the F.D.A. as providing a heart-healthy benefit, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

"I think we will see heart health and cholesterol reduction receive more focus and there is an opportunity for Corowise to be used as key point of differentiation in new products," said Pam Stauffer, global marketing programs manager for Cargill, the manufacturer of the plant sterol containing ingredient Corowise. "As consumers become more exposed to Corowise, we will need to keep up the momentum and continue to promote Corowise as a key ingredient for cholesterol reduction."

Ms. Stauffer said there are some restrictions processors must consider when using the ingredient.

"There is the jelly bean rule that products can only have a certain amount of fat, etc; you can’t put it in a full fat product that doesn’t meet certain requirements," she said. "Positioning is also very important. Cargill has done a lot of research about the shelf and brand positioning with primary research to truly understand how consumers respond. For example, they respond to Corowise as a naturally sourced cholesterol reducer. They don’t respond in the same way to plant sterols, which is why we created the brand and supported the brand with consumer and health care professional outreach programs."

With regard to plant sterols, Mr. Sommer added that "when talking about cheese, now you are adding something to milk that may also affect the whey process. Cheese makers have to think about, again, is there is a good chance it will end up in my whey as well? Is that a good thing or not a good thing? There may be regulatory issues involved (because many cheese varieties and whey products have federal standards of identity)."

Revisiting vitamin D

Mr. Sommer said another functional ingredient processors should consider that isn’t necessarily new is vitamin D.

"(It is) another very old functional ingredient that is coming around again," he said. "It is showing up a lot in the popular press because mounting evidence, including a medical report on NBC nightly news just last night (Dec.1), suggests that many Americans need more vitamin D than they are getting. Dairy is a perfect vehicle for vitamin D. Kraft, along with other cheese companies, has begun adding extra vitamin D to some of their cheese products."

Scientific studies published this year have linked vitamin D intake to potential benefits in bone health, heart health, reducing the risk of cancer, and reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease. As a result, there has been discussion about increasing the recommended daily intake of vitamin D and in November 18 scientists associated with the University of California signed a statement saying recommended daily intake levels of vitamin D should be raised to 2,000 International Units (I.U.)

Current Adequate Intake levels for vitamin D are 200 I.U. for people up to age 50, 400 I.U. for people 51 to 70, and 600 I.U. for people over 70, according to the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences.

"The consensus among U.C. scientists who signed this statement is that 2,000 I.U. per day of vitamin D3, a form of vitamin D, is the appropriate intake for most adult Americans," said Dr. Anthony Norman, Ph.D., a distinguished professor emeritus of biochemistry and of biomedical studies at the University of California-Riverside. "This intake is the National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine’s ‘no adverse health effect’ level. Scientific concerns about this level of intake are minimal, based on the findings of the National Academy of Sciences."

The group of University of California scientists endorsed and supported GrassrootsHealth, a public health promotion organization that launched a D*Action Community Project.

People may achieve a daily intake of 2,000 I.U. of vitamin D through a combination of food, supplements, sunshine and possibly limited tanning exposure, said Dr. Norman, who has studied vitamin D for more than 45 years.

"While more research on this topic is highly desirable, it should not delay recommending a 2,000 (I.U.) daily intake of vitamin D for most people," he said.

Mr. Sommer credited Kraft Foods for providing a leadership role in the industry by petitioning the F.D.A. to increase the amount of vitamin D that may be added to many cheese varieties.

"That action seems very prescient now as additional evidence comes out concerning increasing the R.D.A. for vitamin D, because of lack of adequate intake by many consumers as well as newly found health benefits of vitamin D," he said. "It has some real potential for dairy."

The hold up in more products featuring the ingredient and reaching the market is a perceived lack of demand, Mr. Sommer said.

"Technically it is achievable; in fact, it is quite easy to do in a processed cheese," he said. "You just add it and don’t have a whey stream to worry about. With a natural cheese there is some technical difficulty because of the partitioning of milk components, and some vitamin D, into cheese curd and whey.

"But I think the real hold up is the lack of a clear market signal. Consumers associate vitamin D with dairy products, but cheese and yogurts don’t naturally have significant vitamin D in them. There is lack of push from consumers, at least that is my perception. But technically that is very doable."

Mr. Sommer used Group Danone, the Paris-based company, as an example of a company that has done a good job of promoting products with a functional ingredient.

"From a market standpoint, a company like Danone has done a very good job with probiotics to pull it along," he said. "For vitamin D there needs to be a company to really champion that."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Dairy Business News, December 9, 2008, starting on Page 1. Click
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