A little less than a year ago, purified lutein, which had already been recognized as GRAS for a variety of non-dairy food applications added fermented milk and yogurt to its list of GRAS applications.
What is lutein? Lutein is a carotenoid found in dark green, leafy vegetables. Research shows that low ocular levels of lutein could contribute to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Recent research conducted at the University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City, showed that AMD patients who began taking lutein supplements (4mg or more per day) were able to bring low ocular levels of lutein back to normal. This is good news because AMD is the leading cause of irreversible blindness among adults 50 years and older. Other research suggests that lutein deposits may reduce the formation of cataracts and retinal diseases.
While lutein is found naturally in many foods, most consumers typically do not eat enough of these foods to increase the protective deposits of lutein in the tissues of the eye, thus the opportunity to fortify.
Another fortifying opportunity exists in the area of fiber enrichment.
“The U.S. National Academy of Science recently established the first Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for dietary fiber as 38g/day for men and 25g/day for women,” says Dennis Gordon, professor, Department of Cereal Science, North Dakota State University, Fargo, N.D. “Median intakes of dietary fiber in the States for men and women are 17 and 13 g/day, respectively. This disparity between the human recommended requirements and actual intakes represents a great opportunity to find and use appropriate sources of dietary fiber in beverages such as milk and yogurt drinks.”
Why boost dietary fiber intake? Numerous epidemiological studies have found that diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber are associated with a reduced risk of certain cancers, diabetes, digestive disorders and heart disease. Different fibers exert different benefits.
Insoluble fiber is associated with reducing the risk of digestive disorders, and has also been shown to lower the risk of developing certain cancers. With cancer, the exact mechanism is unknown, but scientists theorize that insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool, which in turn dilutes carcinogens and speeds their transit through the lower intestines and out of the body. This same process of bulking stool hastens passage of fecal material through the gut, thus helping to prevent or alleviate constipation. Fiber also may help reduce the risk of diverticulosis, a condition in which small pouches form in the colon wall.
Soluble fiber has been shown to trap dietary cholesterol and bile acids as they pass through the gastrointestinal tract, thus helping the body eliminate cholesterol and reduce blood cholesterol levels. This reduces the risk of heart disease. Much like cholesterol, soluble fiber can also trap carbohydrates, slowing their digestion and absorption. In theory, this may help prevent wide swings in blood sugar level throughout the day and have an impact on the development of adult-onset diabetes.
“No single carbohydrate, or potential source of dietary fiber has generated as much interest in the past few five years as inulin,” says Gordon.
It just so happens that in dairy foods, particularly in fermented dairy products such as yogurt, kefir and cultured drinkables, inulin has historically been the preferred dietary fiber-enriching ingredient. This really isn’t because of the fact that inulin is a great source of insoluble fiber, but rather because inulin, which is also referred to as fructooligosaccharide (FOS) due to its structural design, is recognized as a prebiotic. This means inulin enhances the growth of good-for-your-gut bacteria.
“Research indicates that fermentation of prebiotics, specifically FOS, as well as resistant starch, in the large intestine is also enhancing nutrient absorption,” says Gordon. “This is leading to an increase in the bioavailability of dietary calcium not thought to be normally and significantly absorbed in the large small intestine. If these data prove to be correct, this would have a significant impact on the prevention of osteoporosis.”
Stonyfield Farm, Londonderry, N.H., includes inulin in its fermented dairy product formulations. Yogurt lids read: “Bone” Appétit. This organic yogurt now helps build stronger bonesthanks to inulin, a natural dietary fiber that helps boost calcium absorption.
For formulation information refer to the pages following this column.