Everything dairy marketers and product developers must know to be competitive in today's carb-counting culture

Editor's Note: During the holidays I found that my father-in-law lost 40 lbs on South Beach. My childhood friend shed her last 10 pregnancy pounds with Atkins. As a baby-boomer cousin loaded his plate with meat and salad, he swore his high protein diet-along with a daily glass or two of red wine-was helping him keep in shape.

I am sure the high-protein, low-carbohydrate, or simply low-carb dietary approach to weight loss and body weight maintenance was a topic at many a holiday gathering this season. After all, the term low-carb seems to be making headlines daily. If it isn't a food manufacturer or chain restaurant debuting a new product or menu, it's FDA cracking down on misuse and mislabeling of the carbohydrate content of foods (see sidebar on p. 52).

And we can expect low-carb to remain the getting-in-shape buzzword in 2004, as millions of Americans try to honor their ritual New Year commitments to exercise and eat better.

In anticipation of this, at the beginning of December, Hollywood, Calif.-based carboLOWdrate Inc., a company dedicated to the emerging market of low-carb eating, launched a website (www.carbolowdrate.com) and released an all-natural cookbook dedicated to holiday recipes.

"Low-carb diets are an effective alternative to traditional low-fat and low-calorie diets that have failed to curb the obesity epidemic in the United States," says the book's author, Executive Chef John Owen.

Many low-carb believers agree with Owen's statement. In fact, within the food industry, two low-carb dieters, who also happen to be dairy executives, are responsible for creating an entire new dairy foods category. You may recall Dairy Foods' November special feature on SouthWest Foods, Tyler, Texas.

If you missed it go online and check it out (www.dairyfoods.com) to find out about the two men behind the success of LeCarb, a line of low-carbohydrate frozen dairy desserts, dairy drinks and cultured dairy products. In a nutshell, SouthWest Dairy's Director of Sales Glenn Carlyle, challenged Fred Calvert, senior v.p. of manufacturing, to create a frozen dessert that they could eat on their low-carb diets without feeling guilty. The rest is history-still-in-the-making for LeCarb.

To get a feel for what activity and requests dairy ingredient suppliers' are receiving from the industry, Dairy Foods magazine conducted interviews with nine companies. This list identifies the representatives who responded.


  • Cargill Inc., (RN) Ravi Nana, technical specialist

  • Danisco Sweeteners, (DB) Donna Brooks, product mgr.

  • Davisco Foods International Inc., (LD) Laurie Davis, applications mgr.

  • Degussa Food Ingredients, (JF) John Fields, applications mgr.

  • Glanbia Nutritionals Inc., (EB) Eric Bastian, dir. of R&D

  • GTC Nutrition LLC, (LCD) Linda Chamberlain Douglas, mgr. of scientific affairs, (MC) Marcelo Campos, food applications mgr.

  • Orafti North America, (KN) Kathy Niness, v.p. marketing & sales

  • Purac America Inc., (PM) Paul Mesters, business unit mgr.

  • SPI Polyols Inc., (JR) Jerry Roland, dir. of marketing, (RD) Ron Deis, v.p. applications development & technical service

At Last! ready-to-drink shakes are made with whey protein concentrate and are sweetened with sucralose. An 11-oz shake contains only 2 net carbs, along with 24 vitamins and minerals and 20g protein.
Dairy Foods: Is low-carb dieting here to stay?

JR: Diets come and go; however, the "low net-carb" dieting approach looks like it will be sustainable over time due to the market drivers influencing the consumer . . . namely obesity, diabetes and other weight-related health issues. Currently in the United States, more than 65% of the population is considered overweight and 30%, or 60 million adults are obese. Additionally, 15% of U.S. children are overweight. Being overweight increases the risk for developing many illnesses including diabetes, heart disease, cancer and others, and there is a direct correlation between obesity and diabetes. It is estimated that there are more than 17 million adult diabetics in the United States, with six to seven million of these people not even knowing they have diabetes.

LD: The low-carb craze appears to be a lifestyle change that could definitely have some longevity. There is very convincing research that supports the health benefits of controlling carb intake, not necessarily zero carb, but moderation. However, long-term side effects, if any, will need to be studied. The most sensible diet seems to be one rich in whole-grain carbohydrates and high-quality protein, as well as low in refined carbohydrates, and, of course, moderate fat intake.

JF: Customers are driving the demand for these types of foods and the demand challenges product developers and ingredient companies. This type of trend drives innovation.

KN: If low-carb dieting is executed correctly by the food industry, it will become a permanent shift in the way Americans eat, and will lead to real public health benefits. Correct execution will mean moderation in carbohydrate reduction, not simply removal of all carbohydrate and replacement with bulking agents and artificial sweeteners. This will only lead to digestive problems for the consumer, and could destroy the market.

PM: Long term, the low-carb craze can have a lasting effect if companies communicate the message of a healthy diet including the use of carbohydrates, but differentiate between slowly absorbed carbohydrates and those carbohydrates that give a quick rise in blood glucose. This is based on the glycemic index of carbohydrates. We still see low-fat versions of many products that were introduced during the low-fat craze of the early 90's.

Photo courtesy of Danisco Sweeteners
LCD:There is emerging science that supports the efficacy of modified carbohydrate dieting, which ranges from limiting high-glycemic index foods to severely restricting all carbohydrates. A healthy diet can exist within a broad range of eating styles, including the modified carbohydrate lifestyle. The modified carbohydrate trend is likely to be an enduring one, given the recent studies indicating effective weight loss and a lack of cardiovascular risk in those diets tested.

DB: There has been a high level of interest from customers in this category, and interest seems to be exploding lately. Statistics are showing that consumers are making significant changes to their diet regarding the amount of carbohydrates they are consuming, which is driving the growth of products that will become available.

EB: In a sense, the low-fat craze has driven us to the current point because, as fat was removed from the diet, carbohydrates were used as replacement. The current scenario is that carbohydrate intake is too high in the United States and needs to be brought back into balance by reducing carb intake and increasing dietary protein. Because corn syrup is such an inexpensive ingredient, the food industry, in going after low-cost formulations, has, in a sense, trained consumers to a higher level of sweetness than say 20 years ago. I have often heard people talk about American consumers wanting sweeter products, but some of the drift towards highly sweetened products is due to economics driving lower-cost formulations. We have a tendency as a society to place so much emphasis on cost that we lose on the nutritional front. Right now, it appears that at least a segment of American consumers are putting a premium on nutrition.

Dairy Foods: Cheese is naturally high-protein/low-carbohydrate, so the dairy industry immediately became an active player in this current dietary trend. Other dairy products such as frozen desserts, drinks and cultured products need some reformulating. Why are these dairy foods a natural for reformulation and positioning in this dietary lifestyle?

Atkins products list net carbs on front labels.
EB:Milk, as it comes from the cow, contains approximately 3.2% protein and 5% carbohydrate, but the carbohydrate is lactose, a low-glycemic carbohydrate. For the 99% of us that are not lactose intolerant, it almost functions like a fiber by lowering the pH in the intestine and improving such things as calcium absorption. What we need to do, however, is reduce the amount of added sugar, corn syrups and caloric sweeteners in frozen desserts, drinks and cultured products. Additionally, for example, whey proteins could easily be added to a variety of such products to not only improve the protein-to-carbohydrate ratio, but also improve the functionality of such products. A primary example of this is the reduced syneresis of yogurt when whey proteins are included in the formulation. In fact, whey protein isolate is a common ingredient in yogurt in Japan.

JR: Ice cream is a natural for reformulation to reduce the net carb level. Most sugar-sweetened ice creams contain 16-30g of sugar per serving. Reformulation with maltitol syrup can significantly reduce the carbohydrates per serving, with net carbs being 2-4g per serving. Such frozen desserts still maintain the sensory characteristics normally associated with a premium ice cream.

JF: Ice cream is a natural because sugar substitution strategies have already been developed during the no-sugar-added phase in the mid-90's. Also, the carb-counting dieter is not concerned with fat. For ice cream, high fat means low milk-solids non-fat, where the milk sugar lactose resides, resulting in even lower sugar levels than non-fat, no-sugar-added. Also the effect that higher fat levels has on the total solids of the mix improves the flexibility in selecting bulking agents.

DB: Consumers are already interested in eating dairy products because they are perceived as healthy. Polydextrose has been used for a long time in the manufacture of no-sugar-added frozen desserts, so manufacturers and consumers are already familiar with using this ingredient. Now there is the additional benefit of using polydextrose to reduce glycemic index and add fiber. More recently, lactitol has been of interest for this segment due to its contribution to taste and texture, as well as low glycemic and reduced-calorie benefits.

LCD: Dairy products are very popular with consumers and often form the basis for meals due to the nutrition they provide, as well as the culinary versatility consumers love. Since dairy products are protein based, they are a natural for a modified carbohydrate lifestyle. Milk contains only 12g of carbohydrate per 8-oz serving, so it is not extremely high in carbs to begin with. Fermented dairy products contain even fewer carbohydrates.

LD: Dairy foods are a natural for reformulation and positioning in the low-carb dietary lifestyle for several reasons. One is that the sugar in these types of products can relatively easily be replaced or reduced with non-nutritive sweeteners. Also, beverages are convenient and portable for consumers' busy lifestyles, so they are popular delivery systems for this type of dietary lifestyle. Cultured products are already considered healthy and therefore are a logical food to reformulate with lower carbs and higher protein.

Dairy Foods: What are your company's thoughts on labeling carbohydrates or net carbs on food labels? What do you think FDA will do regarding label claims and nutrition claims? (See sidebar.)

JR: There is a lot of confusion within the industry as to how to properly label low-carb products. The problem is that there is no definition for "low carbohydrate." When FDA established guidelines for NLEA labeling in the early 90's, FDA did not define reduced- or low-carbohydrates as they did with fat.

RD: Due to the fact that not all carbohydrates are utilized in the body in the same way, many companies have chosen to declare net carbohydrates outside of the Nutrition Facts box by subtracting sugar alcohols and fiber from the total amount of carbohydrates. Sugar alcohols and fibers are more slowly digested, assimilated differently or not digested at all, and thus do not have as great an impact on blood sugar. FDA will likely address this issue when it publishes its. Anti-Obesity Initiative early in 2004. According to Lester Crawford, deputy commissioner for FDA, the agency is taking a close look at the role of carbohydrates in the diet and it is up to FDA to create guidelines for what is acceptable.

DB: It will be interesting to see when and how FDA reacts to all of the new product introductions in this segment. I suspect they will try to standardize this labeling in the near future. We explain to customers that our sweeteners are all carbohydrates and must be labeled as such, even though they are metabolized differently than some typical glycemic carbohydrates.

LD: Educating the consumer on the definitions of sugars, fiber, sugar alcohols and total carbohydrates is the best way to deal with labeling of carbohydrates. Terms such as net carbs and impact carbs are currently just buzzwords that are confusing and potentially misleading to consumers. Consumers actively following a low-carb diet have the knowledge and understanding to read the nutrition labels correctly. The buzzwords may be all right for marketing purposes, but should not be included on the Nutrition Facts panel. FDA will have to set a Daily Value for carbohydrates before any nutrient content claims related to carbohydrates can be legally made on food labels.

JF: Did FDA get involved in determining the points or exchanges made popular by Weight Watchers International? No. I believe it is used by one of the large diabetic associations as a guideline for those suffering from diabetes. Preferably, FDA will stay out of this one. Carb-counters are knowledgeable and have great resources available to them. They will decide what foods to eat-they have already without FDA's help. Standards of identity set and protect certain foods, but they limit innovation.

Dairy Foods: How important is it that dairies include low-carb offerings in their product mix?

KN: Low-carb versions of fluid and cultured products are a must. The big players in yogurt already have light products, where the sugar has been replaced with fiber and an intense sweetener. Any flavored dairy beverage manufacturer absolutely needs to offer versions without sugar, using intense sweeteners. It's analogous to having soda and diet soda.

MC: Very important. Cultured dairy products are naturally lower in carbohydrates because of the bacterial conversion of milk sugar to lactic acid. If we replace the sugars added to regular cultured products with bulking agents and high-intensity sweeteners, we can produce no-sugar-added versions that taste very similar to the regular products. Although fluid milk and flavored (chocolate, strawberry, etc.) milk represent a much higher production volume than other dairy sectors, it is very hard to eliminate the main carbohydrate in milk (lactose). In flavored milks, we can replace the added sugars with bulking agents and high-intensity sweeteners, similar to what is done for yogurt, but the volumes will not be comparable to what can be achieved with yogurt. Fluid milk may become a priority for many dairies, however, due to consistent demand. Those on modified carbohydrate plans frequently use heavy cream to satisfy the need for a lower-carbohydrate milk product. A lower-carbohydrate fluid milk product would satisfy a growing consumer desire, while addressing the nutritional need to maintain healthy levels of fat in the diet.

Dairy Foods: Not including non-nutritive sweeteners, there are several ingredients that are frequently used in the formulation of high-protein/low-carb foods. What are some of these ingredients and how do they function in dairy foods?

KN: The correct approach to carbohydrate removal in any food system is the same: Add as much water, protein and fiber as possible, all health-promoting materials. Then add moderate levels of fat and even sugar, and finally round out with bulking agents, when needed. The natural fibers inulin and oligofructose are functionally unique among fibers because they behave very much like sugar-providing sweetness and bulk with solubility. In combination with intense sweeteners, they provide a sweetness profile similar to sugar. The current practice of combining intense sweeteners with fructose to sweeten light products can be replaced by using intense sweeteners with oligofructose, effectively replacing sugar with fiber, thus dropping the net carb content of the product. Inulin products can also be used to contribute body, and therefore reduce or eliminate starch levels and the digestible carbs they contribute. These functionalities are useful in formulating dairy beverages and yogurts, as well as frozen desserts.

EB: One can also increase the amount of protein in the dairy product, with whey protein products a great way to fortify the protein content of foods. Whey protein concentrates and isolates are excellent protein sources. Keep in mind that whey protein is the highest quality protein available on the market today. Whey protein beats virtually every other protein in terms of levels of essential amino acids, particularly the branched chain amino acids that are now being touted as important for weight loss. Donald Layman at the University of Illinois, Urbana, has published several interesting articles related to branched

chain amino acids and their ability to impact weight loss and body composition.

LD: Whey protein isolates are excellent ingredients for formulating high-protein/low-carb foods. Ion-exchange whey protein isolates are high in protein (more than 90% protein on an as-is-basis) and have less than 1% carbohydrates. Whey protein isolates are an excellent quality protein and are also very bland in flavor, allowing them to be incorporated into even the most flavor-sensitive system with positive results. Whey protein isolates and whey protein concentrates (WPC 80%) are commonly used in high-protein/low-carb ready-to-drink dairy beverages and ice cream products. Traditionally lower protein whey protein concentrates (WPC 34%) are incorporated into yogurt products, but there is increasing interest in boosting the protein content of yogurt and cultured dairy beverages. Increasing the protein content of certain dairy products may require adjustment in the usage level of stabilizer and thickener. Depending on the process conditions and formulation of the product, whey proteins may contribute to thickening and development of mouthfeel.

PM:Lactitol is a carbohydrate, which is slowly metabolized and gives no significant rise to blood glucose when consumed. It has only 2 calories per gram and can be counted as only half of the net carbs when directly replacing traditional sweeteners gram-for-gram. Technical functionalities of lactitol, such as water activity and freezing point depression are very similar to sugar. Because lactitol is derived from lactose, it has a natural fit with dairy products.

RN: Erythritol is an all-natural bulk sweetener that contributes zero net carbs to dairy formulations. It is permitted at a maximum usage level of 10% in frozen dairy desserts and yogurt. Being a small molecular weight, erythritol has a good freezing point depression in ice cream applications. It has a clean sweet taste with a relative sweetness of 70% compared to sucrose. It has a good synergistic effect with most intense sweeteners and it masks the lingering aftertaste. Formulators need to balance erythritol's sweetness with intense sweeteners. Since erythritol may impart a cooling effect if it stays in the crystal form (not in solution) in the final product, adding ingredients such as inulin, polydextrose, and soy and milk proteins help minimize that effect. Yogurt sweetened with erythritol and sucralose has a good clean taste. With 0.2 calories per gram, erythritol helps lower the calorie count without sacrificing taste. It can be used with other polyols like maltitol syrup in no-sugar-added fruit preparations for yogurt. Erythritol is also the only polyol approved for beverage applications at 3.5%, including dairy beverages like flavored milk, yogurt smoothies and drinkable yogurt.

DB: Polydextrose and lactitol have use in ice cream not only because they are low glycemic, reduced calorie and sugar free, but they are functional as well in terms of providing texture and taste, balancing out the freezing point depression factor and providing solids. These same qualities make these ingredients advantageous for use in other dairy applications.

JF: Most formula changes required to produce low-carb ice cream effect the mix's freezing point. This impacts the amount of water frozen during production, the degree of fat agglomeration in the ice cream, the consistency of the ice cream as it is packaged and the finished product's resistance to heat shock. There are also numerous considerations given to the individual production facility. These factors are considered when determining the type and dosage of hydrocolloids and emulsifiers.

LCD: Short chain fructooligosaccharides (scFOS) are highly effective prebiotic fibers, which work well in low-carb formulations because they add practically zero effective carbohydrates. ScFOS is also safe for diabetics and delivers only 1.5 calories per gram (compared to 4 calories per gram for regular carbohydrates and proteins). Using scFOS adds health benefits to dairy products that are useful for dieters of all types, including its role as a fiber for digestive health and function, increasing calcium and magnesium absorption, and optimizing immune function. ScFOS contributes some sweetness, improves sensorial profile and helps mask undesirable aftertastes very common to high-protein/low-carb applications. Also, it contributes to an improved, softer, smoother texture, and helps prevent syneresis. Oat bran concentrate with 15% oat beta-glucan and 35% dietary fiber (both soluble and insoluble) can also be used in low-carb formulations. For example, in low-carb yogurt, it can increase viscosity and provide body, while helping prevent synerisis and functioning as a stabilizer. When consumed, oat bran has been shown to stabilize blood sugars and to reduce cholesterol levels.

MC: With scFOS, dairy formulators are not required to make significant adjustments to their process. It is easy to include because it is very highly soluble (more than 70% at room temperature) and does not participate in the Maillard reaction, a browning process that can reduce the quality of proteins in food products. Also, scFOS does not gel, so, dairy companies can solubilize it in milk before the heat treatment without changing the process. Furthermore, scFOS has been shown to enhance the flavor and texture of dairy products. It contributes to a creamy mouthfeel and can help mask the aftertastes of high-intensity sweeteners.

Dairy Foods: High-protein/low-carb diets most likely impact the digestive system, i.e., metabolic loads on various organs. What can a formulator do to minimize this negative drawback?

RN: If low-carb formulations contain certain polyols, digestive tolerance must be considered since some polyols are only partially metabolized and absorbed. When used as intended, erythritol does not cause these undesired gastrointestinal effects, since more than 90% of the ingested erythritol is rapidly absorbed from the small intestine and passed through the kidneys.

LCD: The use of scFOS mediates the metabolic load of the higher-protein consumption commonly associated with modified-carbohydrate intake. Blood urea nitrogen is a protein metabolic product that is usually processed through the kidney. Many believe that a higher protein diet places excess metabolic load on the kidney. Since scFOS naturally partitions some of the blood urea nitrogen to the colon, it can benefit the modified carbohydrate dieter by distributing the metabolic load of protein, benefiting the liver and kidney while providing a hydration effect. The hydration effect occurs because blood urea nitrogen requires its weight in water to process through the kidney. Some of this water is spared when the colon handles part of the metabolic load of protein through the use of a highly prebiotic soluble fiber such as scFOS.

Sidebar: Labeling for Carb Counters

Dairy food marketers participating in the carb-counting craze, proceed with caution. FDA is watching and starting to act on what the agency believes are illegal claims.

This problem exists for two reasons. The first is because there is no definition for low carbohydrate, as no Daily Value for carbohydrates has ever been established. Also, FDA requires the carbohydrate content of foods to be determined by chemical composition, not physiological effect on the body. Chemically, carbohydrates are molecules made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. However, physiologically, all carbohydrates are not created equal. The body responds to certain carbohydrates differently than others. This is where glycemic index comes into play.

Glycemic index is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100, depending on how much the carbohydrate raises blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high-glycemic index are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in big fluctuations in blood sugar levels. But foods with a low-glycemic index, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels.

One of the first companies FDA warned about carbohydrate labeling was Atkins Nutritionals Inc., Ronkonkoma, N.Y., forerunners in the low-carb product craze. Initially the company counted only certain kinds of carbohydrates in its nutritional labels, leaving out ingredients like fiber, sugar alcohols and glycerine, which the company says have minimal effect on blood sugar levels, or have low-glycemic indexes. To comply with FDA, products from Atkins Nutritionals now list total carbohydrates (as determined by chemical composition) and "net carbs."

The term net carbs, though not legally defined, refers to the total amount of carbohydrates that negatively affect (i.e., increase) blood sugar and insulin. A product with low net carbs has an implied low or lower glycemic index.

FDA is taking a closer look at the role of carbohydrates in diets. FDA is considering creating guidelines that could come out in 2004 as part of the agency's Anti-Obesity Initiative. However, for now, marketers should be careful about the language they use on product labels describing carbohydrate content.

Sidebar: Low-Carb Inclusions Make the Scoop

Reducing carbohydrate intake is a consumer dietary trend that promises to be more of a lifestyle change than a fad that is here today and gone tomorrow. Low-carb dieters are starting to get quality ice cream, and now they want that ice cream to have inclusions too.

Through the use of ingredient and process technology, Pecan Deluxe Candy Co., Dallas, has been able to create ice cream inclusion systems that complement low-carbohydrate ice cream mix formulas.

Here's a peak at some of the products sampled at the recent Worldwide Food Expo:

  • Butter Pecan Fudge: Buttery roasted pecans and a chocolate swirl in butter pecan-flavored ice cream.

  • Caramel Brownie Overload: Chocolate fudge cake pieces and a caramel swirl in caramel-flavored ice cream.

  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough: Cookie dough-flavored ice cream blended with chocolate chip cookie dough pieces and chocolate flakes.

  • Chocolate Mousse Cake: Rich chocolate ice cream with creamy laces of chocolate mousse and chocolate mousse cake pieces.

  • Chocolate Truffle Parfait: Strawberries, chocolate truffles and a swirl of caramel pecan in strawberry-flavored ice cream.

  • Death by Chocolate: Chocolate ice cream blended with flourless fudge cake pieces and chocolate flakes with a chocolate thick fudge swirl.

  • Mocha Almond Fudge: Mocha ice cream blended with chocolate-covered almonds and chocolate flakes.
For more information, call Pecan Deluxe Candy Co., at 800/733-3589, or visitwww.pecandeluxe.com.