Dairy processors are in a unique position to use dairy proteins to create innovative foods and beverages.

Dairy foods contain some of the highest quality proteins available.
Proteins are being recognized as part of the solution to get Americans to eat more healthfully. Their mention in media outlets is often indirect via headlines containing phrases such as "lowering carbs" or "cutting fat." In many cases, these dietary changes result in increased protein consumption.

Dairy farmers, along with processors and marketers of dairy and dairy-related products, are sitting on a gold mine with the cows milk proteins that their products contain. So why, when consumers scan the dairy case, and other departments in the grocery store that carry dairy- and dairy-based foods and beverages, is it virtually impossible to find any of these products touting their protein content? Non-dairy foods sure are doing it. (See Take Note article).

Whole milk is about 13% solids. Cows milk contains two different classes of proteins: Whey proteins and caseins. In general, whole fluid milk contains 2.8% caseins and 0.7% whey proteins. Whey proteins are more soluble than caseins, and also have a higher quality rating in terms of the presence and amount of essential amino acids. In the world of protein, whey proteins, by far, are the gold standard.

Dairy proteins among the finest in the market

Animal-sourced proteins are significantly higher in quality when compared with vegetable-sourced proteins. And among animal proteins, the proteins in milk, specifically the whey proteins, are considered to be some of the finest, as they provide all of the essential amino acids that humans need. Whey proteins contain high levels of sulfur-containing amino acids, which are important for the biosynthesis of glutathione, a tripeptide that is associated with antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic and immune-stimulating properties. Whey proteins are also the highest natural source of branched-chain amino acids, which are recognized for stimulating muscle protein synthesis.

Briefly (see pie charts above), whole milk is about 13% solids. Of the solids, about 27% is protein, of which 20% is described as whey proteins, and the remaining 80% called caseins. In other words, milk is about 3.5% protein (2.8% caseins and 0.7% whey proteins). Though both are high quality, for the aforementioned reasons, it is the whey proteins that have received so much attention. Little Miss Muffet certainly was wise when she sat down to eat her curds and whey.

Indeed, the benefits of consuming whey proteins are not news, but the science to validate what many like Little Miss Muffet have known for centuries is finally becoming available. And so is the technology to isolate and purify the most functional and bioavailable components of whey proteins.

While calcium used to be nearly synonymous with dairy, now practically every type of food and beverage is fortified with calcium. The dairy industry must not let the same thing happen with dairy proteins. After all, dairy proteins come from none other than dairy foods. Innovative dairy food and beverages marketers are readily able to either promote the inherent high-quality proteins already in product formulations, or they can add dairy protein ingredients for functionality, product performance or even nutrition and wellness. Like other food and beverage manufacturers fortifying product with dairy proteins, the dairy industry must also benefit from this powerhouse pack of amino acids.

Dairy market analyst Jerry Dryer says, "Over the past 25 or 30 years, whey has moved from a line item in the expense ledger to a value-added line on the income statement. Today, whey is the most respected protein on the market. Both highly nutritious and multi-functional, whey can be found in thousands of products, not just here but around the world."

Original Yoplait® Nouriche® and Nouriche Light nonfat yogurt smoothies both contain 10g protein per 11-oz bottle. To achieve that level of protein, the cultured milk is fortified with whey protein concentrate. A serving of either also contains 20 vitamins and minerals, 30% of the Daily Value for calcium and 22% of the Daily Value for fiber, which helps position the Nouriche line as a meal-in-a-bottle.

Where whey is and where it's going

As one of the most respected proteins, whey is high on the list of ingredients that make "low-carb" formulations possible. Low-carb foods and beverages appeal to the growing number of consumers choosing to follow a lower-carbohydrate lifestyle. The question is still out there as to how safe such diets are, and how effective they are at helping people take and keep off excess weight. Research indicates that benefits may come from changing the carbohydrate and protein ratio in the diet more than from lowering carbohydrates. (See Dairy Proteins in Weight Management article.) Furthermore, it seems to be about choosing the right carbohydrates and the right proteins. And this is where dairy proteins come in.

It is impossible to ignore the low-carb dieting phenomenon, which appears to be an opportunity that continues to grow. Figures vary with Kim Feil, president, Mosaic Infoforce, reporting that an estimated 32 million Americans say they are following a low-carb lifestyle. And according to the Gallup 2003 Meal Replacement Survey, 56% of dieters believe it is important to limit carbohydrates when trying to diet, a jump from 24% in 1999.

In another survey of 1,800 U.S. adults by Opinion Dynamics Corp., Cambridge, Mass., 20% of adults have tried a low-carb diet since 2002 and 11%, which is about 24 million consumers, are currently on a low-carb diet. About 44 million adults, represented by 19% of survey respondents, said they were not currently on a low-carb diet but were "very" or "somewhat" likely to try one in the next two years.

This is important information for product developers, as more consumers will be counting carbohydrates. Therefore, formulators should strive to keep carbohydrates low in future product development efforts. But what is low?

Currently the terms "low," "reduced" and "free" cannot legally be used to describe the carbohydrate content of foods or beverages. This is because there is no Daily Value established for carbohydrates, and one is necessary in order for such FDA-defined terms to be used to describe the content of any nutrient.

Whey Improved Milk™ is a dairy-based beverage mix that is fat and lactose free, with 2g carbohydrates per 8-oz serving. Made with whey protein isolates, a single-serving contains 56 calories and 12g of whey protein. Packaged in a 32-oz plastic bottle, consumers simply add water, shake and refrigerate.
"FDA does permit claims about the amount or percentage of a nutrient, provided such claims do not imply that there is a lot or a little of that nutrient in the product," says FDA's Wanda Kelker. "It's acceptable to state ‘Xgcarbohydrates.' It's not OK to say ‘only Xgcarbohydrates.'"

Furthermore, the term "net carbs" also is not legally acceptable. This term has come to imply the total amount of carbohydrates that negatively affect (i.e., increase) blood sugar and insulin. Put another way, "net carbs" are seen as total carbohydrates less sugar alcohols and dietary fiber. This is in part because there is disagreement in the industry regarding which carbohydrates qualify as dietary fiber.

"FDA plans to define dietary fiber and how to determine net carbs," says Kelker. "Currently FDA will not object to the term ‘net carbohydrate' unless we become aware that such terms are false or misleading."

FDA also has filed several petitions to set a Daily Value for carbohydrates and to make it possible to make carbohydrate-content claims. Sometime during the summer of 2004, FDA is expected to issue proposed rules regarding carbohydrate claims. In the mean time, formulators and marketers should take note that it is legally possible to tout the protein content of foods and beverages. In fact, fluid milk, without the addition of any dairy proteins, can already carry the statement: A good source of protein. Many other dairy products qualify for "good" and even "excellent source of protein" claims, thus appealing to consumers following low-carbohydrate lifestyles.

The opportunities to create high-protein dairy foods by adding dairy back into dairy are infinite. These dairy foods can be products formulated beyond standards of identity, such as beverages categorized as the increasingly popular milk drink and dairy-based drink. These beverages might be made using milk that has been filtered to remove the lactose. Or, they might only be a little more than half milk, with the rest of the beverage being flavor, sweetener and even stabilizer. However, the addition of dairy proteins adds value.

Dairy processors are uniquely qualified to formulate beverages that contain dairy proteins, as well as other dairy foods including frozen desserts and cultured products. Put dairy back into dairy, where it belongs!

Sidebar: Pump It Up with Dairy

Serious athletes have long turned to whey proteins to help them develop and sustain a lean, strong and well-defined physique. Research studies support this belief, as it has been shown that athletes often require twice as much the recommended daily allowance of protein in their diet.

Several beverage manufacturers offer whey protein formulas, with labels touting the endurance and muscle-building benefits of consuming whey proteins. Recently, cheese and dairy ingredient processor Davisco Foods International, Le Sueur, Minn., rolled out its first consumer whey protein product: BiPro™. BiPro is an unflavored whey protein isolate powder that readily mixes into smoothies, pancake batter, muffins and a variety of foods. BiPro debuted in March at the Arnold Schwarzenegger Fitness Expo and Arnold Classic, a worldwide fitness competition with a 20-year history. But BiPro's consumer reach extends beyond premier athletes.

"We have been inundated with consumer requests for BiPro because of its purity," says Marty Davis, g.m., Davisco. "We've been supplying the sports nutrition industry for more than 20 years, and we are excited to meet consumer demand by making BiPro available now directly to consumers . . . consumers on low-carb diets have learned the secret of serious athletes and they deserve BiPro."

Sidebar: Global Uses of Dairy Proteins

Select European countries use whey as a base for nutritional, fruity dairy-based beverages. France-based Danone markets in Germany and Austria produce the children's drink FruchZwerge FrumixX. This refreshing beverage is made from fermented milk and whey, and contains 6% fruit juice. The single-serve reclosable bottles are adorned with graphics that appeal to kids. For adults, Austria's Nöm AG markets a probiotic whey and fruit drink that is fortified with vitamins and calcium. The beverage debuted under the brand Frisch & Frucht, but quickly changed to the English name Refresh. Most recently the "re" has been dropped and the whey drink is simply called Fresh.

Both the Danone and Nöm beverages are sold in the dairy case, right alongside milk and drinkable yogurt, as well as in impulse coolers located near the checkout aisle. In America, most whey-containing beverages are shelf-stable and are positioned as meal replacements or energy drinks. They are also merchandised in the drug store section of supermarkets, alongside energy bars and dieting aids.

Not all ethnic dairy products are marketed for the whey they contain. For example, Los Angeles-based Mikawaya manufactures Mochi® ice cream novelties, which are small balls of ice cream coated with a meringue-type dessert. Whey is a key ingredient as it provides solids and helps stabilize the foam in this delicate dessert.