Historically, mainstream America has not embraced dairy foods where milkfat is replaced by vegetable fat. However, in recent years, Americans have started seeking out dairy foods enriched with healthful fatty acids, in particular, omega-3s. 

Editor’s Note: While attending Anuga 2009 this past October in Cologne, Germany, I noticed a trend among dairy product innovations. This was to replace milkfat with vegetable fat in order to improve the fatty acid profile of the product. Keep in mind that in most countries this automatically changes the product’s legal identity, making it an imitation dairy product. Nevertheless, by giving the imitations trivial names and promoting the reduction in saturated fat, marketers are hoping consumers won’t notice the product’s “fakeness.”

Historically, mainstream America has not embraced dairy foods where milkfat is replaced by vegetable fat. However, in recent years, Americans have started seeking out dairy foods enriched with healthful fatty acids, in particular, omega-3s. 

There are basically three omega-3s available as an ingredient: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

FDA has only authorized a health claim for DHA and EPA. It reads: “Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. One serving of [name of food] provides [x]grams of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.” FDA did not establish a minimum dosage but did indicate that not more than 3 grams should be consumed per day. 

There are also a number of available structure/function claims for DHA and EPA, including: maintains a healthy cardiovascular system and supports the normal development of the brain, eyes and nerves.

Nutrient content claims characterize the level of a nutrient in the food.  At present, “excellent source,” “high in” or “rich in” claims may be made for products that contain a combined total of at least 32 milligrams of DHA and EPA per serving.  The permitted claim must be accompanied by a statement that relates the amount of DHA and EPA in the product to a Daily Value for these substances.  Examples of how to appropriately word this nutrient content claim would be “Excellent source of omega-3 DHA and EPA” and “Contains [xx] milligrams of DHA and EPA combined per serving, which is [xx]% of the 160 milligrams Daily Value for a combination of DHA and EPA.

Plant-derived ALA can be converted in the human body to DHA and EPA.  Its inclusion in foods allows for nutrient content claims. The current Daily Value for ALA is 1.3 grams per day.  In the case of ALA, the aforementioned nutrient content claims could be made if a serving contains 260 milligrams of ALA. 

Another healthful fatty acid is conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been shown to possess anti-carcinogenic properties as well as offer potential positive effects on cardiovascular health and weight loss. There currently are no approved health claims for CLA, nor a set Daily Value. The structure/function claims that a food company can make when adding CLA to a formula include: increases muscle tone, accelerates fat loss, reduces body fat and prevents weight gain.

Dairy Foods spoke to 10 suppliers of fatty acid ingredients to get their insight to the trend in fortifying dairy foods with these healthful ingredients. Here’s what they had to say. 

Dairy Foods: What fatty acid ingredients does your company supply and what are their unique attributes?

Luchsinger: Lipid Nutrition supplies a unique CLA ingredient, as it possesses the highest concentration of active isomers responsible for weight management. It comes in three forms: triglyceride oil, emulsion and powder.

Drew: Pharmachem converts fatty acid oils and pastes into dry flowable, stable powders for use in non-liquid dairy products. We find ourselves processing a variety of essential fatty acid-based ingredients for dairy applications, including specialty algae oils and chia seed products.

Novin: Omega-3 ALA from flaxseed oil is well known for its health benefits. All of our ingredients are non-GMO, all natural and are farmed, processed and manufactured in North America…from soil to oil, 100% North American. Our flaxseed oil is the only flaxseed oil with FDA generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status.

Bastian: Glanbia Nutritionals supplies a full line of flax-derived products that contain ALA.  Most of our product offerings are in the form of milled flax, along with fish oil and algae oil-fortified milled flax, so that we can offer products that contain ALA, DHA and EPA. We have also completed commercially available applications that combine whey protein and flax with incorporated fish oil.

Getzinger: Ocean Nutrition Canada manufactures DHA and EPA from fish oil. Fish oil is one of the best sources of omega-3s because it contains significant quantities of DHA and EPA fatty acids

Rao: Hormel’s DHA and EPA ingredients are available in oils and emulsions. We are in the process of launching an omega-3 ingredient that has application in clear and shelf-stable beverages. This really is a breakthrough because currently there is no ingredient in the market that can withstand the rigors of high-temperature processing in a clear application. Moreover, this ingredient dissolves in cold temperatures and does not require homogenization and mixing.

Brown: DSM supplies omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. The omega-3 products are derived from fish and come in the form of oils, microencapsulated powders and emulsions. DSM uses a patented process and stabilization method that results in oils that are purified, allowing for safe, stable and odor-free products that have superior performance. Many of DSM’s fish oil ingredients also do not require allergen labeling for fish.

Kraterfield: GTC Nutrition provides an omega-3 DHA-rich functional ingredient from tuna oil. This omega-3 ingredient is available in both oil and powder forms, and is designed to enable product developers and manufacturers to fortify everyday foods with omega-3 DHA to support cognitive, heart and ocular health. Our product’s patented microencapsulation technology protects the omega-3 ingredient against oxidation and provides a taste barrier, allowing manufacturers to deliver optimal health benefits without marine flavors.

France-Kelly: Martek Biosciences produces a vegetarian source of DHA. It is produced, from start to finish, in an FDA-inspected facility with controls in place to ensure the highest quality. And because it is not from fish, there is no risk of ocean-borne pollutants. The DHA ingredient comes from a source that has not been genetically modified and is both kosher and halal. It is accepted by FDA for use in U.S. infant formulas and is the only DHA currently used in U.S. infant formulas. Martek also produces arachidonic acid (ARA), an omega-6 fatty acid, for use in infant formula.

Chaudhari: Fortitech develops custom nutrient premixes. We source more than 1,400 ingredients, among them a variety of fatty acids, including omega-3s, omega-6s and omega-9s.

Dairy Foods: Why are dairy products an ideal delivery vehicle for specialty fatty acid ingredients?

France-Kelly: People are looking for an alternative to swallowing supplements in capsule form each day. Consuming DHA in dairy foods is an easier, more enjoyable way to do something good for your body. It also provides an easy way to incorporate DHA into children’s diets.

Kraterfield: Consumers typically consider dairy products to be healthy and naturally gravitate to dairy to deliver nutritional benefits. Dairy products are ideal vehicles for fatty acid fortification because most dairy products provide the minimum fat needed for the successful incorporation of fatty acid ingredients.

Getzinger: Dairy products are an ideal vehicle to deliver enhanced nutrition for two reasons. First, dairy products are innately healthful and it makes sense to enhance them with additional nutrients that provide health benefits. Second, dairy products are staple foods that are consumed on a daily basis.

Brown: Dairy products have multiple characteristics that help ward off potential oxidation, the primary cause of off-flavors from omega-3 ingredients. They are opaque in nature, which helps protect omega-3 fatty acids from oxidation due to light exposure. In addition, dairy products are generally stored under refrigerated conditions and have a moderate shelf life, two important characteristics helpful in warding off potential harmful oxidation. Milk is also a very hospitable environment for the inclusion of fat. Modern milk manufacturing techniques allow for the manipulation of fat content and as such make it easy to control added fat content.  An emulsified form of fish oil, with a small and fully dispersed particle size easily folds into the dairy matrix. If the oil is properly manufactured and emulsified under strict quality standards it will allow for a seamless single step inclusion into any dairy product and will perform exceptionally, even if included prior to UHT pasteurization.

Luchsinger:  CLA is traditionally found in beef and dairy products. Cows and other ruminant animals produce CLA from linoleic acid, which is naturally present in their grass-based diet. Products produced from ruminant animals such as milk, cheese and yogurt are sources of naturally occurring CLA, but they contain such low levels that the consumer cannot achieve the beneficial levels of CLA for weight management. Therefore, dairy products are ideal for delivering boosted levels of CLA for weight management because CLA is naturally found in dairy. 

Dairy Foods: This past year an array of dairy-based nutritional beverages were introduced to the marketplace, ranging from picky-eater toddler drinks to geriatric meal replacements. What fatty acid ingredients are added to demographic-specific dairy drinks and why?

Getzinger: DHA and EPA have many far-reaching health benefits, ranging from brain development in children to heart benefits in adults and seniors, making them a popular choice by manufacturers targeting many demographics.  A key demographic that manufacturers target is children, with specific attention to brain and eye development.  Clinical research suggests other potential benefits for older children.  Scientists are currently studying a number of areas, including long-term cognitive development, behavior and learning disorders, childhood depression, type-1 diabetes and inflammatory conditions such as asthma.

Kraterfield: DHA and EPA are essential throughout the entire lifecycle. Omega-3s are being added to infant and toddler drinkable yogurt to support cognitive development during a child’s formative years. Omegas are also finding their way into geriatric meal replacements beverages to support cognitive and heart health.

France-Kelly: Adding functional ingredients, such as DHA and probiotics, coupled with reduced- and low-fat formulations to make dairy products more healthful, are gaining appeal among aging baby boomers, young mothers and people who want to manage their weight and heart health. Consumers are growing more aware of the different kinds of omega-3s and their differences, and with new research pointing to the benefits of specific omega-3s, consumers have become more aware that not all omega-3s are created equal and now look for foods containing specific omega-3s.

Luchsinger: CLA can be marketed in yogurts and fluid milk products to active women and men who want some extra help to look and feel good. Because CLA is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and therefore sensitive to oxidation, avoiding risk factors to oxidation such as oxygen, light, heat, etc., should be applied to the final packaging considerations.

Dairy Foods: How are fatty acid ingredients applied to dairy formulations?

Brown: The ideal product form for inclusion in dairy formulations is an emulsion that has a small particle size (<1 nanometer). This allows for a simple addition at various stages of the production process. DSM utilizes a patented process and stabilization method that results in oils that are purified. Because they are sterile, odor-free and stable, the emulsion can be added to the end stages of processing, after heat treatment, just prior to packaging or further back in the manufacturing process without concern for the development of unpleasant flavors. An emulsified form allows for a longer shelf life as compared to the other omega-3 forms.

Getzinger: Omega-3 ingredients can easily be applied to dairy applications by adding the omega-3 in an oil, emulsion or powder form. Depending on the process, a manufacturer may prefer one or the other formats, but usually a powder form works better because it is easier to handle, dose and also has superior stability. In powder form, the fish oil is protected from oxidation by microencapsulation and the ingredient has no impact whatsoever on the taste or smell of the food product during shelf life.

Kraterfield: Fatty acids work best in dairy products that contain at least a small amount of fat, the milk fat will increase the thermal stability of the fatty acid and provide added protection throughout the life of the product. It is important to limit the exposure to light, heat and oxygen; therefore, fatty acids should be added near the end of processing. This allows for minimal contact with oxidizing factors. Generally, fatty acid powders are added to the dairy product just prior to pasteurization. Alternately, they can also be dispersed into other ingredients, such as liquid sweeteners or fruit preparations, before being added to the dairy food.

Bastian: In Glanbia’s situation, we are applying fatty acid ingredients in the form of flax, flax with fish oil and flax with algae oil, into whey protein-based, sports nutrition beverages and bars, yogurt products, and dairy/fruit smoothies. The main hurdle in any of these applications is to protect highly unsaturated fatty acids from oxidation and flavor degradation.  When flax is blended with fish or algae oil, the natural antioxidants present in flax help to stabilize not only the native flax oil, but also the added fish or algae oil.  We have seen substantial increase in fatty acid stability when combining DHA and EPA oils into flax and have observed a continuance of stability when such products are introduced into dairy-based smoothies and yogurts.  This technology is patent pending.

Luchsinger:  With dairy products such as yogurt, CLA can be added to the white mass prior to homogenization, pasteurization and optional culturing.

Dairy Foods: What are some recent scientific discoveries/clinical results regarding specific fatty acids that are available as an ingredient to dairy processors?

Getzinger: DHA and EPA are two of the most well-researched nutrients. There are more than 14,000 research papers that show the role of DHA and EPA in many areas, especially in heart and brain health.

Brown: “Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease” written by Lavie et al, and published in 2009 by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology provides an excellent summary and update of the benefits of omega-3 for cardiovascular health along with specific recommendations for the general population.

France-Kelly: The Memory Improvement with Docosahexaenoic Acid Study, or MIDAS, is the first large, randomized and placebo-controlled study demonstrating the benefits of DHA in maintaining and improving brain health in older adults. In this study, healthy people with memory complaints who took algal DHA capsules for six months had almost double the reduction in errors on a test that measures learning and memory performance versus those who took a placebo, a benefit roughly equivalent to having the learning and memory skills of someone three years younger. The MIDAS study will soon be published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia, the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

Bastian: A recent clinical trial related to anti-inflammation properties of ALA was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It compared people who had high blood lipids and consumed a typical American diet to people with the same high-lipid blood profiles but who were consuming a diet rich in ALA. The researchers showed that certain pro-inflammatory blood signaling molecules decreased by 43% and 22% in people consuming high ALA. This research corroborates some earlier work indicating an anti-inflammatory role for ALA in the diet. 

Luchsinger: The most recent published clinical study in the British Journal of Nutrition clearly demonstrated that our CLA reduced fat mass in particular regions of the body without any additional exercise. The subjects in the trial lost 2 kilograms of fat (equal to 4.4 pounds) around the waist area and in the legs. The women in the CLA group showed fat reduction located in the leg and waist areas whereas for men the fat reduction was mainly in the waist area/mid-section. There was also a meta-analysis of human clinical studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in which CLA was provided as a dietary supplement to test its efficacy in reducing fat mass. The conclusion of this meta-analysis was that at a dose of 3.2 grams a day, CLA produces modest fat loss in body fat in humans.

Dairy Foods: When you look inside your crystal ball, what is the future of specialty fatty acid ingredients in dairy foods applications?

Novin: I really believe that FDA may require the modification of some foods to contain higher levels of essential fatty acids. The dairy industry is a perfect match, as most of the products have limited shelf life and are temperature sensitive.

Bastian: We think that consumer awareness of omega-3s will continue to increase and that demand for foods and supplements with ALA, DHA and EPA will also increase. We know that dairy fat has a lot of monounsaturated fatty acids, which are omega-6. By incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into dairy formulations, we can balance the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 to an optimal level, approximately 5:1.
Brown: I believe that by the end of this decade, all fluid milk in the United States will be fortified with omega-3s in addition to the vitamins A and D currently being used. This will go a long way in helping the U.S. population restore the proper healthy balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that has been altered by the explosion of omega-6 ingredients entering the food supply over the last three decades.

Getzinger: The North American functional food market is evolving and following a similar path to the European market, where fortification with DHA and EPA is very common. For example, in Spain (with only 40 million inhabitants), there are at least 14 brands of milk and five brands of yogurt fortified with DHA and EPA. In Canada, more than a quarter of the kids’ yogurts are fortified with DHA from fish oil. Omega-3 fortification is gaining momentum in the U.S. market and early adopters are at an advantage.

Chaudhari: Application research to develop new delivery systems to ensure that a biologically active dose can be delivered in a variety of applications will continue to support product development across all categories.

Rao: If you look over the last 10 years, health benefits of specialty fatty acid ingredients have come a long way. Good fats are not a fad, they are a trend. 

Dairy Foods talked to:
Eric Bastian, vice president of research and development, Glanbia Nutritionals
Doug Brown, senior marketing manager, DSM Nutritional Products Inc.
Ram Chaudhari, senior executive vice president and chief scientific officer, Fortitech
Gregory Drew, director, food and beverage group, Pharmachem Laboratories Inc.
Cassie France-Kelly, senior public relations manager, Martek Biosciences Corp.
Jon Getzinger, chief sales and marketing officer, Ocean Nutrition Canada Ltd.
Elizabeth Kraterfield, food applications specialist, GTC Nutrition
Patrick Luchsinger, marketing manager North America, Lipid Nutrition
Ali Novin, vice president of sales and business development, Polar Foods Inc.
Chet Rao, marketing manager-functional and nutritional products, Hormel Foods Corp.