Beyond Basic Nutrition

by Kathie Canning
Dairy products not only offer a profusion of functional ingredients, but also serve as an ideal base for other healthful ingredients.
Dairy products are uniquely situated to compete in the functional foods market, providing a natural source of calcium, whey proteins, linoleic acids and numerous other functional ingredients. They also offer a nearly ideal foundation for probiotics, prebiotics, soy and many other supplementary functional ingredients.
During a recent roundtable discussion hosted by the Dairy Council of California and held at the University of California, Davis (UC-Davis), experts answered my questions about research on — and marketing strategies for — functional ingredients in the dairy arena. These researchers participated in the roundtable:
J. Bruce German, Ph.D., a professor in UC Davis’ Department of Food Science and Technology. German, in conjunction with other researchers, is using comparative genomics to gain a genetic knowledge of milk and its health-related benefits.
Sidika E. Kasim-Karakas, M.D., an endocrinologist and a professor of internal medicine in UC Davis’ Division of Endocrinology. She currently is investigating the effects of a whey protein-enriched diet on weight loss, glucose and lipid metabolism in obese insulin-resistant women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Mary Ellen Sanders, Ph.D., owner of Centennial, Colo.-based Dairy and Food Culture Technologies. A probiotics expert, Sanders helps companies develop new probiotic products and enhance existing ones. In addition, she works with the California Dairy Research Foundation and other non-profit organizations to communicate probiotic-related information.
Questions and responses were condensed because of space limitations.
What actions can dairy processors take to help ensure success in the functional ingredients area?
German: I think milk suffers from two problems. One, its strength is its weakness. It’s all things, so that’s a great strength nutritionally and for everything else, but people for the last 20 years have chosen nutrition based on negatives. So anything that milk has in it that people would choose to avoid — saturated fat, lactose — becomes a problem for milk.
The other thing is our health perception is a disease-state perception. We basically think of ourselves as a little bit diseased and getting more so. We don’t yet have a health-oriented perspective. And that is, we’re healthy, and how can we stay healthy, maintain health and improve health?
Milk does great in a health-based system, but plants do great in a disease-based system. It will take awhile before the population thinks in those terms. I think that’s happening — you see a lot of scientific research going more into health. Dairy should be finding ways to be ahead on that, to surf on the wave ahead instead of waiting until everybody agrees and then getting in on the end. So begin to market the notion of health — quality of life, performance. You’re not avoiding disease; you’re living your life.
Sanders: I just recently was digging out information on the role of microbes in fermenting milk — bringing characteristics of the microbes to bear that have anti-hypertensive properties. It’s all part of a package. I mean, you could possibly stress whatever role dairy plays in delivering whatever in terms of its combination of nutrients, then you could also say (fermented dairy products) have the microbes that contribute to that or the peptides that are produced by the fermentation of the milk by the microbes.
How well do you think consumers are accepting dairy products as functional foods?
German: The saturated-fat issue is a problem. Honestly, saturated fat probably isn’t poison. In some people, it’s probably very important. If you’ve got low HDL (“good” cholesterol), if you go on a pure mono-unsaturated/polyunsaturated diet, HDL will go down. For a lot of women, the last thing in the world they need to do is lower their HDL, so an appropriate blend of fat would include some saturates.
But the rhetoric today points to zero tolerance for saturated fat. This is a catastrophic thing to say to the agricultural enterprise and the consumer because to them that means if 5 percent is better than 10 percent, zero is better than 5 percent. They will abandon any commodity that has any saturated fat in it, including dairy.
How did we make this mistake again? We did it 15 years ago when everybody fled from dairy, and look at all the calcium issues that came from that. Now, of course, they’re putting out supplements for calcium to deal with it. What’s next? Are we going to have an entire generation, as it looks like now, with rickets (from vitamin D deficiencies)?
One of the things that I think you need to be able to do is to establish scientific research for different life stages. If the DASH (Diet For All Diseases) study is right — and there’s good scientific evidence — then milk is every bit as important as fruits and vegetables. So you need to get opinion leaders to recognize that dairy products are key.
How can dairy processors best take advantage of all the recent research linking dairy products and their unique functional components to weight loss and maintenance?
German: What dairy has not done well is leverage the difference between calcium and dairy. It could be what they really need to do is show that, in the absence of calcium, milk still has this benefit.
One of the things that’s distinctive about the studies that have been done on dairy as opposed to calcium is that calcium (outside of dairy) does encourage the mobilization of fat, but milk-based calcium seems to encourage the mobilization of visceral fat over what we call subcutaneous fat. Visceral is metabolically inappropriate — it seems to be consistent with the disease that is obesity. Subcutaneous fat nourishes your skin. It’s a thermal barrier, a physical barrier. It’s what distinguishes youthful skin from older skin. And it’s synonymous with milk.
Whey once represented a huge disposal issue for cheesemakers. Now whey proteins are widely used in nutritional supplements and food products.
What other effects does whey potentially have that could boost future demand?
Kasim-Karakas: What potentially makes it interesting to me is its potential role in weight loss and correction of insulin resistance in my PCOS patient population. One out of every 16 women has this problem. They have irregular periods from the start. Then around the age of 15, they begin to gain weight. By the age of 20, they have some facial hair. By the time they seek help, they complain of infertility. They are insulin-resistant. Many of them are obese, and 20 percent of them become diabetic before the age of 40.
What attracted my attention was an article by (D.K.) Layman that showed not only weight loss, but also selective suppression of excess insulin secretion. If you can suppress this excess insulin secretion in PCOS patients, then everything gets better. Layman’s article showed that might be true with whey products because they’re rich in branched-chain amino acids. There is a considerable amount of medical information that suggests you can maintain the lean muscle mass with whey. If we could do that, we could help prevent a decrease in energy expenditure, which always accompanies weight loss.
How are you testing the whey protein/weight loss link?
Kasim-Karakas: In our study, which is currently in the beginning/recruitment phase, we will provide women (suffering from a metabolic syndrome and PCOS) with 60 grams of whey protein a day, and our placebo will have very small amounts. The neat thing about this disease is that if these patients lose just 6 percent of their body weight, 50 percent of them ovulate within weeks. We will be comparing 30 percent protein to 15 percent, and the difference of 15 percent will be made of whey. So if there is something magical about whey, I think we should be able to detect it.
(Editor’s Note: Study participants will be required to discontinue all medications and reduce caloric intake by 400 kcal/day. Kasim-Karakas expects to complete the first round of recruitment by the end of this year; the second round by early next year. Study results are anticipated for September 2005.)
What kind of research is needed to allow dairy processors to understand — and promote — the specific functional components in milk?
German: Mechanistic research is probably key to convincing the scientific community, in getting scientific consensus. One of the problems with milk is you’ve got multiple things complementing each other. In some cases, you take them all apart, and the benefit isn’t the same.
The other thing I think the whole genetic approach is doing is finding new benefits. And the things milk does are really remarkable when you start looking closely. Apart from the essential nutrients, it has some of what we’ll call non-essential benefits. That means it’s not going to be beneficial to all people under all circumstances. For example, there are things in milk that will bind toxins — some specific bacteria and specific viruses. Well, if you cast the benefits of those in the absence of the bacteria and the viruses, you see no benefits.
Milk research in this area is going to be difficult. It’s going to take more creative ways to do things, and scientists going after a different set of objectives. The whole principle of milk’s having these evolutionary-designed benefits for health — it needs very innovative approaches. Genomics is a very powerful way to go about this — the genome contains all the evolutionary information. And we’ll really be enabling this whole switch from a disease state to a health maintenance system. It’s target discovery based, and then the benefits are delivery based.
Tell me about your research in the milk genomics area.
German: We have a milk genome project. We would like to know which of all the genes are responsible for milk — in humans, bovine, sheep, goats. We will then be able to study as researchers do. If we’re looking for the scientific basis for eating certain ways and how to guide us in knowing how we will make people healthier, then milk, as a scientific resource, is tremendous.
Like vitamins A and D, probiotics are functional ingredients that long have been part of the dairy scene. What would you term the most exciting research in the probiotics area?
Sanders: Very interesting research has come down related to the impact of probiotics on the development of allergies in very young children, specifically contact dermatitis. There’s a growing area of interest on the impact of probiotics on decreasing inflammatory response. Research also is looking at extending the remission for inflammatory bowel disease — Crohn’s disease. That’s developing research, but there’s a variety of independent labs that are looking at different types of probiotics and seem to be finding similar types of an effect.
There’s also some research that recently was done with yogurt and antibiotics-associated diarrhea. But I think there’s a lot that really has to be done to understand what bacteria are best, what levels are best, what types of antibiotics they work best against.
Quire a few studies have been done in the area of the impact on the immune system. There’s one study that was done that shows children in daycare centers, over I think a seven-month period, actually had fewer respiratory infections than the control group. I’m going to assume that the mechanism probably is some kind of immune-enhancement function. The interesting thing was that the daily dose was something like 108 or two to four times 108, which in the whole scheme of probiotic research is a fairly low daily dose, yet they were still seeing the effects.
Before the supplement companies entered the market, fermented dairy products used to have little competition in the probiotics area. What can dairy do to come out on top in this area?
Sanders: I think the challenge the dairy industry has is to come up with a documented story about why dairy’s a good delivery system for probiotics. The angle I have pushed more than any other has been my personal bias, which is that I’d rather have my kids and my family get what’s valuable to them in their diet instead of in a pill. The other part of the story that you can still build on is an additive or possibly synergistic beneficial relationship with a dairy delivery system.
I guess my hope is that more specific interactions can be defined. I know there’s some research going on to try to understand what, if anything, growth in milk or just exposure to milk can do to probiotic bacteria, and simply what genes get turned on in that relationship. That could really pave the way for trying to understand if milk has a unique role in being a superior delivery system for probiotics.
Where we stand today is a very different place from where we stood even 10 years ago in the evidence to substantiate the effectiveness of at least certain types of probiotic activity in certain types of systems. There’s much more that can be said now.
The dairy industry does not communicate the benefits for the most part. A yogurt consumer, someone interested in getting probiotics through dairy products, has a really difficult time knowing what he or she is getting. The one product worth mentioning in that regard is the DanActive product that Dannon has out. They do say it contains 10 billion live cultures per serving. So that at least gives the consumers something.