Here’s to Your Health
The dairy sector boasts myriad ingredient offerings for products demanded by the health-conscious consumer.
by Kathie Canning
A new health consciousness has emerged in the dairy sector during the past year or so. To appease consumers who have grown increasingly knowledgeable about the role diet plays in obesity deterrence, energy management and disease prevention, dairy processors have cut carbohydrates and ramped up the nutritional profiles of numerous new product offerings.
In addition, thanks to a spate of published studies linking the consumption of dairy ingredients with weight loss and maintenance and a reduced risk for hypertension, certain cancers and other ailments, many consumers are seeing dairy products in a new light. These nutritional powerhouses now serve as bases for numerous functional foods and beverages.
“A larger group of the population is getting older,” says K.J. Burrington, whey applications program coordinator for the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “They’re more interested in maintaining their health, and they’re more interested, possibly, than past generations in using foods to do that.”
One Lump — or None?
No other health-related trend has influenced the dairy product sector more during this past year than the low-carb movement.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not formulated a legal definition for low-carbohydrate products, it is generally accepted that such products contain 5 grams or fewer “net carbs” (total carbohydrates minus fiber and sugar alcohols).
Carb cutting in the dairy sector has largely meant eliminating or reducing sucrose, corn syrup and the like. Sugar-laden dairy and other food products have been linked to childhood obesity, prompting processors to look for other paths to product sweetness.
The ice cream and frozen novelty sectors have been the most proactive of the dairy categories in the lower-carb/no-sugar-added arenas. According a recent USA Today report, the number of low-carb ice cream offerings could reach 100 by the year’s end.
Such offerings include everything from Atkins Endulge superpremium ice creams and frozen novelties, which serve up between 3 and 4 grams of net carbs per serving, to Breyer’s no-sugar-added/98 percent fat-free chocolate fudge brownie ice cream, which limits both sugar and fat.
The yogurt and flavored dairy beverage categories also have seen their share of low-carb and no-sugar-added product introductions. Some of these products even are geared specifically toward the younger set.
“Low carb appears to have hit every [age] category, including children,” says Cathy Miller, technical applications director — ingredients for New Century, Kan.-based Danisco USA Inc. “Parents are starting to be concerned about the high sugar levels in items such as flavored milks, yogurts, frozen water pops, et cetera. They aren’t purchasing low-carb products because they are low-carb, but they are purchasing them because they have less sugar.”
Ted Benic, general manager, dairy, for Belcamp, Md.-based TIC Gums Inc., says this trend breaks with tradition.
“Parents weren’t always so forthright and forthcoming in wanting their kids to ingest sugar-free [products],” he says. “Sugar-free was always considered an adult thing. Now parents are saying [that] sugar-free really should be for everybody.”
Of course, when some or all of the sugar and certain milk solids are left out of a dairy product, other ingredients must take their place.
Sugar alcohols (polyols) such as lactitol, sorbitol and others have found a home in many low-carb dairy formulations, especially ice cream. Technically carbohydrates, these ingredients are absorbed slowly and incompletely from the small intestine into the bloodstream. Because they then are converted into energy by processes that call for little or no insulin, they are suitable for use in products geared toward diabetics. They have fewer calories than sugar, but definitely are not calorie-free.
Lactitol, for example, frequently is used in no-sugar-added or low-carb ice creams and frozen desserts, says Miller. Because lactitol has a freezing point depression that is close to that of sucrose, it imparts a similar texture to frozen dairy desserts. It offers a mild sweetness and can be blended with more intense artificial sweeteners such as sucralose.
Danisco Sweeteners offers lactitol for dairy applications, says Miller, as well as Litesse® polydextrose, which can help slash the calorie content and reduce the glycemic load of cultured dairy products, frozen desserts and beverages. The Litesse product can be used in conjunction with a high-intensity sweetener to help achieve calorie reductions as great as 50 percent without impacting texture, mouthfeel and body.
Sucralose, a sweetener made from sugar and sold under the Splenda® brand name, now is widely used in ice creams and frozen novelties, flavored dairy beverages and yogurts. Because the body does not metabolize it, sucralose adds no calories or carbohydrates to foods and beverages. In addition, acesulfame potassium (acesulfame K, a high-intensity non-caloric sweetener offered by Nutrinova Inc., Somerset, N.J., under the Sunett® brand name) serves as a cost-effective alternative when used in conjunction with other sweeteners in dairy beverages, yogurts and ice creams. It has a synergistic sweetening effect when combined with traditional sweeteners or non-caloric products such as aspartame and sucralose.
Flavor also can enhance the perception of sweetness in sugar-reduced and no-sugar-added dairy formulations, says Marilyn Stieve, senior product manager for dairy at Chr. Hansen Inc., Milwaukee. The company offers a range of color, flavor and seasoning systems for dairy products.
Danisco has leveraged its advanced flavor technology to develop a line of masking flavors and bitter blockers, says Miller. The ingredients can help processors minimize the off-flavors that can occur in some of the no-sugar-added and lower-carb dairy formulations.
Many low-carb dairy products contain added whey or other proteins. In dairy products with high protein loads, potassium phosphates from St. Louis-based Astaris can provide critical protein stabilization, says Barbara Heidolph, the company’s market development manager for food.
Gums also play a role in lower-carb ice cream and beverage applications, notes Benic, bulking up formulations and improving mouthfeel. Although they are carbohydrates, gums are 85 percent soluble fiber.
Gums also benefit low-carb yogurt applications, says Benic. “We’re coming back and replacing milk solids with a combination of protein concentrates and some gum systems because we’re trying to get the lactose and some of the other ingredients out,” he says.
Degussa Texturant Systems US LLC, Atlanta, offers a complete range of gum blends for use in low-carb ice cream and other dairy applications, says John Fields, the company’s applications manager for frozen desserts. “Degussa offers a unique pectin stabilizer for sorbets that imparts shelf stability and overrun retention up to 100 percent,” he adds.
Although many experts believe the low-carb hoopla is dying down, some of the changes it has spurred — such as a greater consumer awareness of sugar intake and the implications of high-sugar diets — are likely here to stay.
Health-conscious consumers are not focused strictly on the elimination of “damaging” ingredients from foods and beverages — they also want more healthful constituents mixed into product formulations.
“People want to be healthier and eat healthier, but conveniently,” says Fields. “Parents are seeking organic for themselves and their kids, and also convenience for brown-bag lunches. Older adults are more sophisticated. They have health concerns related to specific disease states: diabetes, obesity, arthritis, cancer, macular degeneration, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s.”
Some consumers are looking for products containing specific ingredients that can be used as a kind of preventative medicine, says John Martin, a project leader for Orafti Active Food Ingredients, Malven, Pa. “Consumers like the thought of reducing the risk or symptoms of certain ailments by ingesting foods rather than taking a pill.”
Burrington believes consumers have an interest in seeing fortification, in general, across the dairy sector. “There’s a lot of interest in adding more protein and, depending on the application, it could be milk protein or it could be whey protein,” she says. “You’re seeing more interest in fortifying with other minerals [such as] calcium, other vitamins and maybe some more unusual things such as omega-3 fatty acids.”
Probiotics and prebiotics remain in vogue for yogurts, says Diane Hnat, senior marketing manager for the Food Industry Unit of DSM Nutritional Products Inc., Parsippany, N.J. “But it might be take awhile for live cultures to be consumer-friendly in other dairy foods,” she adds.
Stieve calls probiotics the “latest and most exciting” of Chr. Hansen’s offerings directly targeted toward the wellness trend.
“Our range includes some of the most scientifically documented strains available in the market today,” says Stieve. “Researchers are reporting findings with our strains such as intestinal well-being and enhanced immunity.”
Danisco now offers the FloraFit and Howaru lines of probiotic cultures for improved gut health, says Miller.
Fiber increasingly is acting as a prebiotic in dairy products, often in the form of inulin.
“It’s kind of natural to put a fiber into a yogurt because you have the probiotics already there,” says Burrington. “If you’re going to ingest probiotics, it would be nice if you had some fiber there in your intestinal tract to help promote the growth and boost the benefits of those bacteria.”
Fiber also is associated with a decreased risk for certain cancers. Some gums now make it easy for dairy processors to add the benefits of soluble fiber to products without imparting an undesirable thickness.
“Now we have some innovative new ingredients that you can use at 1 or 2 percent to provide stability,” says Benic. “They don’t provide excessive viscosity or off flavor, but now you’re getting a significant amount of dietary fiber, soluble fiber. They can go into low-carb [products] or they can go into some of the newer, older-adult drinks.”
Young women, the parents of young children, and the older segment of the population all are seeking to boost their calcium intake to help prevent or minimize bone loss, says Heidolph. They increasingly are looking to calcium-fortified dairy products to meet their needs.
“Magnesium and potassium are also being added to dairy products targeted at health-conscious young adults,” says Heidolph. “To capture the interest of older generations, dairy processors are adding vitamin E and biotin to their products and promoting them as helping to slow or delay aging of the skin and help maintain metabolism.”
When Dannon and Yoplait began fortifying their yogurt products with vitamins A and D, “it opened up the category for general fortification,” notes Hnat. Until then, many consumers had falsely assumed that yogurt had always been made from milk fortified with these vitamins, she adds. DSM Nutritional Products (formerly Roche Vitamins Inc.) offers vitamins, customized nutrient blends and more for use in dairy products.
Hnat says refrigerated drinkable yogurts have begun to emerge as “better-tasting” vehicles for vitamin and nutrient fortification. Healthful fats such as conjugated linoleic acid and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids also are “target ingredients for the next generations of better-for-you dairy items, behind phytosterols,” says Hnat.
According to Hilary Hursh, food and nutrition scientist for Orafti Active Food Ingredients, dairy-based breakfast beverages are a hot trend in the functional food arena. “These products are designed to be a convenient way to get the benefits of dairy in the morning without having to sit down with a bowl and spoon,” she says. “These products are often very nutrient-rich and use the addition of inulin for its prebiotic properties, increased calcium absorption and fiber enhancement.”
Orafti’s Raftilose® Synergy 1, a proprietary enriched form of inulin, currently is being used to boost calcium absorption in foods and beverages, says Orafti’s Martin.
“A clinical [study] was performed at Baylor Medical College which showed that consuming 2 grams per serving of Raftilose Synergy 1 increased calcium absorption by 18 percent,” he says. “In addition to calcium absorption, inulin has a wide range of health benefits, including the reduction of acute digestive illnesses and decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Other ingredients gaining in popularity in selected dairy applications include betaine, which Miller says can lower serum cholesterol and increase serum phospholipids, and the Benefat® (Salatrim) ingredient, which she says can help processors remove partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from dairy dips.
The wellness/health paradigm sparking the demand for fortified dairy products is not a short-term trend, but instead represents “a major shift in consumer knowledge and literacy on how certain foods can impact health and longevity,” says Donald Wilkes, president and chief executive officer of City of Industry, Calif.-based Blue Pacific Flavors & Fragrances Inc. “The ingredients that can deliver third-party validated health and wellness science-based claims will be moving into the mainstream.”
Blue Pacific recently created an omega-3 fish oil flavor system that can “deliver a high level” of the functional ingredient in milk or soymilk beverages without a fishy taste or aroma, says Wilkes. “The proprietary flavor masking technology allows beverage developers and marketers to provide additional health benefits to nutrient-dense foods such as milk and soymilk.” Flavor remains key, he stresses.
“We don’t believe that the success of these new functional food products will be based on whether these active ingredients can be used at efficacious levels in food products when compared to dietary supplement doses,” Wilkes says. “Much of the food marketing angle is toward lifestyle and not death and disease association. Look for reasonable ingredient levels that are not going to be questioned by the FDA or consumer advocate groups.”
Despite all of the attention currently focused on low-carb and fortification in the dairy sector, some consumers still want their milk and ice cream without all the nips and tucks. Many of these folks realize that dairy products pack a nutritional punch even in the more traditional forms.
“According to consumer studies, over half the American population is not on any type of diet,” says Stieve, “although this does not mean that they are not health-conscious.”
As a group, these consumers are “driving the creation of healthy indulgence-type dairy products,” says Heidolph, “such as richer, creamier yogurts and flavored milk drinks.”
The new aerated, moussy types of yogurt require special treatment to stabilize the proteins, says Heidolph. “They now need more phosphates in order to stabilize those protein systems and deliver the unique technologies,” she says. “The phosphates allow you to deliver new concepts in texture.”
Young children are drawn to products that not only taste good, but also offer a bit of fun and eye appeal. Flavored milks and yogurts continue to be popular with this crowd. It’s worth noting that both McDonald’s and Wendy’s recently added flavored milks in fun packaging as alternatives to soda in child meals.
Younger adults, says Fields, tend to have money to spend on premium products. They tend to be physically active and not as concerned about diet-related issues. These consumers, he adds, often are influenced by new packaging, texture and/or flavor innovations.
Flavor remains a huge selling point across both the wellness and indulgence dairy sectors.
Trendy flavors, says Miller, include green and black teas, pomegranate, pear, guava citrus, mango and orange cilantro.
“There is a lot of activity in flavored milks with traditional candy flavors such as Hershey’s York Peppermint Patty flavored milk,” says Stieve. “Wilder and more fun flavors in ice cream also are hot — co-branding with cartoon or movie characters for kids, and decadent flavors for adults. Another area of growth we have seen is seasoned gourmet cheeses such as dill havarti and sun-dried tomato mozzarella,” she adds.
As a primary natural ingredient supplier to the dairy industry, says Stieve, Chr. Hansen can provide “unique, specialized color, flavor and seasoning systems” to support these trends.
Although it’s difficult to forecast what ingredients will “star” in tomorrow’s dairy products, a few industry experts were willing to make a prediction or two.
As processors look to reduce sodium in products to meet FDA’s pending “healthy” labeling requirements, Heidolph envisions a role for Astaris’ potassium analogs. These functional replacements for sodium-based ingredients also act as “emulsifying salts, protein stabilizers, suspension agents and protein modifiers,” she says, “to achieve stability in milk and yogurt products of all textures, ranging from liquid to smooth to non-separating.”
Miller sees a rosy future for ingredients that promote shelf life. “Natamax natamycin can be used to prevent yeast and mold growth in shredded and sliced cheeses, sour cream, cottage cheese and non-standard-of-identity yogurt,” she says. “Preventative cultures may be used to minimize spoilage or protect against pathogens such as Listeria, E. coli and C. botulinum.”
Hnat predicts an increase in the use of beta-carotene to impart the golden tinge of fat-containing dairy products to lowfat and non-fat versions. In addition to providing a source of vitamin A, the ingredient presents a more stable coloring to some of the spice colorants or artificial versions, she says.
Future dairy products not only will sport more and varied flavors, says Stieve, but also should begin to incorporate ingredients such as anthocyanine, carotenoids and other phytonutrients as they gain widespread acceptance by the scientific community. Another potential growth area, she adds, is for alternative natural sweeteners such as brown rice syrup, which contains complex carbohydrates that sustain energy levels.
Finally, Burrington anticipates growing demand not only for dairy products, but also for dairy ingredients such as whey and milk proteins as research continues to unveil specific health benefits.
“I’m thinking that you’re going to see a lot more interest in using dairy ingredients in all food categories,” she says, “simply because there will be more news, more reasons why you would want to choose dairy over something else.” df$OMN_arttitle="Here s to Your Health";?>