Nutritional inadequacies are common among both genders and through all stages of the lifecycle. The majority of Americans simply do not eat a diet that is well-enough balanced to consume a sufficient amount of essential nutrients. Advancements in nutritional sciences during the past 20 years have provided ingredient suppliers and formulators with knowledge to create better-for-you foods that meet the nutritional needs of specific demographics.
Dairy processors are well-positioned to participate in the trend of fortifying foods, because they have a nutrient-rich base (milk) to which they can add vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients.
Most Americans want nutrition solutions that speak to their personal needs. The majority believe they have some control over their health, and that food and nutrition play the most important role in maintaining and improving their overall health, according to the “2011 Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey” by the International Food Information Council (IFIC), Washington, D.C.
Additionally, most consumers agree with the concept of “functional foods,” which are defined as foods and food components that may provide benefits beyond basic nutrition. These foods and components are believed to improve overall health and well-being, reduce the risk of specific diseases or minimize the effects of other health concerns. Examples are fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fiber, calcium in milk, and fortified beverages, such as vitamin D fortified milk.
There are opportunities to formulate for the needs of specific demographics. For example, women’s dairy products can be designed to promote readiness for pregnancy and a healthful nine months for both mom and baby. Products for children and teens can be enhanced with nutrients to meet the needs of their growing bodies and minds. For on-the-go active adults, dairy products can be formulated to deliver nutrients that boost immunity, strengthen the body and defy aging. And for seniors, nutrient-dense formulations can promote mental and physical health.
Proper nutrition begins before birth, which is why pregnant women are typically prescribed a prenatal vitamin. In addition, expectant mothers often supplement their diets with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid that is found throughout the body. DHA is a structural fatty acid in the brain and eyes and is recognized as supporting good heart health.
DHA is one of three important dietary omega-3 fatty acids. The other two are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Natural sources of DHA and EPA are oily fish, which ingest DHA-rich microalgae. There is a DHA ingredient derived directly from microalgae. ALA is found in plants such as flax and chia, as well as certain tree nuts. ALA can be converted into DHA and EPA; however, the body converts it rather inefficiently and with much variance among consumers based on external and internal factors.
DHA supplements are available, but as more people rely on whole foods for adequate nutrition, DHA-fortified dairy products have become increasingly attractive. Moms-to-be typically consume more dairy for the other essential nutrients inherent to milk, most notably calcium. Dairy marketers take note: Products designed to meet the nutrition needs of this demographic represent an opportunity.