Will consumers lap up dairy-based functional foods?

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Dairy products, Nutrition

Increasing consumer awareness of the relation between nutrition and health means there are growing opportunities for milk and dairy products launched on a functional foods platform, say Indian researchers.

Writing in the International Journal of Dairy Science, ​Z.F Bhat and H.Bhat recognise “great market potential” ​for foods with altered nutritional characteristics but unchanged sensory attributes, given consumer unwillingness to change dietary habits.

However, the authors said consumer perceptions have changed to the extent that more now believe that foods contribute directly to their health (Elsanhoty et al. 2009), especially given concerns over nutrition-related illnesses such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Citing Kotilainen et al. (2006), the authors wrote:“There is an increasing demand for for functional foods in developed countries that can be explained by… the increasing cost of healthcare, the steady increasae in life expectancy and the desire of older people for increased quality of their later years.”

Meanwhile, demand for functional foods is leading to raw material export opportunities for developing countries where demand for finished products is minimal, where growth is limited to mature markets. “Although the functional food market is increasing annually, it will only become significant in societies where food security is assured and basic foodstuffs are relatively cheap,” ​said Bhat and Bhat.

Mighty white stuff

Milk and dairy products have been associated with health benefits since medieval times, said the authors, due to “biologically active components present in milk and…their suitably modulated activities produced through the action of probiotic bacteria in fermented milk products.”

“Functional proteins, bioactive peptides, essential fatty acids, calcium, vitamin D and other milk components have favourable health effects on the immune and cardiovascular systems, as well as gastrointestinal tract and intestinal health.”

For instance, within fermented dairy products, probiotics exert a positive effect on the human immune response, modulating cytokine and antimicrobial peptide production (Trevichavsky and Splichal 2006).

Bhat and Bhat added that indirect effects of fermented dairy products result from the action of microbial metabolites such as vitamins, proteins, peptides, oligosaccharides and organic acids, all generated using the fermentation process.

Scientific credibility growing

The authors describe mammalian milk as a “complex mixture”​ of proteins, lipids and saccharides that contrains antimicrobial agents; over 60 enzymes aid digestion and have important antioxidant and antimicrobial characteristics, while bioactive peptides (many of which are found in cheese) are considered beneficial in preventing obesity and diabetes.

Whey proteins within milk, meanwhile, have “antimicrobial, anticarcinogencic, immunostimulatory” ​effects​(Maduereira et al 2007) and may reduce fat deposition and improve insulin sensitivity (Dunshea et al 2007) as well as prevent cancer.

“Evidence of health benefics associated with specific components or bacteria in dairy products is gaining scientific credibility,”​ said Bhat and Bhat.

“[F]unctional milk components significantly contribute to the prevention of diseases like hypertension, coronary vascular diseases, obesity, osteoporosis, cancer, diabetes and some transmissible diseases."

Title: '​Milk and Dairy Products as Functional Foods: A Review'

Source:​ International Journal of Dairy Science 6 (1): 1-12, 2011, DOI: 10.3923/ijds.2011.1.12

Authors​: Bhat, Z.F and Bhat.H.

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