There is a longstanding and widely understood belief that dairy products are at the heart of a healthy, balanced diet. As a solid source of protein and calcium, consuming dairy is an efficient way to keep your bones, heart and muscles healthy.
However, as consumers increasingly opt for plant-based alternatives, faith in traditional dairy products and their health benefits is wavering. Meticulous Research predicts that the dairy alternatives market could grow to $45 billion by 2027 at a CAGR of 11.6%, while the dairy market is expected to grow at a rate of only 5.2% each year during the same period.
Today, FoodBev takes a look at the health benefits that come with dairy products, how companies are enhancing their functionality and the role that milk, cheese and yogurts might play in strengthening immunity against Covid-19.
Dairy foods are packed full of the vitamins and nutrients necessary to keep you healthy at every stage of life. The average glass of milk contains approximately 8% of your daily potassium intake. This mineral helps to regulate fluids and mineral balance within the body, maintaining healthy blood pressure and reducing the risk of conditions such as hypertension and in turn, the risk of stroke.
Protein is an essential part of any diet. It helps our bodies to build, repair and maintain muscle. Dairy products contain two forms of protein: casein, which makes up 80% of their protein content and is absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream; and whey, which makes up the remaining 20%. The combination of these proteins is considered to be so effective in helping build muscle that they are found in most protein and workout supplements.
The level of protein in different dairy products can vary, but everything from a glass of milk to a serving of ice cream can provide a good portion of your daily recommended amount. For instance, one serving of Greek yogurt can contain up to 17g of protein and a glass of skimmed milk contains an average of 8g.
Dairy products are famously high in calcium, a nutrient that is essential for maintaining strong bones and teeth. Calcium is stored in our bones and absorbed by the food we consume – dairy being a huge source of this vital nutrient. A lack of calcium can impact the body’s daily functions, as bones may become less dense and thereby increase the risks posed by osteoporosis
Studies have shown that increased dairy consumption leads to increased bone growth in childhood, decreases the rate of bone loss in adulthood and improves bone density throughout old age.
Many dairy products are fortified with vitamin D which helps with the absorption of calcium into the body, further strengthening our bones and preventing the onset of disorders such as osteomalacia and rickets.
In countries such as Sweden and Canada, by law vitamin D must be added to milk during the manufacturing process, but this is not the case worldwide. In other markets, companies have released dairy products that feature vitamin D as a key selling point. For example, Ireland-based Nomadic Dairy recently launched its Yogurt+ range, featuring 20 yogurts and drinks that are fortified with 100% of an adult’s recommended vitamin D intake.
Increased protein content
We have seen producers create protein-added products across the entire spectrum of the dairy sector – enhancing dairy products either through the addition of protein powders and ingredients or through manufacturing processes. For example, skyr and Greek yogurt have a higher protein content thanks to the increased filtration processes that help to concentrate protein levels.
Performance nutrition brand Grenade recently released a high-protein ice cream bar to complement its range of protein shakes and drinks. Meanwhile, Müller has added to its rice pudding range for the first time in three years with a chocolate and vanilla flavoured “Protein Rice” product.
Technavio reports that the global market for high-protein food products is poised to grow by $27 billion by 2024 and high-protein dairy products will undoubtedly contribute to this success.
That being said, there is also a demand for milk with fewer proteins. There are two forms of casein – identified as a1 and a2 – and both are found in most standard milk around the world.
However, research has shown that milk containing only the a2 protein is more easily digested by those with a lactose intolerance, despite containing the same amount of lactose. Researchers suspect that a by-product of the a1 protein, beta-casomorphin, is to blame for the discomfort often associated with lactose, which is not produced by the a2 protein.
This development could represent a huge step forward for intolerance-friendly products and help to close the gap between traditional and lactose-free products. According to Precedence Research, the a2 milk market will be worth $25 billion by 2030.
Probiotics and prebiotics
Innovation within the cultured dairy sector has rarely been stronger. Spurred on by the Covid-19 pandemic, customers have an increased interest in immunity and gut health. As positive public sentiment towards fat-free dairy products wanes, consumers are looking for products that can improve overall wellness and health, rather than maintain weight loss.
In January this year, Bel Brands USA entered the functional dairy snack sector with the release of their Babybel Plus+ range. Available in two varieties, the snack aims to support eye health and metabolism. Meanwhile, Chobani recently debuted its Chobani Probiotics line with the aim of not only aiding digestion and regularity, but also improving immune function.
The positive effect that dairy products can have on our immune system has naturally brought into question their effectiveness in helping to prevent Covid-19. The Chinese government has discussed implementing new health guidelines after four major dairy associations released a report advising citizens to consume at least 300g of milk per day. While research is still ongoing in this area, there is some early evidence that seems to support this claim.
A university study in Israel found that molecules from the probiotics in kefir can help to reduce the contagion level of the agent that causes cholera. These same molecules were later found to act as an anti-inflammatory force against some viral disease models including the “cytokine storm” immune response that has been a leading cause of death in Covid-19 patients.
“Our research illuminates for the first time a mechanism by which milk fermented probiotics can protect against pathogenic infections and aid the immune system,” said Professor Raz Jelinek, vice president of research and development at Ben Gurion University at the Negev.
Although still in its early stages, this is welcome news as much of the world looks for ways to help prevent the resurgence of the pandemic and the dairy industry aims to rebuild the health-focused reputation it was once known for.
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© FoodBev Media Ltd 2020
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