Functional Foods: Innovative products in dairy industry

Functional Foods: Innovative products in dairy industry

Product development is an important aspect when it comes to growth of food industry. Certain products, however, have almost remained unchanged for several decades. I can quote ‘n’ number of such categories of foods, like pasteurised milk, table-butter, numerous varieties of cheese, skimmed milk powder, etc. However, there are several ‘newly developed foods’ such as low-fat spreads, dairy desserts, UHT-treated flavoured milk, ice cream novelties, etc. This new product development is mainly focused on expanding the market portfolio with the aim of business growth. There may be several other reasons for food manufacturers to turn to new innovative products, such as a more convenient product or products having extended shelf life.
Change is good, if it does not harm you. With the rise of emerging technologies and initiatives like “Eat Right India” campaign rolled out by the food regulatory authority, FSSAI, consumers have become aware of health consciousness. Consumer demand, perceived or real, is perhaps the most significant factor leading to new product development. ‘Health foods’ or ‘functional foods’ represent a really valuable group of products in this context.
Changes in lifestyle have pros and cons and one of the major cons is life-style disorders, such as diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease, etc. Physiologically functional foods are seeing faster growth in demand due to more and more consumer awareness about the relationship of food and well-being. Thus, increasing awareness among consumers about which specific compounds and ingredients present in their food possess disease preventive or curative properties has led to the concept of functional foods, which represent, in terms of their contents, far more than the traditional products’ compositional characteristics.
Now the focus of scientific investigations has turned towards exploring the role of biologically active components on human health. The basic temptation is towards products that are natural, for every little disturbance related to health results in flourishing of products containing various therapeutic ingredients. Functional foods, pharma foods, designer foods and nutraceuticals are synonymous with foods that prevent and treat diseases. Epidemiological studies and randomised clinical trials carried out in different parts of the world have demonstrated or at least suggested numerous health effects related to functional food consumption, such as reduction of cancer risk, improvement of heart health, enhancement of immune functions, lowering of menopause symptoms, improvement of gastrointestinal health, anti-inflammatory effects, reduction of blood pressure, antibacterial & antiviral activities, reduction of osteoporosis, etc.
Nutritional significance of milk is well documented and increasing cases of cancers, coronary heart diseases, osteoporosis and many other chronic diseases have been attributed to our diet. But beyond known nutrients, i.e., vitamins and proteins, milk and milk constituents have more to give and scientists are scurrying to know exactly which milk components might debar specific diseases. An ever-expanding array of previously unknown such molecules with hard to pronounce names is being uncovered. But their exact metabolic role and how these can be utilised in designer food need to be elucidated (A.A. Patel and A.K. Singh, Dairy Technology Division NDRI.) All over the world there has been growing demand for functional foods. Currently Japan leads the planet within the functional-food production, with production and consumption of about 100 such products.
The term “functional food” was first utilised in Japan, in the 1980s, for food products fortified with special constituents that possess advantageous physiological effects. Functional foods may improve the overall conditions of the body or decrease the danger of some diseases and may even be used for curing some illnesses. Although many scientific and regulatory bodies have already defined the term “functional food”, so far there is no universally accepted definition for this group of food. The general consensus seems to be emerging towards ‘Functional foods’ defined as “foods that, by virtue of the presence of physiologically active components, provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition.” In order for a food to qualify as a functional food, several things are to be kept in mind before trials, viz: If it is a food (not capsule, tablet or powder) derived from naturally occurring ingredients; if it should be consumed as part of daily diet and when ingested, it should serve to regulate a particular body process, such as improvement of biological defence mechanisms.
In recent years there has been a huge and rapidly growing body of scientific data showing that diet plays a crucial part in diseases. Diet is assumed to contribute to 6 of the ten leading causes of death. Nutrients and non-nutritive food components have been associated with the prevention and/or treatment of chronic diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease (CHD), diabetes, hypertension, and osteoporosis. According to an estimate, about 70% of certain cancers are directly related to the type of food we eat. As the data supporting the role of diet in health promotion and disease prevention continue to mount, it is likely that the quantity of enhanced foods will expand substantially. There is an increasing demand by consumers for quality of life, which is fuelling the nutraceuticals revolution. Functional foods are viewed as an option for cost-effective health care and improved health status. Moreover, a massive segment of the population is aging and considerable health care budget in most country is concentrated on treatment instead of prevention. Thus, the utilisation of nutraceuticals in daily diets is often seen as a means to scale back escalating health care costs which will contribute not only to an extended lifespan, but also more importantly to a longer health span.
In India, the functional foods market is estimated at $70 billion or 4% of processed foodstuff and is growing at threefold times the original pace. In developed markets, higher consumer awareness on health and wellness is being addressed through product innovations and marketing prowess of huge players. While the ageing population needs more engineered foods, the younger population is demanding more fortified foods for extra energy. Health-related issues are forcing food processors to launch campaigns to market low carbohydrate diets or other such foods. It is likely predicted that functional foods will still retain the market (or grow) owing to growing health concerns.
Regulations have ensured the segment’s organised growth. There are tons of products sold within the name of nutraceuticals within the Indian market. Around 100 products are even listed on the web alongside worldwide companies and around 20 Indian companies have a record of manufacturing nutraceuticals and marketing them globally. India is comparatively a replacement market. The dimension of the Indian nutraceutical market is estimated to be about Rs 1,600 crore in 2001 (independent survey). All major pharma players are in the process of entering this market. The extent of exports from India remains small, estimated to be perhaps Rs 750 crore. The main markets for India are the US, Europe and Japan. India can become a leader in this field as we hold key expertise and also as we are rich in biodiversity.

Milk-based functional foods and nutraceuticals
Dairy products are an essential part of human diet. Milk is that sole food which possesses the power to sustain life all through the stages of development. Besides being a source of quality proteins and energy-rich fat, it contains important micronutrients like calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium and vitamins, which are vital for overall development of the human body. Also, several health attributes are associated with milk or its constituents, just like the role of calcium in controlling hypertension and colonic anti carcinogenicity, protective roles of carotenoids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) against cancers. Butyric acid, the short chain acid of milk fat, has been shown to manage cell growth and enhance anti-tumour activities. Certain minor milk components either naturally occur or formed during processing have also been endowed with many unique health benefits. Examples include lacto ferrin, lactulose, galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), B-lacto globulin, and bioactive peptides (source: NDRI, Report IV).

Probiotic dairy foods
The basis for selection of probiotic micro-organisms include safety, functional aspects (survival, adherence, colonisation, antimicrobial production, immune stimulation, antigen toxic activity and prevention of pathogens) and details such as growth in milk and other food base, sensory properties, stability, phage resistance and viability. Newer avenues as carriers of probiotic organisms are being sought. Fermented milk being a ‘live’ food is potentially an excellent vehicle for these beneficial microbial cultures. Recognising the beneficial properties of probiotic organisms and challenged with the possibility that these organisms may produce end products that may be different from those produced by the normal starters in these products, several attempts have been made to manufacture probiotic milk products like probiotic dahi, probiotic cheese, probiotic yoghurt and yoghurt drinks. Milk in its natural form is almost unique as a balanced source of man’s dietary need. The various steps in processing and storage have a measurable impact on some specific nutrients. Milk also provides a convenient and useful vehicle for addition of certain nutrients to our diet and has following benefits:

a. Easier quality control measure implementation.
b. Wider consumption by all age groups.
c. Cost affordable by target population.
d. Higher stability and bioavailability of the added micronutrients.
e. Addition of fortificants usually cause minimum change in colour, taste and appearance.

Fortified Milk Products
Liquid milk fortification with vitamins A & D is mandatory in several countries. ß-carotene is added as a colour-enhancing agent to some milk products such as butter. Dried milk is often fortified with vitamins A and D, calcium, and iron. Milk based infant formula and weaning foods are fortified with a range of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients such as polyunsaturated fatty acids. Powdered milk used for complementary feeding in Chile is fortified with vitamin C, iron, copper and zinc. However, the milk fortification usually impairs its sensory and processing quality characteristics. Moreover, bioavailability of fortified nutrients is another major concern.

Challenges in development of functional dairy foods
In India, we have traditional products touted as functional but they have little scientific validation. Regulations will thus need to evolve to promote R&D, ensure validation and restrict exploitation of consumers. Companies also need to be sincere and honest in their claims while marketing and communicating with consumers till appropriate regulations laid down by FSSAI are enacted. Food processors will have to provide an optimal merger between taste, convenience and health attributes. Companies would require expert knowledge in flavour-masking fortification know-how and delivery systems.

Scientific validation of functional foods
The scientific evidence for functional foods and their physiologically active components can be categorised into four distinct areas: (a) clinical trials, (b) animal studies, (c) experimental in vitro laboratory studies, and (d) epidemiologic studies. Much of the current evidence for functional foods lacks well-designed clinical trials; however, the foundational evidence provided through the other types of scientific investigation is substantial for several of the functional foods and their health-promoting components.
Consumer awareness about the connection between diet and health has led to continuously growing demand for functional foods. Rapid advancements in science and technology, increasing healthcare costs, changes in food laws affecting label and merchandise claims, an aging population, and rising interest in achieving wellness through diet are among the factors fuelling interest in functional foods. Credible research indicates many potential health benefits from milk components. Development of functional foods needs to take under consideration a variety of issues starting from material selection, process parameters, and sensory acceptance, as also validation of the intended health virtues of the food. While considerable progress has been made in this regard, far more must be done in this area.

The writer is Advisor, Food and Consumer Affairs, Government of Madhya Pradesh, AIGGPA, Bhopal. Opinions expressed in this article are based on review of scientific research carried out by subject expert organisations/ researchers, and have nothing to do with the organisation the writer works for.

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