Milk is (for) life: the lifelong benefits of dairy products

FEATURED SPEAKER Fi Conference Master Class 2019
From children’s bone development to maintaining muscle strength for elderly populations, dairy brings benefits at all stages of life. Despite the growing attention for plant-based alternatives, evidence shows that whey protein has a blood pressure reducing effect. We spoke to Professor Ian Givens, Director of the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health at Reading University, about the benefits dairy products bring at all ages and the consequences of consumption decline.

Prof. Dr. Ian Givens

In your presentation you will focus on dairy ingredients and how they affect health throughout key life stages. Can you give some examples where dairy is essential for each specific group and why? What dairy products should mostly be consumed?
“Milk plays an important role in bone development in children. We rarely realise how, aside from calcium, vitamin D and others, protein is also important for linear bone growth. Casein, one of the milk protein families, looks particularly effective.”

“We often underestimate the importance of optimal bone development during the teenage years. This is the period where the greatest bone development occurs and if it is not achieved adequately it will lead to a suboptimal peak bone mass. This can lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis in later life, particularly in post-menopausal women.”

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“Milk is an excellent source of bioavailable calcium and other nutrients important for bone development. As such, it is a considerable worry that milk consumption declines markedly during the adolescent period in the UK (and I believe in other countries). This is particularly acute for women and many are now consuming considerably sub-optimal amounts of calcium and magnesium.”

What about the older population? What dairy products should they consume and why?
“The best approach is to look at the main issues to be taken under consideration."

"One of the big issues for the elderly is the loss of muscle mass and muscle strength. As well as reducing general functioning it also reduces the protection that muscles give to bones, therefore increasing fracture risks from falls etc.”

“There is now some great evidence that loss of muscle can be substantially reduced by increased protein intake ideally combined with some gentle resistance exercise. Whey protein has been shown to be most effective for this. Although there is also interest in bedtime casein-based drinks as casein is slowly digested and reduces muscle loss which happens naturally overnight.”

What is the cardiometabolic disease and how do dairy ingredients relate to it?
“Cardiometabolic disease (CMD) is a new term and refers to the combination of cardiovascular diseases, stroke and type 2 diabetes. A large body of evidence confirms that dairy products are not associated with increased risk of CMD and indeed some seem to be associated with reduced risk. Our work and others’ work have shown that whey protein has a blood pressure reducing effect. Interestingly, yoghurt is associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes although exactly how this might happen is not fully understood. One complicating issue is that there are different types of yoghurt (low fat, high protein etc.) and which is best is not known.”

What about people having trouble with digesting milk - what is the advice for them?
“There are normally two main reasons for this. Some people are lactose intolerant and whilst some can tolerate a certain amount, it is now possible to buy lactose-free milk.”

“The other more complex issue is that of dairy intolerance, normally associated with dairy proteins. In this case and after lactose intolerance is ruled out, sufferers should seek expert advice normally via their GP.”

Let us briefly discuss A2 milk. What is the scientific data behind it and what new benefits does it bring?
“A2 milk differs from ‘normal’ milk in that it contains only the A2 form of the beta-casein protein. ‘Normal’ milk will contain both the A2 and A1 versions of the protein. The A1 protein during digestion releases a peptide called beta-casomorphin 7 and it is this peptide that has been blamed for a very wide range of ill-effects of ‘normal’ milk. Evidence for such effects remains weak with few adequate studies having been done.”

What dairy products do you find missing or in shortage on the market? What is your advice for the dairy industry in terms of new product development?
“When I am in parts of Scandinavia it is easy to buy milk in containers of about 250-300ml. This is ideal for drinking with lunch for instance. I never see these in the UK although I have seen that McDonalds are now offering them.”

“I also think the evidence on yoghurt and type 2 diabetes (an increasing massive problem) should be followed up to identify the mechanisms and hence to develop the optimum type of yoghurt.”

What are your predictions for the F&B industry over the next 3-5 years?
“I am not sure it is a prediction, but I think there needs to be much greater awareness of the different nutritional challenges that occur at different life stages. Most of the population will age and this brings challenges like those discussed in question 2.”

“But there are other issues such as reduced taste perception, reduced appetite etc. These need to be addressed in food production (some work is ongoing in this field). Many elderly also face malnutrition issues and this needs to be fixed although it is much more complex topic than it could first seem.”

Be sure to catch Professor Ian Givens’ presentation on ‘Health benefits of dairy ingredients across key life stages’ at the Fi Conference 2019 Dairy Master Class on 3 December at 14:45.