Yogurt, milk, whey, and other dairy products are an essential part of people’s diets, as well as being an important element in today’s global economy, which is why the dairy industry is becoming more open to science, research, and innovation.
Food expert and member of the Institute for Obesity Research Cristina Chuck was in charge of organizing the “Dairy products and alternatives for the utilization of by-products: Nutrition and Sustainability” workshop, which focused on the value of dairy products and by-products and their importance to health and the environment.
The Tec de Monterrey researcher points out that the dairy industry has continued to grow around the world. Over the last decade in Mexico, dairy production had moved to third place in livestock production by 2021.
This event stemmed from a bilateral collaboration between The Dairy Research Institute of Asturias (IPLA) in Spain and Tecnológico de Monterrey, as well as involving the participation of researchers and members from Mexico’s dairy sector, including Sigma, Yakult, Nestlé, and Alpura.
The conference was held over three days, from July 19 to 21, 2023, and looked at different themes each day: Fermented dairy products, Enhancing whey, and The impact of microbiota on children’s health.
The dairy industry
In an interview with TecScience, Cristina explains that one of the conference’s main topics focused on fermented dairy products, seeking to debunk some of the myths about these foods.
“There’s a lot of debate about whether dairy products are good for our health or not, but fermented milk products have been proven to offer multiple health benefits to those who consume them,” she says.
Cristina says that although over 50% of dairy sales are currently related to milk, this food’s consumption has been on the decrease, not just in Mexico, but also at a global level.
In turn, fermented dairy consumption has increased, in particular cheese and yogurt, which is why it has become an important topic for benefiting people’s health, especially in terms of their regulation.
This milk fermentation process, in addition to developing probiotic bacteria that are beneficial for gut health, also generates metabolites that have a protective effect in multiple areas, particularly against the development of arterial hypertension and certain types of cancer.
Cristina explains that although people tend to be lactose intolerant due to issues such as genetics, consuming fermented products such as yogurt is usually better tolerated by the body, mainly due to bacterial activity that collaborates to digest lactose.
“The conference was attended by Mayela Ramírez from Alpura, who works on the company’s innovation team, and Patricia Ruiz, who is a cheese fermentation and probiotic expert, as well as Diego Luna who works on fermentation concepts at the Tec’s Puebla campus,” adds Chuck.
The importance of whey
Another important topic from the conference is whey, which is the liquid obtained from the cheese and butter manufacturing process that comprises 90% of the weight of milk.
What’s more, it includes around 20% of the original milk protein and other beneficial compounds for health, so it also has commercial value, especially in the development of products that help athletes with quicker muscle recovery.
However, Cristina explains that whey recovery is very challenging, particularly for small and medium-sized companies, since it’s usually highly perishable and needs to be refrigerated in order to be processed in time.
It’s also challenging to dispose of whey, since it’s usually highly polluting to the environment, which is why the dairy industry is seeking innovative ways and technological alternatives for its use.
“This was discussed on day 2 of the conference, specifically the filtration technologies that are being developed and which are becoming more efficient and less expensive, to find alternatives for whey,” says the researcher.
Microbiota and childhood nutrition
The final part of the conference was dedicated to the topic of microbiota and childhood nutrition, highlighting the importance of milk as a standard for nutrition, due to its high protein and essential amino acid content.
“There are certain myths on the topic of childhood nutrition. There are even certain trends to replace dairy products in children’s diet with other plant-based products, but this can lead to significant nutritional deficiencies,” explains Cristina.
Currently, this project is analyzing the composition of breast milk from 100 Mexican donors to look at its content and effects on infant nutrition in protecting against bacterial infections.
It also has prebiotic elements that allow for the development of healthy gut microbiota from an early age.
“We believe that, in the future, the knowledge we acquire on the subject of breast milk and mammal milk can help us find infant nutrition solutions,” she adds.
To this end, day 3 of the conference had experts such as Susana Delgado Palacios from The Dairy Research Institute of Asturias (IPLA), Ernesto Duarte from BENEO, a company focused on developing ingredients to improve nutrition, and Angélica Díaz, from Yakult.
“On the topic of food development and consumption, the key to a good diet is, without a doubt, diversity and moderation, so don’t eliminate milk products. Moderate consumption of every food group benefits health, so Mexico’s dairy sector is hugely important,” concludes Cristina Chuck.