Dairy foods have been a part of the human diet for around 8,000 years. They provide a large number of key nutrients that can actually be challenging to get in diets where dairy is limited, or not consumed at all. Dairy foods such as milk, cheese, and yoghurt provide many essential nutrients such as calcium, protein, phosphorus, potassium, iodine, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and riboflavin.
Calcium and Protein
Dairy foods are probably best known however, for being a good source of both calcium and protein. Calcium and protein are essential for muscle function, as well as the maintenance of normal bones. Importantly, the calcium found in dairy foods is particularly well absorbed by the body and those consuming low-dairy or dairy free diets may find it more difficult to achieve optimum intakes of calcium. For these groups, calcium fortified foods or calcium supplements may be necessary.
As well as being good sources of calcium and protein, dairy foods also contain a wide variety of other vitamins and minerals, including phosphorous, potassium, iodine and vitamin B12.
Some dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, which is a good way to support bone health. Vitamin D actually helps with the absorption of calcium into bones. Vitamin D also helps support muscle function and the normal functioning of the immune system in both adults and children.
Historically, fermenting milk was an effective solution to preserve the nutritive qualities of milk for longer: yoghurt and cheese keep better than fresh milk and offer a higher concentration of calcium.
It is now believed that fermented milk is easier to digest and can help to restore balance in the gut. Scientists think this may be linked to the more regular and gradual yoghurt transit compared to milk transit. This would result in better absorption of dietary nitrogen components in the body.
People often question the nutritional quality of ambient dairy products in comparison to fresh dairy options.
Dairy products made from fresh milk conserve its live cultures, which have many health benefits. Live yoghurt bacteria are temporarily part of the intestinal microflora and contribute to its balance. As a result, yoghurt made with live cultures are more easily digestible, and naturally enhance the immune system.
Ambient dairy products go through a process of heating, which may cause vitamin and mineral losses, including calcium.In addition, although an ambient product is less likely to ‘spoil’ the nutritional quality of the product may still deteriorate over time. However, ambient products do have the benefit of an increased shelf-life, and therefore last a lot longer without becoming inedible.
For those looking for a snack option and source of calcium or protein whilst on the go, and without access to refrigeration, ambient products offer a convenient healthy alternative.
The dairy market in China is increasing steadily, reflecting purchasing power and a growing consumer demand. The majority of yoghurts sold in China are manufactured with local milk and are safe. The strict regulatory framework in China contributes to this result: no manufacturing company or retail chains can sell without proper licenses.
Food Union secured two distinct sources of high-quality milk, through an association with Shengmu for organic milk, and with a reputable international dairy and farming expert for ambient dairy products.
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Usually a yoghurt will start as cow’s milk and will go through a number of processes to turn it into the thicker texture, that we know as yoghurt.
When producing yoghurt on a large or small scale, different milk sources are often used in the processing. The type of milk used will very much depend on the specific yoghurt and the requirements for the final product. Often milk is fortified with non-fat milk powder, milk protein concentrate, or condensed skimmed milk when turning it into yoghurt.
The milk source used also depends on whether the manufacturer wants to create a non-fat, low fat or full fat yoghurt option, as well as the desired flavour and texture. For example, low fat yoghurts will use semi-skimmed milk, full fat yoghurts will use whole milk and 0% fat yoghurts will use skimmed milk.
Lactose intolerance is not uncommon in the Chinese population. The majority of lactose intolerance is seen in young children with estimates of around 30% of 7-13 year olds being lactose intolerant.
For those who are lactose intolerant, some may still be able to consume yoghurts, and low lactose dairy products are available.
From a safety perspective, there is no problem with freezing yoghurts. However, it’s likely that after thawing, the yoghurt will have marked changes in texture and consistency, and may not be so appealing. If people do choose to freeze yoghurt, it is advisable to give the yoghurt a stir before consumption to help return the texture to normal.
Importantly, some studies suggest that freezing yoghurts may reduce the bacteria present in the yoghurt, this is especially important if a yoghurt has been intentionally fortified with live bacteria.
When produced and packed under good hygiene practices, fresh yoghurts will retain their organoleptic properties and count of lactobacterias (1×107 cfu/g) for 30 to 40 days, as long as they are stored at low temperature – between 2° and 6° Celsius.
Pasteurised and ultra-heat treated ambient yoghurts often have shelf lives that are measured in months. However, this depends on the manufacturer, the processing and the materials used to package the yoghurt.
No, it’s not. For years, people throughout Europe have consumed cold yoghurts for breakfast on a daily basis. There is no evidence at all that cold yoghurts are bad for your health in the morning.
In fact, yoghurts can be a nutritious addition to breakfast giving a dose of calcium and protein early in the morning and helping adults and children to meet their calcium and protein requirements for the day.
The Chinese Nutrition Society recommends having milk in the morning with breakfast, and suggests that it may be beneficial to have it after a carbohydrate or ‘grain’ food, especially for those concerned about having cold dairy on an empty stomach.
The key difference between yoghurt and fresh cheese is simply in the differences they go through during the manufacturing process. Cheese goes through more processes than milk. Yoghurt and cheese also have slightly different nutritional values.
The way milk and cheese are produced will vary depending on the manufacturer, and the ingredients added during the manufacturing process.
At Food Union, to make cheese, milk is fermented with yoghurt culture and rennet. The excess water and lactose are then strained through ultra-filtration, in order to keep the same ratio of casein/whey protein as in milk.
Heating foods, especially for a relatively long time, can lead to changes in its texture, taste, smell, and a decrease in nutritional value. This is also true for yoghurt.
Microbial numbers (bacteria) are likely to decrease with heating. Other nutrients like vitamins and minerals, in a dairy product such as a yoghurt, may also be affected by heat. Therefore, it’s not recommended to heat yoghurt, but they can be consumed at room temperature.
Probiotics are bacteria that are found in food, food products or supplements. These are normally referred to as ‘good’ bacteria and are thought to beneficially affect health by improving the balance of bacteria in the human gut. There is a lot of current research looking at probiotics and there are some interesting findings coming out of studies all the time, but we still know very little about the potential benefits of these live organisms in the long term.
When we consume probiotics, they have been shown in some studies to compete in the gut with other potentially harmful bacteria helping to restore the balance of bacteria and promote gut health. Probiotics can often be found in foods such as yoghurt, cheese and fermented milks.
In recent years, many manufacturers have taken to adding probiotic cultures to products such as yoghurts and milk drinks, and the most common probiotics used seem to be Lactobacillus spp. and Bifidobacterium spp. These bacteria do decline slowly throughout shelf-life, but the amount of decline will vary depending on the product.