That’s what Dr Ian Zajac, a visiting researcher to our Fonterra Research and Development Centre (FRDC), was here to investigate.
Ian is a scientist and psychologist. Together with his team at the Australian-based CSIRO, he looks at how diet and lifestyle impact a range of health outcomes.
In particular, he wants to understand how nutrition can improve our memory, reaction time, brain processing power, and more.
Ian’s work with Fonterra began in early 2017 with a study commissioned by Fonterra to explore the potential brain health benefits of milk. The study involved primary school children, who drank two small serves of milk every day for six months.
At the end of the trial, the children all showed significantly increased levels of the active B12 vitamin, which Ian notes is especially important for brain function.
Earlier this year, Ian moved to Palmerston North to work with our nutrition scientists at the FRDC—this time focussing on older adults who may be struggling with poor memory.
Fonterra FRDC Programme Manager, James Dekker says that following the research results with school children, the Co-op had been working on how to measure if milk could assist brain processing power in the elderly.
“There is increasing evidence that dairy can play an important role in the ageing brain just as it seems to promote brain development in infants,“ he says.
Though Ian’s work has spanned a variety of food groups, his reason for continuing to return to dairy is simple:
“I like to think of dairy as a staple food,” says Ian. “It can be difficult to convince people to adhere to certain diets, even if they know the benefits. On the other hand, consuming dairy is already very habitual for most people.
“If we can boost the nutritional profile of dairy products like milk in your morning muesli or coffee, people will be able to gain a variety of health benefits without having to do anything different.
“If formulated with the optimal mix of brain-boosting components, then two glasses of milk a day might do the trick. Dairy has a lot going for it. For one, it’s a good source of vitamins like B12, which are crucial for brain health.
“In addition, there’s evidence that these are easy for our bodies to absorb and extract benefit from.”
“Dairy is also a good source of phospholipids. These are the building blocks of cell membranes, and our brains are full of them,” Ian says.
James agrees and says, Fonterra has developed dairy ingredients rich in these brain building blocks, and we are keen to investigate how these can be used to improve the health of consumer.