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You & Dairy - Digestive Wellness and the power of Probiotics

  • February 12, 2019
  • 8 min read

Our gut is often referred to as our second brain.  It’s why we get a ‘gut feeling’ about something when we’re making difficult decisions, those butterflies in our stomach when we’re nervous, or the ‘kick in the guts’ when something bad happens.

Our brain and gut are connected by the nervous system and research is uncovering how changes to the gut microbiome can affect us emotionally, physically and in our behaviour. A healthy gut is important for a healthy you.

What is the human microbiome?

Time to watch: 4:29
Dairy products - cheese, milk and yoghurt

As scientists continue to unearth the importance of gut health to our overall wellbeing, the digestive wellness sector has become the biggest driver of growth in the global food and health market.

As consumers become more self-educated online this market is developing and diversifying quickly. What was once considered a little left-field is now finding social acceptance in the mainstream (think kombucha, kimchi, kefir). When someone five years ago said they were gluten-free, eyes may have rolled. But not now. 

How consumers try to improve health

In terms of digestive wellness, many consumers are confused about exactly what gut health foods they should be consuming. As with many aspects of their life, they’re doing their own research and making decisions based on those findings.

Of the 3000 surveyed across the world by New Nutrition Business, 24% think bread is good for us, while 38% believe it is bad. When asked about dairy milk, nearly 47% see it as good for digestive wellness, compared to the 31% who see it bad. When asked about meat, 27% said it is good for digestive health.

Little boy with yoghurt in his face

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When the brain meets the gut

Our brain and gut are connected by the nervous system, and each can influence the other.

But they’re also connected through our immune system and by trillions of neurotransmitters – chemical messengers that can boost and balance signals between nerve cells. Some neurotransmitters produced in the brain help control feelings and emotions (like fear and anxiety), and the same neurotransmitters are also produced in the gut.

Knowing this highway is running between the gut and brain means it’s easy to understand that what you eat and drink can affect how you feel physically, emotionally, mentally and even how you can behave.

Digestive wellness with Mindy Wigzell

Time to watch: 1:25

Dairy and digestive wellness

Dairy has a role to play in good digestive wellness due to it having many nutrients including calcium, potassium, and vitamins A, and B12.

Significant research is being done to learn more about how nutrition for infants and young children may impact the gut-brain axis. Smarter Lives is funded by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and led by New Zealand research institute, AgResearch with commercial support from Fonterra.

It is investigating how foods influence brain function through the various connections between the gut and the brain.

The Smarter Lives research programme will build on existing research and unlock how we can influence the two-way communication between the gut and the brain and help optimise cognitive development in formula-fed infants.

Dairy and digestive wellness

Probiotics and yoghurt

Probiotics and yoghurt

Yoghurt is thought to have been discovered in Central Asia around 6000 BC by herdsmen, who found milk being carried in containers curdled and changed into a substance that lasted longer. Nowadays, many yoghurts are regarded as a superfood full of probiotics – live bacteria that are especially good for our digestive system. Some specific strains of yoghurt bacteria have been shown to improve lactose digestion in lactose-intolerant people. 

With the wide range of yoghurts available, it can be difficult to decide which one is the right for you. Greek yoghurt is generally higher in protein than traditional yoghurt. Plain Greek yoghurt is also lower in sugar and carbohydrates.

Yoghurt opened the eyes of consumers to products like kefira cultured, fermented drink. Kefir is made by adding live yeast and bacteria cultures to cow’s milk and leaving it to ferment. It has grown in popularity due to the good bacteria it contains, supporting digestive health.

Probiotic dairy is a mature market in Europe and the USA and is growing in market share across Asia.

Most consumers think probiotics are good for bloating and physical energy according to the December 2018 New Nutrition Business survey. Other reasons consumers take them include improving digestion, immunity, weight management, and heart health.

Little boy with yoghurt in his face

54% of consumers claim to know someone who uses probiotics

Little boy with yoghurt in his face

41% of consumers claim to use probiotics

What do consumers think probiotics are good for?

Source: NewNutritionBusiness, December 2018

Fonterra has two probiotics on the market: Lactobacillus rhamnosus HN001TM (DR20 TM) and Bifidobacterium lactis HN019 TM (DR10TM).

Developed by Fonterra, emerging evidence supports that DR20TM may help to lower the risk of postnatal depression and gestational diabetes. DR10TM has been shown to support gut and immune health.

Fermented products like kimchi and kombucha are steadily growing in popularity as the probiotic and fermentation markets find wider acceptance. 

With convenience, a key driver for growth in the food sector, fermented beverages like kombucha are likely to increase in popularity. This is highlighted by Coca-Cola and Pepsi buying into kombucha producers.

Little boy with yoghurt in his face

The rise of a2 dairy

Many everyday cow’s milk brands contain a combination of A1 and A2 beta-casein proteins.

The a2 Milk Company™ has focussed on developing milk which contains only the A2 beta-casein protein. Some people who have trouble drinking regular cow’s milk believe it may be due to the A1 protein, and that A2 milk can make a difference in how they feel.

Now, Fonterra is both a supplier of milk and a marketing partner in the a2 Milk Company’s™ strategy for taking its products to market. 

Since its launch in Australia in 2004, The a2 Milk Company™ has more than 9% share of the fresh milk market and continues to grow steadily in the UK and USA. The success of a2 Milk™ highlights that natural milk can offer other alternatives to traditional milk to help digestive wellness.

Little boy with yoghurt in his face


The D-Low on lactose

Lactose is a natural sugar found in milk and is a natural source of energy. There is some confusion among consumers sensitive to lactose as to whether their bodies are unable to absorb lactose easily (malabsorption) or if there are other reasons for their lactose intolerance.  Lactose intolerance is a real and important clinical syndrome of gastrointestinal symptoms (i.e. nausea, bloating, diarrhoea, rumbling or gurgling noises, abdominal pain) which occurs when a person consumes more lactose than their digestive system can handle at one time.

Over recent years, there has been a rise in people choosing to remove lactose from their diets.  Although the true prevalence of people who are lactose intolerant is not known, over 50% choose lactose-free foods.


Dairy and digestive wellness

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Do you ever choose food that is free from...

Source: NewNutritionBusiness, December 2018

The New Nutrition Business survey released in December 2018 found a third of consumers aged 35 years and under are more likely to choose lactose-free foods and 28% of people in the same age group are choosing gluten-free foods too.

At a global level, sales of lactose-free milk continue to rise and are outstripping plant-based alternatives like almond ‘milk’. 

Consumers are now moving towards for more natural products, rather than the long list of additives most plant-based beverages contain. What initially started with lactose-free milk has now led to lactose-free milk, yoghurt, sour cream and butter.

Dairy boosts benefits of Mediterranean Diet

Photo: Alexandra Wade

Adding dairy to the traditional Mediterranean diet significantly improves health in a number of ways, researchers from the University of South Australia have found.

In the study, published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers compared the health benefits of a Mediterranean Diet supplemented with two to three serves of dairy each day, to a standard low-fat diet. The results showed that the dairy supplemented diet significantly improved blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol, mood and cognitive function.

Peas and butter in a saucepan

PHD student Alexandra Wade led the study said the added servings of dairy to the Mediterranean Diet provided more benefits than a generic low-fat diet which is often recommended to those with cardiovascular issues.

“We have seen positive associations between dairy and cardiovascular health in the past, but we weren’t sure how dairy would fit in with the other aspects of the Mediterranean diet,” she told Fonterra.

“The fact that the dairy complemented and in some cases promoted the benefits of the Med diet was great to see.”

“Using the MedDairy diet means people can more easily meet their recommended daily nutrient intakes while also maintaining the significant health benefits offered through the traditional Mediterranean diet.”

Alexandra noted the Mediterranean diet is fast earning a reputation as the world’s healthiest eating plan and is renowned for delivering improved cardiovascular and cognitive health. However, the traditional diet doesn’t contain enough calcium to meet the requirements for either Australian or New Zealand adults.

The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation recommends that adults have at least 1000mgs of calcium per day, or two to three servings. For those ages 12-18 and women over the age of 50 and men over the age of 70 that recommendation rises to 1300mgs per day.

A typical Mediterranean Diet includes extra virgin olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, wholegrain bread, pasta and cereals, moderate consumption of fish and red wine, and low consumption of red meat, sweet and processed foods.

According to the Heart Foundation, cardiovascular disease is New Zealand’s single biggest killer causing 33% of deaths each year, many of which are premature and preventable. In Australia, cardiovascular disease is the single leading cause of death in Australia, killing someone every 12 minutes.

When it comes down to it, people want to be able to enjoy a colourful, tasty and nutritious diet. And if you’re one of the thousands of people seeking to improve your cardiovascular and cognitive health – look no further than the MedDairy diet.

Alexandra Wade, PHD student 


Q&A on lactose


Q: What are some lactose intolerance symptoms?

A: Common symptoms include abdominal discomfort, bloating, cramps, diarrhoea, gas, and nausea. However, these can also be seen in other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Q: What is the difference between lactose malabsorption and lactose intolerance?

A: Most people with lactose malabsorption do not have clinical lactose intolerance. Many mistake symptoms for other intestinal disorders (such as lactose intolerance) without testing. Lactose malabsorption is simply a decreased ability to digest lactose, generally due to an imbalance between the amount of lactose eaten and the capacity for the lactase enzyme to breakdown lactose in the gut. Lactose intolerance is the gastrointestinal symptoms (stated above) in an individual with lactose malabsorption. It does not occur in all people with lactose malabsorption.

Q: What dairy products are best for lactose intolerance?

A: Hard cheese, which is naturally low in lactose, and no lactose milks are dairy products that can be consumed. Some yogurts have live cultures that can help with lactose digestion and you can also choose products that are specifically designed for digestive wellness, such as yogurt with added fibre and probiotics.

Q: Do people with lactose intolerance need to avoid dairy?

A: It’s a common misconception that people with lactose intolerance need to avoid all dairy – but that’s not true. Experts recommend that people with lactose intolerance consume small and regular amounts of dairy, so, for example, one glass of milk a day, particularly if it’s spread out throughout the day or consumed with meals when it can be better tolerated.



You & Dairy - Digestive Wellness

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