Old wisdom – the kind learned from our grandparents – has it that the body is made up predominantly of water. Although each grandmother would express her own estimate, the commonly touted figure is around 75%. And according to research, this received wisdom is not too far from the truth. Regulating our body temperature, aiding digestion, flushing waste, lubricating joints, and acting as a vital nutrient on a cellular level, water accounts for around 73% of our brain and heart material, 83% of our lungs, and even our bones sport 31%.(1) With the average man requiring a fluid intake of around 3 liters and the average woman needing 2.2 liters per day, how we get liquids into our diet is critical. Fortunately in then developed world, the options seem to be endless. Groaning with vitamin-enhanced waters, electrolyte replacers, sparkling spring waters, mineral waters, flavored, functional, and even caffeine-enhanced waters, supermarket shelves offer a bewildering variety of beverages designed to enhance customer hydration at the same time as relieving them of a few hard-earned dollars.
But what’s so dangerous about not imbibing the recommended number of glasses of H2O per day? According to the Mayo Clinic, complications from dehydration can include eventual kidney problems and also the more immediate crises of seizures and hypovolemic shock.(2) Seizures may occur when a patient’s electrolytes are out of balance – specifically when they are deficient in sodium and potassium. Low levels of these minerals can cause a failure of electrical signals to be transmitted on the inter-cellular level, potentially resulting in involuntary muscle spasms and a loss of consciousness. Moreover, in hypovolemic shock, a precipitous drop in blood pressure occurs in the presence of a low blood volume, starving the brain of oxygen and leading to a life-threatening scenario.
In adults, the body’s signals that hydration is out of balance can often be confused for signs of hunger. Our go-to solution – to eat – does not address the real issue and, in eating when thirsty, we exacerbate the problem by increasing our caloric load and putting ourselves at risk of that perhaps more well-known national epidemic, obesity.
So where do we look for solutions? According to Arla, a dairy cooperative in Denmark, we could start by consuming a broader variety of beverages. Founded in the 1880s, Arla has been witness to significant dietary shifts – from the widespread nutritional reliance upon milk-based products to the modern evolution away from dairy and towards more plant-based alternatives. The move, notes Emma Clifford, a food analyst at market researcher Mintel, stems in part from a broader interest in healthier living. In an article by the magnificently named Harry Wallop published in The Guardian, Clifford notes the effect of internet-driven technology on our nutrition: ‘“There is a booming interest in healthy living. Diets and trends always change, but social media has rapidly accelerated that change.” The rise of so-called “clean eating” on Instagram has rendered many staple foods unpopular […] “Refined carbohydrates have really fallen out of favor, and protein, particularly plant protein, has this magic halo about it.”’(3)
And the shift is hitting the dairy industry hard. According to The Grocer, an online resource covering the fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) industry, sales of milk in the United Kingdom fell by the equivalent of approximately $317 million between 2014 and 2016.(4) Posing a significant threat to dairy’s fiscal bottom line, the drop can be explained by analyzing a trifecta of drives: increasing health concerns, a changing life-style dynamic, and a shift in food culture. At the same time as more consumers are eschewing dairy-based fats and cholesterol for health reasons, they’re also embracing a distinctly 21st century lifestyle that includes long commutes and even longer working hours. In effect, whereas breakfast used to be a morning mainstay, a leisurely bowl of cereal drenched in milk is fast becoming relegated to the archives of memory. And then there’s the food culture angle: milk simply is not ‘cool’ and increasing numbers of younger consumers are searching for a beverage experience less strongly associated with their parents’ generation.
In the face of this perfect storm, the dairy industry has recognized the impending demographic time bomb and is fighting back through product innovation. As a way of developing new loyalties, Arla has pioneered a fizzy pink beverage that the company is gambling on catching the eye of younger consumers. Although, for adults, any mention of pink liquids brings to mind that favorite OTC antacid medication, Pepto Bismol, for teens the image may be somewhat more appetizing. Currently devoid of a snappy brand name, the effervescent concoction is actually a byproduct of milk. A ‘type of whey with no fat,’ the liquid contains dairy’s amino acids and proteins but its formulation allows it to remain stable even when mixed with juices and carbonated. In short, the drink does not curdle in the presence of acids such as fruit juice.
While potentially attracting a new generation of imbibers with the novelty of fizzy pink milk will to some extent shore up a dwindling market, the safety of the products remains an issue. Take, for example, Arla’s quality assurance program commonly referred to as Arlågarden. While Arlågarden establishes the criteria for quality control in the supply of milk by regulating composition, animal welfare and environmental considerations, the guidelines specifically facilitate the collection of milk ‘at the lowest possible cost.’(5) Plus, it acknowledges that it ‘does not cover all legislative elements applicable to dairy farms, such as the whole of the EU Food Hygiene Regulations’ meaning that suppliers must self-regulate in terms of self-monitoring, animal welfare, current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs), pest control, food hygiene, and operative training.(6)
And, as we’ve seen in past articles, the presumption of self-regulation – especially in a struggling industry supplying food to an unsuspecting consumer base – is a dangerous prospect.
Back in June 2017, Food Safety News, an online resource that focuses on issues of foodborne contamination and safety, reported on the recall of milk processed by Mountain Fresh Dairy LLC of Binghamton, NY.(7) The recall was initiated following routine product sampling by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Milk Control and Dairy Division which had found that the product was ‘improperly pasteurized.’(8) Pasteurization is a process that heats a food product to a specified temperature in order to eradicate pathogens, and – depending on the item in question – can be achieved as flash pasteurization, steam, or irradiation. Milk can be subject to a variety of techniques such as High-Temperature-Short-Time Treatment (HTST) of 161°F (72°C) for 15 seconds, Low-Temperature-Long-Time Treatment (LTLT) of 145°F (63°C) for 30 minutes, or also as Ultrapasteurization of at least 280°F (138°C) for 2 seconds and Ultra-High-Temperature (UHT) pasteurization wherein temperatures reach between 280°F and 302°F (138°C to 150°C) for a period of 1 to 2 seconds.(9) In the case of the Mountain Fresh Dairy LLC recall that affected kosher milk distributed to a variety of non-profit grocery stores in New Jersey and also to a local community pantry, the Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse, a breakdown in protocol resulted in milk that could contain both listeria and salmonella pathogens entering the supply chain.
Beloved of natural food aficionados, raw milk is simply that which has by-passed the pasteurization and homogenization processes, thereby retaining all original enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids. As a niche market product, some drinkers consider it a ‘perfect food,’ while critics note that is true only for baby cows. Raw milk is said to help reduce allergies by boosting the immune system, decrease incidents of asthma, improve skin health, promote nutrient balance – especially by increasing levels of calcium, magnesium, and potassium, support the health of the body’s microbiome, and reduce the intake of sugar and artificial ingredients.
What supporters of raw milk consumption do not emphasize, however, is that the product is the perfect breeding ground for microorganisms that can present significant danger to our health. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), ‘unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to contain foodborne illness and results in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products.’(10) And contrary to what the raw milk advocates would have consumers believe, raw milk does not kill pathogens by itself nor does pasteurization destroy nutrients. What raw milk does do, however, is leave the drinker vulnerable to foodborne illnesses such as listeria or E. coli which can be unpleasant to the average patient and deadly to the most vulnerable. This month, following an outbreak of E. coli 0157, a contamination-borne bacterium, one family farm on the United Kingdom’s Isle of Wight has been forced to remove all raw milk products from their inventory. Despite closely following ‘local authority and Food Standards Agency guidance on minimizing this type of risk,’ Briddlesford Lodge Farm was found to be the source of an outbreak that sickened up to seven consumers, some of whom went on to develop haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS).(11) HUS occurs when E. coli infections enter the bloodstream from the intestines, causing the destruction of blood platelets which subsequently block the tiny filters, known as glomeruli, in the kidneys. Treatment requires blood transfusions, dialysis, and sometimes plasmapheresis and, if left untreated, HUS may precipitate kidney failure necessitating organ transplant.(12) Perhaps pasteurizing is prudent after all…
Not if research in India is anything to go by. In a bold move, Coca-Cola has invested heavily in products to tempt the Indian palate, getting in front of the shifting dynamic of consumer tastes. Sourcing dairy ingredients from local farmers, R&D teams from India, Atlanta, and Singapore formulated VIO, a line of beverages with flavors characteristic of the sub-continent. Saffron, almond, and pistachio flavored milks jostle for shelf space alongside the more familiar drinks such as Coca-Cola and Minute Maid juices. Following the introduction of FUZE iced teas and Coke Zero in 2014, Coca-Cola sees a market ripe for novel products tailored to local preferences and culture. Says T. Krishnakumar, CEO of BIG India: ‘“Dairy is a category firmly rooted in Indian tradition and greatly enjoyed by consumers”’(13)
So perhaps the future of milk is not in quirky techniques and enticing colors but more in catering to local tastes and preferences. Indeed, as Harry Wallop notes in The Guardian, ‘Sometimes the most exciting developments are not those that use the latest technology, but the simple idea that “shifts the format”.’(14) But suppose you are not a teenager looking for your latest milk fix – is there any future for this newest round of dairy concoctions? Perhaps. In a sidewise marketing step, Arla’s developer Anne Evers Nikolajsen noted that the milky confection might be a novel ‘adult’ addition to any self-respecting cocktail bar. So, with the weekend right around the corner, it just may be time to ask whose round it is? If you’re headed to the bar, I’ll take a Pink Russian…