Permeate All The Way!

It is known that hypertension is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease, and if not properly managed, it can lead to strokes, heart failure or premature death. Southeast Asia is currently facing a rise in hypertension due to unhealthy diets. What can food manufacturers do to promote healthy eating? By Jane Rochstad Lim

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of premature death around the globe and around 50 percent of the cases are estimated to occur in Asia. Globally, the number of deaths due to CVD increased by 41 percent between 1990 and 2013, and this is attributed by the combination of increase in population growth and ageing populations.

Southeast Asia is currently experiencing an epidemic rise in CVD, in part due to the increasing prevalence of hypertension, a leading cause of CVD. Of the 11 countries, only Brunei and Singapore have a prevalence of hypertension below 20 percent; Cambodia has the highest (24.2 percent), and Singapore the lowest (14.1 percent). However, these percentages are still higher than that of US (13.4 percent).

The Role Of Hypertension In CVD


Food Esteem

Hypertension is a risk factor of coronary heart disease, and is the single most important risk factor for stroke—both diseases are under CVD. It has become so prevalent that it is estimated that by 2025, there will be 1.56 billion adults living with high blood pressure.

Due to the anticipated spike in patients with hypertension, it is set to become a massive burden on the economy, especially in healthcare and in the quality of life of the patient, so much so that the World Health Organisation (WHO) rates it as one of the most important causes of premature death worldwide. This is especially true for the developing nations such as Laos, Vietnam or Indonesia, where the healthcare system is extremely stretched, and many people rely heavily on every working adult in their families to make ends meet. Just having one family member paralysed from stroke will turn their financial status downhill.

Though hypertension may be caused by some uncontrollable factors such as genetics and ageing, there are many ways in which one can reduce the risk of having an elevated blood pressure. In fact, studies have shown that high-income Asian countries like Japan, South Korea and Singapore, have seen a reduction in death related to stroke due to a decreased exposure to tobacco smoking, improvements in CVD treatment, or improvements in diet such as decreasing salt intake.

To ask an entire population to change its diet would not be feasible. Sodium alters the tastes and texture of food, and often in a negative way, therefore encouraging a lower sodium intake might be difficult. The WHO in 2012 suggested that instead of forcing people into salt reduction acceptance, food manufacturers and governments can find more creative ways such as product reformation, consumer education and creating affordable options.

For example in Japan, a nationwide approach for hypertension prevention and control has contributed to a substantial decline in stroke mortality. The most notable risk factors for stroke and coronary artery disease are hypertension and smoking, whereas dyslipidemia and diabetes mellitus are risk factors for ischemic heart disease and ischemic stroke. Strategies for hypertension prevention and control include annual systematic cardiovascular screening, referral of high risk individuals to local clinics for anti-hypertensive medication, health education for hypertensive patients at blood pressure (BP) screening sites and during home visits by public health nurses, and community-wide media-disseminated education to encourage participation in BP screening and reducing salt intake.

In Singapore, the Health Promotion Board introduced a healthier choice symbol to food and beverage products that have less fat, salt and sugar content. The board claims that seven in ten Singaporeans are aware of the symbol and 69 percent had used this symbol to assist them in making healthier food choices.

Need For Salt Alternatives

There are many food and supplements including omega-3 and nuts, that are beneficial for cardiovascular health. These foods are readily available in the developed world, but people in the developing parts of Asia may experience difficulties accessing them, due to their high prices.

Apart from that, condiments rich in salt, such as fish sauce, soy sauce and oyster sauce, are a significant part of the Southeast Asian food delicacy and many consume more than the recommended average salt intake of 2,300 mg per day for the general population. Indeed, a study published in 2013 found that the salt intake in some Southeast Asian countries is as high as 4,600 mg per day.

As Asia’s consumers become more health conscious, and yet unwilling to give up on their traditional foods, food manufacturers now have a healthy, cost effective ingredient alternative for salt—milk and whey permeates.

Whey And Milk Permeates


Bob Nichols

Whey permeates are co-products of the production of whey protein concentrate and isolate, while milk permeate is directly from milk protein, isolate and ultrafiltered milk. Before, permeates were not very popular as consumers saw it as a form of by-product waste that did not belong in foods. In 2012 in Australia, there was even an anti-permeate movement and companies started to promote their milk products are ‘permeate-free’, causing much disappointment to the dairy industry.

Permeate itself consists of water, lactose minerals and vitamins. In general, 10-11 g of permeate will replace one gram of salt, and the usage level will vary by application, ranging from one to 10 percent in bakery products and up to 75 percent in a beverage mix.

Whey permeate has a naturally salty taste due to its nonprotein nitrogen compounds and calcium. It can be easily incorporated into a variety of foods, such as Asian condiments, reducing the sodium content by approximately 25 percent. Apart from having the usual nutritional properties of milk (calcium, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium) whey permeate has another additional benefit with regard to maintaining good hypertension levels—it is high in potassium. The increased intake of potassium from food has been shown to reduce blood pressure.

Benefits To The Food Manufacturer

Not only is whey and milk permeate a good alternative for salt, but for the manufacturers, there are many benefits as well. Reduced sodium items can be marketed to consumers using the appropriate designation which are part of the local labelling guidelines.

Other claims can be made from the beneficial minerals permeate has, for example, ‘Source of calcium’, ’20 percent more potassium,’ and because permeates are cost effective, companies can contribute not only to the consumer’s good health, but can also save production costs as they do not need to use more costly salt replacers while maintaining consumers’ taste expectations.

The benefits of permeates have not gone unnoticed by the industry. Market research shows that the number of food and beverage new product launches that include permeate has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 64.1 percent from 2010 to 2014. Using permeates does look like a win-win situation in terms of promoting consumer health and being cost effective to the manufacturers.

Substituting Salt With Permeates

Sharon Gerdes, a certified food scientist, author, editor and consultant to the US dairy export council, shares her views on milk and whey permeates and how it can find success in the Southeast Asian markets. Interview by Jane Rochstad Lim

Q: How is blood pressure linked to health?

Uncontrolled blood pressure can lead to CVD. People in Southeast Asia (SEA) are presenting with CVD at a much younger age; they have longer stays in the hospitals and they die from this disease more frequently than people in other parts of the world. High blood pressure can also contribute to strokes and other illnesses that decrease the quality of your older years. Therefore it is important to keep it under control.

The recommended intake of sodium is 2,300 mg for the general population and 1,500 mg for population at risk for hypertension. If you look at all the countries in SEA other than Singapore, the prevalence of high blood pressure in these countries are over 20 percent. However, if you look at the obesity rate, the SEA countries have a much lower rate compared to the US and UK, but the blood pressure rate is still much higher.

Maybe hypertension is attributed to the stress of a hectic lifestyle, but I believe the causes of hypertension in Asia are very much due to the diet, activity level and smoking.

Q: Where do you think is the root of this problem?

People do not realise that they are eating processed foods and the salt is already in the sauces, which people in SEA eat a lot of, like oyster sauce and fish sauce. If there is a healthier version available and if it tastes the same, I am sure people will accept it. Therefore, there are opportunities for food manufacturers to offer healthier fish sauce or soy sauce using alternative salt replacers.

Another issue is about perception. When people are young they tend to think that they are invincible, but when they reach 55 or 65, all of the sudden they realise that they should be taking care of themselves, and it might be too late. Therefore, healthy living is not only an individual concern, but also a governmental concern it terms of healthcare infrastructure and cost; they should therefore help to promote a healthy lifestyle.

Q: I’ve heard permeate can be an alternative for salt. What is permeate?

Permeate is obtained by a pressure-driven membrane filtration process. During the cheese-making process, curds and whey are produced. The curds become the cheese and the whey becomes a liquid product, which is mostly water. To obtain the whey protein concentrate, water is removed and dried permeate is the product.

Permeate is a very cost-effective ingredient. From the milk, you can make cheese, protein, and permeates. Permeatemaking is a continuous process and because of the high demand for protein—you don’t make permeate in a small plant, it requires a large volume of milk—it has made it cost effective to produce.

We have been looking at permeate for sodium reduction for probably 10 years. However, there was not much available for mass distribution. Things are different now as the demand for proteins like whey and milk proteins is very high, and so there is now a sufficient supply to really develop the market in SEA.

That is why we are choosing to target the SEA market, as most of these countries have very high sodium intakes, and permeates is a good ingredient as it is cost-effective, healthy and can be used as a salt replacer.

Q: What is the current market size for permeate?

Permeates are well established in Europe and US, but because it has different names, like ‘dairy product solids’, ‘whey permeates’, ‘deproteinised whey’, ‘modified whey’, it hard to realise how many products it is really in, but it is in quite a number.

Q: What are the differences between milk permeate and whey permeate?

Milk permeate and whey permeate tastes very different. The milk permeate tastes a lot like milk; it is very bland and mild in flavour. The whey permeate has a definite, umami note, so it is a flavour enhancer.

Whey permeate can be used in bakery, confectionery, sauces, dips, seasonings or anything that is flavourful. And if there is a mild-flavoured end-product, like a milky beverage, or anything with a natural dairy background, then the milk permeate will do well.

Q: Many Asians are lactose-intolerant. Will milk permeate upset their digestive systems?

To some extent you can be lactose-intolerant, but when it is incorporated in small amounts in foods, often people can digest lactose. By consuming lactose more often, you can retain a little bit more of the enzyme.

Also, if you consume probiotics with lactose, the probiotics actually help your body to produce the lactase enzyme, so your tolerance will improve. It may not be 100 percent as it very much depends on an individual body system, but most people who think that they are lactose-intolerant can still consume lactose in small amounts.

Surprisingly, most of our lactose sales are to SEA countries, and we are seeing a fair amount of permeate used in SEA as well.

Q: Do probiotics really help with lactose intolerance?

There is research about how probiotics help with lactose intolerance, and it is scientifically proven that probiotics produce the lactase enzyme. The gene for lactase non-persistence is actually a recessive gene, and as we become more inter-ethnic and exposed to various cultures, the mutation spreads giving more people the ability to consume lactose.

So again, in small amounts, it is alright. But as you know, there is the science, but that does not account for the individual variance.

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  • Last modified on Thursday, 04 February 2016 15:01
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Asia Pacific Food Industry (APFI) is Asia’s leading trade magazine for the food and beverage industry. Established in 1985, APFI is the first BPA-audited magazine and the publication of choice for professionals throughout the industry with its editorial coverage on the latest research, innovative technologies, health and nutrition trends, and market reports.

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