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Dairy products improve the absorption of polyphenols in food

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Media Relations
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Some foods have a beneficial antioxidant effect on human health thanks to a range of compounds called polyphenols (PP). To provide consumers with food products that promote better health, Canadian food companies are developing new products with added value, including those with added PP.

Creating new food products is challenging because the nutrients in food interact with each other, which affects their degree of absorption by the human body. Michel Britten (Ph.D.) and Sophie Lamothe (M.Sc.) from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Saint-Hyacinthe Research and Development Centre have studied these interactions between nutrients in depth. Their research on PP has helped make significant discoveries for the food processing industry and consumers.

Using technology that simulates digestion in the stomach and intestines, Mr. Britten and his team were able to assess the efficacy of PP that are added to food. Their tests were conducted on green tea extract either combined with water or dairy products (milk, yogurt or cheese). They were trying to determine whether the PP from the green tea were affected or broken down during the digestion process and whether combining a dairy product could have a beneficial effect on PP and their antioxidant properties.

The results of the simulated digestion clearly demonstrated that, when combined with water, part of the green tea PP deteriorate during their passage through the stomach. Once they reached the intestines, 28% of PP were broken down and unable to act as an antioxidant.

The effect is very different when the green tea extract was consumed with milk or yogurt. According to Michel Britten:

"PP bind with dairy proteins, which protects them from the powerful gastric juices in the stomach. Once they are being digested by the intestines, they have not lost any of their bioactive nature. They are gradually released and can fully act as beneficial antioxidants for human health."

– Michel Britten, Chemistry and Dairy Technology Researcher, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

It is also possible to combine green tea extract with cheese, but, in this case, the release rate of polyphenols is reduced to 80%, owing to the fact that cheese takes longer to digest.

Overall, the work of Michel Britten and his team have helped to demonstrate that dairy products can, to varying degrees, improve the efficacy of PP that are added to food.

Canadian food processing businesses will be able to significantly benefit from this scientific development. It makes them aware of the importance of the matrix in which the nutritional bioactive compounds that are added to food are immersed. Some food combinations work better than others and the synergy between nutrients must absolutely be considered when developing new products to promote human health.

Moreover, this discovery can now help Canadian consumers who can make their own food combinations. By consuming dairy products and food rich in PP in the same meal, they ensure optimal antioxidant activity. Helping to develop better choices for consumers is also the purpose of the food science at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada!

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Michel Britten, Ph.D., Chemistry and Dairy Technology Researcher
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When consumed together, dairy products and green tea improve the antioxidant activity of PP.

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