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DHA-fortified milk may be the opportunity our industry needs

Tim Thornberry Published on 11 September 2015

As a global leader in animal nutrition, it may come as a surprise to some that a dietician nutritionist is a member of the Alltech staff. But Nikki Putnam, who fulfills that role, said it is a very natural fit, denoting healthier animals produce healthier food products.

The Iowa State and University of Kentucky graduate has a diverse background in human nutrition, including research into food environments being determinants related to issues such as obesity.



She served as a presenter during this year’s Alltech REBELation symposium that brought agriculture experts together from around the world to learn of some of the latest company efforts in research and innovations related to human and animal nutrition, along with a host of other topics.

Part of her presentation dealt with the subject of DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid touted as having many health benefits.

Putnam said DHA is important for brain and eye development in infants and children and also cognitive ability and behavior outcomes in children, as well as being good for heart health.

“It is kind of a superhero when it comes to cardiovascular health because it can improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels,” she said.

Additionally, Putnam said there are studies out that show the higher levels of DHA in an older person’s brain, the better preserved their brain is as they age.


“A natural progression of aging is a shrinking brain, and one study in particular was showing that an older person with higher levels of DHA could actually preserve the size of their brain and their brain health for about one to two years compared to someone who had low levels of DHA,” she said. “I think it has some really promising implications there.”

In addition to being naturally present in fish and some plants, Putnam said DHA can also be found in supplements like fish oil tablets, something many physicians and dieticians have recommended for a number of years.

However, she said many people are concerned about fish in general and wonder if taking fish oil on a daily basis might come with some negative aspects.

“There are some issues with fish, fish meal and fish oil, which are unsustainable sources of DHA. I say that because we are simply overfishing our seas,” she said. “It’s a really sad fact of life, but we have so many people on this planet we need to feed that we are now taking so many fish out of the ocean for human health supplements we don’t have much left for protein use.”

While the situation is OK now, Putnam said in the future, maybe in a decade or two, it will become a huge issue that’s there’s not enough fish to continue making those supplements.

In addition to that possible shortage, another concern about fish is that of contaminants, mercury in particular. But while some kinds of fish do contain high levels of contaminants, there are several species that are considered to be low in such impurities.


As consumers look to these low-risk seafood products and other foods that are healthier choices, the market also continues to grow for healthier products fortified with DHA.

Milk is included in these DHA-fortified products. Putnam said in this case the oil is mixed into the milk, which has benefits as well as some negative aspects of getting DHA in this way.

“The benefit is we have a DHA product on the shelf which is creating consumer awareness, a really positive thing to let people know it’s DHA specifically providing these health benefits,” she said.

On the negative side is taste. Putnam said in adding to a product like milk, sometimes the taste or smell is changed.

“A lot of times, it also requires additives to stabilize the mixture. As you could imagine, an oil and milk will separate, and frequently they do so if you don’t shake it up well enough before you drink it; a lot of the oil will settle to the bottom of the container versus being incorporated into the milk naturally,” she said.

During her discussion at the event, Putnam explained differentiating between the three omega-3 fatty acids which are α-linolenic acid that is found in plant oils, eicosapentaenoic acid and DHA, both of which are generally found in seafood or fish.

She also talked about the differences between fortifying a product and natural enrichment.

She added that consumer demand is something important to note, especially for producers or farmers because ultimately they are fulfilling a want or a need from consumers.

Putnam also discussed the fact that a growing number of consumers are willing to pay more for these healthier products, as is evident from a recent survey in which impressive percentages of younger people are willing to spend more of their income on healthier foods.

“I think we are getting back to really recognizing that what we put into our bodies matters,” she said. “It really affects our performance, our outcome, our daily lives, how long we’re going to live, whether we’re healthy, unhealthy, etc.”  PD

Tim Thornberry is a freelance writer based in Frankfort, Kentucky.