In an effort to educate on the benefits of dairy foods beyond calcium and bone health, leading researchers met earlier this week to present a symposium at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Food Expo.

Titled "Dairy Foods: More than Just Good Nutrition," the symposium shared research that supports dairy foods as a functional food, providing numerous health benefits beyond the "calcium leads to bone health" association that consumers readily recognize.

One key topic that was discussed at the symposium included dairy's role in controlling body weight. Dr. Michael Zemel of the University of Tennessee will summarize information from a variety of studies indicating calcium plays a role in fighting obesity by regulating fat metabolism. Dr. Zemel's research also suggests that calcium from dairy sources provides a greater anti-obesity effect than calcium from supplements.

Dr. Mary Ellen Sanders of Dairy and Food Culture Technologies discussed probiotics, which are linked to an enhanced immune function to help prevent infection, a healthier gut, and fewer symptoms of food allergy and lactose intolerance. Probiotics are "good bacteria" found in select dairy products such as yogurt, kefirs and fortified milks.

Other topics of discussion included an overview of the functional aspects of dairy foods presented by Dr. Jim Harper of Ohio State University; potential immune modulators in dairy foods presented by Dr. Kent Erickson of the University of California at Davis; milk's role in the prevention of colon cancer and other diseases presented by Dr. Eva Schmelz of Wayne State University; and the genetic basis for emerging nutritional benefits from milk presented by Dr. Bruce German of the University of California at Davis.

The symposium was co-sponsored by Dairy Council of California, Dairy Foods Division of IFT, and Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods Division of IFT. Industry sponsors include Kraft, Chr. Hansen, Nestle and Rhodia.