Pickle and yogurt brands are speaking out against new labeling rules proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA’s new guidelines say some brands of the fermented products cannot be marketed as healthy because pickles are too salty, while some yogurt has too much sugar.
The guidelines are being updated for the first time since the 90’s. They redefine what can be labeled as “healthy” on a food package. Healthy products have high amounts of key nutritious ingredients, like fruits and vegetables, and low amounts of added sugar, sodium and/or saturated fat. Those updated nutrient content claims would go into effect in 2026. They wouldn’t ban “unhealthy” foods, but prevent the use of “healthy” on a label.
“Pickles have a role to play in a healthy diet because they are predominantly comprised of vegetables and serve as a delicious condiment to other nutrient-dense foods,” Pickle Packers International said in a statement.
Though pickles are made from low-sodium cucumbers, they are either fermented through a brine made of water, salt and seasonings or preserved in a brine of vinegar, salt and seasonings. Without enough salt in the brine, bacteria can grow and spoil the pickles. The new guidelines put the limit for sodium from a vegetable product at 10% of the daily value per serving (230 milligrams per serving). But most pickles include 11% sodium per serving.
Yogurt, too, is under fire. The new guidelines outline that a ¾ cup of yogurt should only include 5% per serving of the daily value of sugar (2.5 grams of added sugar per serving). Chobani’s plain greek yogurt includes 5.5 grams of sugar per serving. Chobani has actively protested the FDA’s ruling, noting that “reducing sugars to the level proposed by FDA for the ‘healthy’ claim would result in significant, deleterious effects to product quality, taste, and texture.”
Other companies are protesting the FDA’s guidelines – like General Mills, Kellogg’s, SNA International, the National Pasta Association and the Consumer Brands Association. The FDA guidelines put tighter restrictions on cereal and pasta, too.
“Hardly anything would qualify, so of course food manufacturers don’t like the idea,” says Marion Nestle, emeritus professor of nutrition and public health at New York University. She told nutrition and medicine publication STAT that the FDA’s regulation “automatically excludes the vast majority of heavily processed foods in supermarkets, as well as a lot of plant-based meat, eggs, and dairy products,” from bearing the healthy claim.
The publication notes nutrition experts gave “overwhelmingly positive remarks.” The new guidelines are supported by the American Society for Nutrition, the Association of State Public Health Nutritionists and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Some experts argued the GDA could go further in restricting the healthy label.
Read more (STAT)
Frozen yogurt has been victim to trending food cycles for decades, first coming to America in the 80s, experiencing a boom in the 90s, then again in the early 2000s. Now industry leader say froyo is poised for its second (fourth?) act, thanks to the healthy ice cream alternative trend and wellness-focused product boom. And froyo this time around will be different.
“This trend will only grow stronger,” says Sam Yoon, president of froyo chain Yogurtland. Sales at Yogurtland were up 27% in 2021. “Frozen yogurt is healthier and contains probiotics that boost immune systems. Our frozen yogurt contains at least 10 million cultures at the time of manufacturing, and our flavors are developing around plant-based flavors our guests love, as well as sugar-free options.”
Plan for modern froyo shops to use high-quality ingredients, offer dairy-free options, highlight yogurt’s fermented and probiotic punch, utilize tech-driven self-service machines, partner with CPG brands and create diverse, global flavors.
“Millennials love the brand in New York, so we’ll keep playing to that,” Hershman adds. “For (Millennials), they grew up with frozen yogurt always being available, so to have a cool, clean kind of modern, sleek store to go to that sells frozen yogurt, versus kind of a dingy local shop, is a nice benefit,” says Neil Hershman, the largest franchisee of froyo shop 16 Handles.
Read more (QSR Magazine)
As the dairy industry continues to suffer from low sales, could fermentation help the industry meet changing consumer needs? Functional dairy products (like fermented dairy) and animal-free precision fermentation products are major consumer trends for the dairy industry to adapt.
Functional dairy products are “ripe for expansion,” said Brad Schwan, vice president of Archer-Daniels-Midland Company, said brands have to invest in alt protein technologies to feed the future tech-savvy generation. Fermented dairy – like yogurt, kefir and fresh cheese – are all functional dairy.Fifty-eight percent of global consumers perceive a connection between gut function and other aspects of well-being. Consumers are looking for dairy with simple ingredient lists.
“The gut microbiome is a key growth area for functional, tailored offerings, as more consumers are making the link between their gut, digestive health and overall well-being,” Schwan added.
Consumers are looking for dairy with simple ingredient lists. They want their dairy to support pre- and post-workout goals, energy solutions, hydration, digestive support and immune function.
More consumers are embracing a mix of an animal- and plant-based diet. Fifty-two percent of consumers eat a flexitarian diet now.
Alt protein – once seen as a fringe biotechnology – is becoming more mainstream. Brad Schwan, vice president of Archer-Daniels-Midland Company, said brands have to invest in alt protein technologies to feed the future tech-savvy generation.
“While consumer acceptance of alternative solutions beyond plant proteins is still building, we foresee digital-natives Gen Z and Gen Alpha leading the way in the growing acceptance of novel methods and technologies,” he said in a report on global food trends. “Additionally, the dairy industry is ripe for more innovation in the coming year, through leveraging both new technologies…As consumers grow more accustomed to seeing novel proteins from unexpected places, the alternative dairy arena will flourish with new possibilities.”
Read more (Dairy Reporter)
Organic food is considered by some to be healthier and more nutritious than its conventional counterpart. But what about when that food is fermented? Does organic vs. conventional matter?
A new study reveals some surprising results: when it comes to fermented foods, “the quality of organic food is not always better than conventional food.”
Organic vs. conventional agricultural production is a hotly debated topic – some reports indicate organic food is more nutritious, but other research suggests the nutritional differences are not significant. Meanwhile, fermented foods are scientifically-proven to include higher nutritional value. “During fermentation, the concentration of many bioactive compounds increases, and the bioavailability of iron, vitamin C, beta carotene, or betaine is also improved,” the study notes. Fermented products also “inhibit the development of pathogens in the digestive tract.”
Researchers at the Bydgoszcz University of Science and Technology in Poland questioned whether fermenting organic food would change its nutritional output versus using conventional food. Their results were published in the journal Molecules.
Analyzing fermented plants (pickles, sauerkraut, beet and carrot juices) and dairy (yogurt, kefir and buttermilk), researchers measured the vitamins, minerals and lactic acid bacteria in the items. They compared using organic ingredients in one group to products made from conventional ingredients.
“Research results do not clearly indicate which production system–conventional or organic–provides higher levels of bioactive substances in fermented food,” the study reads.
Results were mixed. Lactic acid bacteria – the good, healthy kind – were higher in organic sauerkraut, carrot juice, yogurt and kefir. Organic kraut and pickles produced more vitamin C than conventional versions. And calcium levels were higher in yogurt made with organic milk.
But, interestingly, lactic acid bacteria levels were higher in conventional pickles and beet juice. Conventional beet juice also had five times more beta-carotene (vitamin A).
Read more (Molecules)
Toddlers and infants slept 10 hours or more a night if their mother ate fermented foods while pregnant, according to a new Japanese study.
The results, published in the journal BMC Public Health, studied over 64,000 pairs of mothers and their children. The diet of pregnant mothers was found to have an impact on sleep length of their children. Pregnant women who consumed miso, yogurt, cheese and/or natto all had children that slept 10+ hours a night until the age of 3. The article calls it “fermentation for hibernation.”
The study notes, though, that there are other associated factors at play. The women consuming fermented foods were well-educated, employed and had higher incomes compared to the pregnant mothers not regularly consuming fermented foods. Scientists inferred that this higher demographic group “likely recognized factors that could contribute to health and chose nutrient-rich options [instead of] nutritionally-unbalanced food.”
Read more (NutraIngredients)
A professor of food science at Cornell University has launched a unique food product: a hard seltzer made from yogurt byproduct.
The seltzer, Norwhey, started as part of an academic research project by food scientist Sam Alcaine, who works in the Fermentation Lab at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Science. It all began in 2016 when the New York Department of Environmental Conservation asked Cornell to solve a problem. The state, the largest producer of yogurt in the country, was concerned with the large amount of waste (whey) being thrown away. For every one cup of yogurt made, three cups of byproduct are produced.
That amounts to a huge amount of waste, with up to a billion pounds of whey produced each year just in the state of New York, Alcaine told Good Beer Hunting. The article notes that Greek yogurt producer Chobani alone generates 50 truckloads of whey per day.
“There is a lot of lactose floating out there, and I wanted to find out how we could ferment that in new and novel ways,” Alcaine said.
Historically, whey has been considered worthless since it contains no protein. But It does still have the vitamins found in milk — calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium and vitamin B5— which spurred Alcaine to research how why could be made into something of value.
“In the brewing world, we’ve always looked for developing better-for-you products,” said Alcaine, who co-founded Denver’s Doc Luces Brewery and worked in new product development at Miller Brewing Company. “It’s been kind of a hard space to play in, with alcohol. So this is an opportunity. We just have to make it taste good.”
“There are actually some old stories around that, in Iceland, they would take the whey from skyr [a cultured dairy product similar to curd cheese] and they would put it into these barrels,” Alcaine said in a Cornell press release on Norwhey. “It would age and it would become alcohol. But it hadn’t been done in my lifetime.”
Norwhey is made by adding the enzyme lactase to whey, which breaks lactose into glucose and galactose. These sugars are then fermented traditionally.
Alcaine partnered with Trystan Sandvoss, founder of First Light Creamery and then Marketing Director at Old Chatham Creamery, to create Norwhey. The pair entered a food and agriculture competition, Grow-NY, in 2020, and made it to the final round. That same year, they secured $50,000 in funding from the FuzeHub Commercialization Competition, and used the prize money to test batches and can and label products at New York-based Meier’s Creek Brewing.
Norwhey was first available at retail in April at New York-based Wegmans grocery stores. The hard seltzer is currently offered inthree flavors: Glacial Ginger, Solar Citrus and Mountain Berry, all with an ABV of 4%. There are plans to open a taproom and to experiment with new flavors this summer.
Cornell notes Norwhey is a “triple threat.” The alcoholic drink has a better nutritional profile than beer, it recycles waste material and “it could eventually act as a model for dairy farmers looking for additional revenue.”
For his part, Alcaine says he does not want to quit his day job and become a business owner. He wants to remain a professor and a researcher. But he’s hoping people will copy his idea, building “a whey-based economy in New York” and a more sustainable yogurt industry globally.
The FDA has issued a response – or non-response – to concerns from the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA).
Last July, the FDA issued a federal, legal definition of yogurt. The new rule upset the IDFA. The association, which represents the nation’s dairy industry, said the FDA’s rule is so outdated and out-of-touch with yogurt makers that popular products could be removed from grocery store shelves. The IDFA objected to the FDA’s rule and submitted an appeal in July 2021 to modernize the yogurt standard of identity (SOI). In December, after not receiving a response, IDFA sent a letter to the FDA commissioner, reiterating the request.
FDA recently issued a “notice of stay” to the IDFA, effectively telling them to keep waiting for a final ruling.
“Yogurt makers have been waiting 40 years for the FDA to update and modernize the yogurt standard of identity,” said Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the IDFA. “Today, the FDA issued a notice telling us to keep waiting — and threw in a whole lot of uncertainty, to boot.”
Adds an IDFA press release: “While a stay is helpful at this stage, IDFA’s efforts to reform the yogurt SOI will continue into an inexplicable fifth decade.”
The FDA first issued a definition of yogurt in 1981. The IDFA has requested a modernized version for decades.
“IDFA remains deeply disappointed in the FDA process that led to the yogurt SOI final rule,” Dykes continues. “After 40 years since FDA first issued standards for yogurt, IDFA and our yogurt members are back to where we started several decades ago, beseeching the FDA to work with yogurt makers to make commonsense updates to a category that has been waiting more than four decades for modernization. Without standards that have been modernized, manufacturers are unable to meet consumer demands for innovative and nutritious yogurt products. With many significant provisions stayed, IDFA will continue to work on the yogurt SOI with an aim to ensure FDA continues to move forward in responding appropriately to IDFA’s objections in a timely manner.”
Read more (IDFA)
Nutrition professionals need to share the details when recommending fermented products to clients. What are the health benefits of the specific food or beverage ? Does the product contain probiotics? Live microbes?
“There are a vast array of fermented foods. This is important because it means there can be tasty, culturally appropriate options for everyone,” says Hannah Holscher, PhD and registered dietitian (RD). But, she adds, remember that these are complex products.
Holscher spoke at a webinar produced by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) and Today’s Dietitian. Joined by Jennifer Burton, RD and licensed dietitian/nutritionist (LDN), the two addressed the topic Fermented Foods and Health — Does Today’s Science Support Yesterday’s Tradition? Hosted by Mary Ellen Sanders, executive director of ISAPP, the presentation touched on the foundational elements of fermented foods, their differences from probiotics, the role of microbes in fermentation, current scientific evidence supporting health claims and how to help clients incorporate fermented foods in their diets.
Sanders called fermented foods “one of today’s hottest food categories.” Today’s Dietitian surveys show they are a top interest to dietitians, as the general public often turns to them with questions about fermented foods and digestive health.
Here are three factors highlighted in the webinar that dietitians should consider before recommending fermented foods and beverages.
Does It Contain Live Microbes?
Fermentation is a metabolic process – microorganisms convert food components into other substances.
In the past decade, scientists have applied genomic sequencing to the microbial communities in fermented foods. They’ve found there’s not just one microbe involved in fermentation, Holscher explained, there may be many. The most common microbes in fermented foods are streptococcus, lactobacillaceae, lactococcus and saccharomyces.
But deciphering which fermented food or beverages contains live microbes can be difficult.
Live microorganisms are present in foods like yogurt, miso, fermented vegetables and many kombuchas. But they are absent in foods that were fermented then heat-treated through baking and pasteurization (like bread, soy sauce, most vinegars and some kombucha). They’re also absent in fermented products that are filtered (most wine and beers) or roasted (coffee and cacao). And there are foods that are mistakenly considered fermented but are not, like chemically-leavened bread, vegetables pickled in vinegar and non-fermented cured meats and fish.
“The main take-home message is that it’s not always easy to tell if a food is a fermented food or not. So you may need to do more digging, either by reading the label more carefully or potentially contacting the food manufacturer,” Holscher said. “When we just think of if live microbes are present or not, a good rule of thumb is if that food is on the shelf at your grocery store, it’s very likely that it does not contain live microbes.”
Does It Contain Probiotics?
The dietitians stressed: probiotics are not the same as fermented foods.
“Probiotics are researched as to the strains and the dosages to be able to connect consumption of a probiotic to a health outcome,” Holscher said. “These strains are taxonomically defined, they’ve been sequenced, we know what these microorganisms can do. They also have to be provided in doses of adequate amounts of the live microbes so foods and supplements are sources of probiotics.”
Though fermented foods can be a source of probiotics, Holscher notes: “In most fermented foods, we don’t know the strain level designation.”
“For most of the microbes in fermented foods, we’ve just really been doing the genomic sequencing of those over the last 10 years and so we may only know them to the genus level right,” she said. For example, we know lactic acid bacteria are present in kimchi and sauerkraut.
Holscher suggests, if a client has a specific health need, a probiotic strain should be recommended based on its evidence-based benefits. For example, the probiotic strain saccharomyces boulardii is known to help prevent travel-related diarrhea, and so would be good for a patient to take before a trip.
“If you’re looking to support health and just in general, fermented foods are a great way to go,” Holscher says.
The speakers recommended looking for probiotic foods in the Functional Food Section of the U.S. Probiotic Guide.
Does Research Support Health Claims?
Fermentation contributes to the functional and nutritional characteristics of foods and beverages. Fermented foods can: inhibit pathogens and food spoilage microbes, improve digestibility, increase vitamins and bioactives in food, remove or reduce toxic substances or anti-nutrients in food and have health benefits.
But research into fermented foods has been minimal, mostly limited to fermented dairy. Dietitians should be careful making strong recommendations based on health claims unless those claims are supported by research. And food labels should always be scrutinized.
“There’s a lot of voices out there that are trying to answer this question [Are fermented foods good for us?],” says Burton. “Many food manufacturers have published health claims on their labels talking about these benefits and, while those claims are regulated, they’re not always enforced. Just because it has a food health claim on it, that claim may not be evidence-based. There’s a lot of anecdotal accounts of benefits coming from eating fermented foods and the research is suggesting some exciting potential mechanisms. But overall we know as dietitians we have an ethical responsibility to practice on the basis of sound evidence and to not make strong recommendations if those are not yet supported by research.”
Reputable health claims are documented in randomized control trials. But only “possible benefits” can be linked to nonrandomized controlled trials. And non-controlled trials are the least conclusive studies of all.
For example, Burton puts miso in the “possible benefits” category because, with its high sodium content, there’s not enough research indicating it’s safe for patients with heart disease. Similarly, she does not recommend kombucha because of its extremely limited clinical research and evidence.
“We have to use caution in making these recommendations,” Burton says.
This is why Burton advises dietitians to be as specific as possible. Don’t just tell patients “eat fermented foods” — list the type of fermented food and its brand name. She also says to give patients the “why” — what is the benefit of this fermented food? Does it increase fiber or boost bioavailability of nutrients?
“Are fermented foods good for us? It’s safe to say yes,” Burton says. “There’s a lot that we don’t know, but the body of evidence suggests that fermentation can improve the beneficial properties of a food.”
A new study found fermented dairy products reduce memory loss. The study, published in Nutritional Neurosciences, confirms there is a connection between the gut microbiome and the nervous system, known as the gut-brain axis
The adults in the test regularly consumed a dairy-based fermented drink, containing 25-30 billion colony forming units (CFUs). Drinking fermented dairy — like yogurt, kefir or fermented whey — “increased the presence of certain microorganisms in the gut and improved relational memory in healthy adults.”
Read more (Nutritional Neurosciences)
It’s widely appreciated that consuming high-quality yogurt can aid a healthy diet. Now new research shows eating yogurt changes the composition of the human gut microbiome.
In a new human study published in BMC Microbiology, researchers studied the microbiome of European twins. Results found those regularly eating yogurt had less visceral fat mass, reduced insulin levels and an increase of bacterial species in the gut. Strains S. thermophilus, B. animalis subsp. lactis., S. thermophilus and B. animalis subsp. lactis were all present in yogurt eaters.
The study also found the yogurt bacteria are “transient members of the gut microbiome and do not durably engraft within the gut lumen.”
Read more (BMC Microbiology)