Research into the digestion mechanisms of milk and into the nutritional role of milk in a sustainable global food system has seen two Riddet Institute scientists from Massey University win top prizes in an inaugural International Dairy Federation award.

Riddet Institute Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Debashree Roy came second equal and Research Officer Dr Nick Smith was third in the Professor Pavel Jelen Early Career Scientist Prize.

Debashree’s entry titled, “Composition, structure, and dynamic digestion behaviour of milk from different species”, focused on how milk composition and structure impacts the release of nutrients at various stages of gastric digestion of different mammalian milks, such as cow, goat, and sheep milks.

“Milk is a uniquely designed nutritious food by nature and there is still so much to discover and learn from it,” she says.

Her research answered some questions about the digestion mechanisms of milk from different mammalian species during coagulation in the stomach, and how that influences the rates of delivery of proteins and fats during digestion in the body.

“The results obtained have important consequences for developing bio-inspired dairy products with improved digestion characteristics, for controlling the release of nutrients, and to meet the special dietary needs of consumers of all age groups.”

Nick is working on the Sustainable Nutrition Initiative. His entry on “Understanding dairy’s contribution to a sustainable food system” used a data science and modelling approach to unpick the quantity of food nutrients that come from dairy in the current food system. Nick has been involved in the development of the DELTA Model®, a global food system mass balance capable of calculating the nutrition available globally from the food system today, and under various future scenarios.

The contribution dairy makes to calcium intakes is significant, with dairy supplying 49% of global food calcium while also making large contributions to vitamins B2 and B12, and indispensable amino acids, Nick says.

“The nutrients provided by milk are currently of major importance to global nutrition. Any change to this status – either increasing or decreasing this contribution – must take the full nutritional consequences of this change into account, alongside the other considerations of sustainability.”

The IDF Professor Pavel Jelen Early Career Scientist Prize is named in honour of Professor Pavel (Paul) Jelen, a Czech-born scientist and educator who has spent his career based in Canada and the United States, practising dairy science and technology in his research pursuits, and encouraging, mentoring, and educating students and early-career scientists and technologists.