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Say cheese: Modified dairy naturally lower in saturated fat benefits blood cholesterol and heart health – University of Reading

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Say cheese: Modified dairy naturally lower in saturated fat benefits blood cholesterol and heart health

Release Date 05 February 2020


Peer reviewed


  • Conventional dairy products were associated with a 5.5% increase in cholesterol which was not seen with modified dairy products naturally lower in saturated fats


Adults at risk of developing heart disease may benefit from consuming dairy products which have naturally lowered saturated fat levels.

The new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants who consumed a diet high in dairy products that contained lower levels of saturated fat, they had lower ‘bad’ blood cholesterol levels compared to when they ate a similar high-fat diet with conventional dairy products.

The modified dairy products (UHT milk, cheese and butter) were produced from cows fed a diet including a vegetable oil which contained fatty acids similar to olive oil, resulting in milk lower in saturated fat, and higher in monounsaturated fat.

Prof Julie Lovegrove, Director of the Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition at University of Reading said:

“We are delighted to see that our study showed favourable effects of the modified dairy products naturally lower in saturated fat on blood LDL cholesterol levels and blood vessel health compared with conventional dairy products.

“Dairy foods contain saturated fat, high intakes of which are associated with increased cardiovascular disease events such as heart attacks. However, previous studies have shown that diets higher in some dairy foods are not linked with cardiovascular disease, possibly due to other beneficial components of dairy including proteins and calcium.

“By replacing a quarter of the saturated fat in milk with monounsaturated fat, we have been able to naturally produce healthier dairy foods.”

The study saw 54 participants with slightly raised cardiovascular disease risk eat a diet high in fat and dairy foods for 12 weeks and showed that a range of markers for cardiovascular disease were significantly better after the group consumed the lower saturated fat products compared with the conventional dairy foods.

After consuming the modified, lower saturated fat dairy products participants maintained their LDL cholesterol levels, compared with an increase of 5.5% after consuming the conventional dairy foods, with additional benefits of modified dairy to blood vessel health, an important marker of cardiovascular disease risk.

Prof Ian Givens, Director of the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health at the University of Reading said:

“This is a significant step for our work understanding the benefits of dairy on human health. There is no doubt that dairy can have a positive effect on health and in a number of our studies and those of others, we’ve seen that diets with higher dairy intakes are linked to health outcomes. However, we also know that high saturated fat diets can have an impact on heart health’’.

“Through the RESET project, we have been able to successfully reduce the amount of saturated fats and increase monounsaturated fats in otherwise entirely normal dairy products through changing the cow’s diet, without any change in flavour. Now in this study, we have demonstrated how using this milk to produce cheese, butter and UHT milk can be more beneficial than conventional dairy products on cardiovascular health in those with slightly higher risk of cardiovascular disease.”

“It is also very important to know that colleagues in Reading have shown that adding oils similar to olive oil to the daily feed of dairy cows can substantially reduce the amount of methane they produce. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas meaning than our modified dairy foods may also be more environmentally friendly. This study therefore leads the way in developing natural, clean label dairy products that consumers are demanding.   

Find out more about the work to produce milk products with reduced saturated fatty acids at:

In a previous study, Professors Givens and Lovegrove’s team from the University of Reading have found that diets high in dairy were not linked to increased heart disease or stroke. Researchers conducted the largest analysis of population cohort studies, representing almost a million participants and over 93,000 deaths, published in the European Journal of Epidemiology and found that overall, diets high in dairy products, did not lead to any increased occurrence of cardiovascular diseases (heart disease and stroke) or death.

Full citation:

Vasilopoulou, K., et al. 2019, Reformulation initiative for partial replacement of saturated with unsaturated fats in dairy foods attenuates the increase in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and improves flow-mediated dilatation compared with conventional dairy: the randomized, controlled RESET study, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. DOI: 10.1093/ajcn/nqz344 


The study was funded through an unrestricted grant from the Medical Research Council.

Arla Foods UK and AAK UK provided the control dairy study products and high-oleic sunflower oil, respectively, and were not involved in the study design, data analysis or interpretation or writing of the manuscript.

Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition

The Hugh Sinclair Unit of Human Nutrition has an international reputation for its research into the relationship between diet and the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases with interest in nutrient-gene interactions, dietary biomarkers and personalised nutrition. The unit's clinical research informs governments and the food sector.

Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health

This new Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health brings together Reading’s world-leading expertise in food, agriculture and the environment to understand how food production and processing can be improved to deliver better nutrition and diets. Drawing also on our economics and social science expertise, the Institute will inform policy debates and technology and to improve industrial processes and the development of new products for improved human health.

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