Adults at risk of developing heart disease may benefit from consuming dairy products which have naturally lowered saturated fat levels, according to new research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The new study found that participants who consumed a diet high in dairy products that contained lower levels of saturated fat 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.”

“There is no doubt that dairy can have a positive effect on health…”

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’’.