Dairy Fats as Healthy Fats

Researcher: Dr. Sean Adams, UC Davis, School of Medicine
Timeline: January – December 2024

*Project is co-funded 50/50 with National Dairy Council (NDC).

Background: There continues to be a public health discussion around the role of dairy foods as part of a healthy dietary pattern, and more specifically the health impacts of full-fat vs. low-fat dairy. For instance, low-fat dairy continues to be favored in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, due in part to lower calories but also considering the reduced saturated fat content compared to full-fat dairy. This is despite the weight of evidence from studies and scientific literature reviews showing neutral to positive effects of full fat dairy intakes on cardiometabolic health. A better understanding of the specific fats that are impacted by dairy consumption is critical to support the science that impacts public health policy and consumer perceptions.

The study team has identified several xenolipids in dairy foods that have bioactivities linked positively to health, suggesting that dietary fat transformations by the gut microbiota can lead to healthy fats. However, the relative contributions of the food vs. the gut microbial sources to these xenolipids remain to be assessed.

Industry Benefit: Should it be confirmed that dairy fat consumption leads to higher levels of unique healthful xenolipids, it could open the door to public policy and health messaging changes in California that include full fat dairy products as a source of healthy fats. This outcome would have significant consumer impact and could influence school meal programs in terms of including full fat dairy products in the program portfolio.