Production of dairy products with reduced saturated fat content


Adults, and especially children, exceed the dietary target (11% of food energy intake) for saturated fat in the UK. Consumption of saturated fatty acid (SFA) increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity (and the diseases and health problems associated with obesity) and, according to mounting evidence, various cancers (such as breast and colon cancers).

Milk and milk products are the largest single dietary source (about 30-40%) of total SFA and therefore recent research has focused on sustainable methods of producing milk with a lower SFA concentration. Moreover, there is concern that milk production is contributing to global climate change due in large part to the production of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – by dairy cows (typically 500-600 litres/cow/day).


Research carried out through extensive feeding trials of dairy cattle examined how different types and quantities of UK-grown feed (maize, rapeseed and linseed) affected the various SFA found in milk in different breeds of cow.

Outcomes and Impact

The research demonstrated that including processed rapeseeds (and other oil-rich products) in the diet of dairy cows reduced potentially harmful SFAs typically from 70 to 55-60% total fatty acids whilst increasing more beneficial cis-monounsaturated fatty acids from 20 to 33%. It also showed that the proportionate changes in milk fatty acid composition were different in different breeds, highlighting the importance of considering genetic interactions

Since 2011, an estimated 3 million UK milk consumers have benefitted each year from this research, which has helped reduce SFAs in milk and milk products. The research, which was carried out between 2004 and 2013, manipulated dairy cows’ diets to produce milk with reduced saturated fat and increased unsaturated fat content.

Leading UK retailer, Marks and Spencer (M&S), used this research to support its suppliers in providing a new diet regime for their dairy cows, launching a new low saturated fat M&S milk in October 2011.

The launch of this healthier milk product has led to:

  • Improved diets and reduced associated health risks (heart disease, obesity and cancer) for M&S customers.
  • Reduced use of non-sustainable palm oil in cow diets.
  • Reduced harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Increased sales for M&S and enhanced reputation in terms of quality and corporate social responsibility.
  • Increased payment contracts for milk producers.
  • New techniques to measure fatty acids in milk for the dairy industry.

Key staff

Professor Ian Givens, Professor of Food Chain Nutrition, Director, Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH), University of Reading

Professor Chris Reynolds, Professor of Animal and Dairy Science, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading

Dr Kirsty Kliem, Senior Research Fellow, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading

David Humphries, Head of Specialist Units, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading

Related Publications

Consumer acceptance of dairy products with a saturated fatty acid-reduced, monounsaturated fatty acid-enriched content

Effect of oilseed type on milk fatty acid composition of individual cows, and also bulk tank milk fatty acid composition from commercial farms

Manipulation of lipids in animal-derived foods: can it contribute to public health nutrition? 

Effects of forage type and extruded linseed supplementation on methane production and milk fatty acid composition of lactating dairy cows