Funding for the three year project is coming from the Diet and Health Research Industry Club (DRINC), which supports bioscience research into the development of healthier foods.
Scientists at the University of Reading will be using the grant to explore the potential of feeding cows with oilseeds and novel types of fat in order to replace saturated fats in dairy products with healthier fats.
Increasing monounsaturated fat rather than polyunsaturated fat content will be the main focus of the research as the former is already present in substantial quantities and is therefore easier to promote.
Trans fat challenge
Professor Ian Givens from the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development told DairyReporter.com that one of the main challenges will be to replace the saturated fats without upping the trans fat content.
Although there are no real health concerns about natural trans fats, Givens said the industry is concerned that the public perception is negative because man-made trans fats are known to cause higher cholesterol. The food industry is therefore keen to avoid even natural trans fats if it can.
To avoid the trans fat problem, the researchers will look into ways of protecting ingested fat from the microbes in the rumen. It is the interaction with these microbes that is responsible for the production of trans fat in bovine milk.
While improving the fat profile of dairy is the main focus of the research project, the scientists will also study the effects of introducing oilseeds and other healthier fats into the cow diet on methane production.
Givens said: “Such changes to the diet of the dairy cow may also have another positive effect as they are likely to reduce the amount of methane produced by the cow thus reducing the carbon footprint of milk.”
The research will take place over three years and will involve lab work at the University of Reading in addition to work with commercial dairy cows. Givens said it is important to extend the research to the commercial environment as it can bring in new variables that may change the initial conclusions.