Having Some Cheese in Your Diet May Protect Against Diabetes, Study

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By : Suvarna Sheth

Whether dairy and dairy fat is good for you has been an on-going debate for many years, however, a new international study finds that dairy fat found in milk, yogurt, and cheese and may protect against type 2 diabetes.

The research, published online in PLOS Medicine, analyzed data from more than 63,000 adults from 16 different countries who were involved in the Fatty Acids and Outcomes Research Consortium project.

How was the Study Conducted?

Participants of the study had baseline measurements of three fatty acids recorded: pentadecanoic acid (15-carbon saturated fatty acid, 15:0), heptadecanoic acid (17:0), and trans-palmitoleic acid (t16:1n7), each of which reflects the intake of fat from dairy products including milk and cheese.

Researchers used a chromatography technique to determine levels of the fatty acids in tissue and blood samples.

They found during an average follow-up of 9 years, 15,180 participants developed type 2 diabetes.

Higher concentrations of 15:0 and 17:0, t16:1n7, or all three, were associated with a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes.

They also found that people with the highest levels of all three fatty acids had a 35% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes during follow-up than people in the lowest levels of the fatty acids.

What were the Findings?

Higher circulating and tissue concentrations of odd-chain saturated fats and a natural ruminant trans-fat are associated with lower risk of T2D.

While these biomarkers are known to reflect dairy fat consumption, their levels could also be influenced by other unknown factors. The findings support the need for investigation of determinants of levels of these fatty acids as well as health effects of dairy fat in interventional studies.

The authors acknowledge the limitations of the study.

“As with all studies, there are limitations,” writes Dr. Fumiaki Imamura, lead author of the study, and senior investigator scientist, the University of Cambridge. “Biomarkers do not distinguish different types of dairy products, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.”

Also, he points out the study findings were mostly from white populations in the U.S. and Europe – evidence for other populations remains limited.

However, the findings provide the strongest evidence to date for relationships of these fatty acid biomarkers with type 2 diabetes, informing the potential health effects and corresponding dietary recommendations for consumption of selected dairy products.

What do these findings mean?

Imamura says there isn’t enough evidence, yet, to change dietary guidelines, which in the UK recommend that saturated fats should make up less than 11% of all calories consumed from food.

“We hope that our research will further stimulate clinical and public health research and a dialogue to promote an optimal diet, focusing more on foods than nutrients, including dairy,” he says.

Imamura receives funding from Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit Core Grant. A full list of disclosures can be viewed in the research.


1. Imamura, Fumiaki, et. al. 2018, October 10. Fatty acid biomarkers of dairy fat consumption and incidence of type 2 diabetes: A pooled analysis of prospective cohort studies. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002670.

2. Imamura, Fumiaki. 2018, October 12. Could cheese help prevent type 2 diabetes? Retrieved from: https://theconversation.com/could-cheese-help-prevent-type-2-diabetes-104733