Effects of lipids’ composition and structure in meat and dairy foods on digestibility and low-grade inflammation in cells, animals and humans (LipidInflammaGenes)

Effects of lipids’ composition and structure in meat and dairy foods on digestibility and low-grade inflammation in cells, animals and humans (LipidInflammaGenes)

LipidInflammaGenes will study triacylglycerols from Norwegian animal products, exploring effects on genes, inflammation and hunger/satiety hormones, by which these products may affect risk factors of CVD and satiety.



Dietary intake of saturated fatty acids (SFA) from dairy and meat products, have for a long time been associated with several negative health effects. Meat and dairy products contribute 62 % of total SFA intake from the average Norwegian diet. The fatty acid composition and location of fatty acids in the TAG-molecules are different in dairy, beef and pork fat, with more C16:0 in the mid, (sn-2) position. The SFAs C12-C16 are thought to elevate the risk factors of CVD. SFA constitutes about 45% of the total fat from beef, about 35% of the fat from pork and about 66% of the fat from dairy products. During digestion, monoacylglycerol and fatty acids are absorbed, and TAGs are resyntehsized. The uptake and metabolic fate of the fatty acid in the sn-2 position have been less investigated than  the uptake of fatty acids.

Pork fat has a higher fraction of C16:0 in the sn-2 position of TAGs than beef fat. Data suggests that the TAG structure in pigs is influenced by a genetic component leaving an option for changing this structure, that needs to be explored.

The structure of dietary TAGs is suggested to influence absorption of both fatty acids and calcium (Ca). As beef fat/dairy fats have more saturated fat in sn-1 position of TAGs than pork fat, these fatty acids are more available for formation of Ca-soaps. Magnesium (Mg) is another mineral shown to increase soap formation. The molecular mechanisms regarding formation of Ca- and Mg-soaps in the gut still needs further exploration.

Chronic, low grade inflammation increases with age and is prevalent in the pre-disease stages that later may lead to heart diseases, diabetes type 2, and obesity etc. This is in contrast to the swift and necessary inflammatory response when acutely attacked (e.g. by bacteria and virus). A chronic elevated level of inflammatory compounds will activate cellular pathways that gradually promotes life-style diseases. Intestinal microbiota has been suggested as another contributor in the regulation of inflammation, obesity and even atherosclerosis. So far, there are few studies scrutinizing the effects of TAGs on microbiota composition, metabolism and possible health consequences thereof.

The consequences of the type of fatty acid in the sn-2 position, the Ca level and Ca and fat absorption, on postprandial chylomicron formation are unclear. There is a need to study effects of TAGs from dairy, beef and pork products in postprandial studies to identify if C16:0 in the sn-2-MAG impacts differently on blood risk markers of inflammation and atherosclerosis, than other saturated fatty acids.

Genetic polymorphisms may also impact the response to lipids. There is limited research on genetics and diet interactions in Norwegian populations. Internationally, sequence modifications in intestinal fatty acid binding protein 2 has been linked to myocardial infarction and diabetes. Changes in a chromosome that affect gene activity and expression are called epigenetic changes. The most recent addition to studying diet responses is based on the principle that iso-epigenetic diets exist; i.e. an ideal diet, should not affect the epigenetics (beyond inevitable aging effects). Diet interventions with SFA including studies of epigenetic changes may therefore provide useful information about the possible magnitude of such changes. Epigenetic changes are highly relevant to correlate to inflammation markers that signal diseases. Such studies using SFA seems lacking in the literature.

Despite the often claimed association between SFA and CVD, our Norwegian Institute of Public Health points to obesity as an emerging risk of CVD and are in particular worried about the morbidity and socio-economical differences among younger adult/ adults (25-44 yrs); i.e the same group that has the highest relative weight gain. The situation in this relative young group is alarming with respect to future medical costs. It is timely to gain knowledge of how food producers can alleviate this trend.

Joint investigations between dairy and meat industry seem warranted as the Norwegian Red Cattle is a dual purpose breed that provides 75% of the beef meat in the market, and provides most of the milk and dairy products produced in Norway. Such comparative studies are completely missing in the literature.

  Participants at the opening Meeting of the project:

Janne Karin Brodin



   -Support national and WHO global targets for non-communicable diseases

   -Develop knowledge to slow down cardiovascular diseases and obesity progress

   -Extend present knowledge regarding saturated animal fats present in our diet  

   -Investigate a breeding strategy to generate healthier fats in Norwegian production animals

 -Generate a future knowledge asset by supporting 2 post docs and one part time Ph D  

  -Link together three universities important for national progresses in food and health sciences

More about the project

The overarching hypotheses is that the consumption of saturated fat from dairy, meat and pork products may lead to life style diseases like cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes However, not all animal products have this effect, even with a high content of saturated fat. Composition and structure of TAGs and the actual matrix they are embedded in, may play a causal role.

Our main hypothesises are therefore:

i)         Beef, dairy and pork fat have different levels of SFA and different fatty acids in the sn-2 position of TAGs, which affects accessibility and excretion of fatty acids and composition and metabolism in the microbiota. This has an impact on risk factors for life style diseases.

ii)       The matrix the fatty acids are embedded in, affects digestibility, accessibility and subsequent health effects of saturated fatty acids.

iii)     Nutrients, such as Ca, Mg and proteins, and production methods (e.g. fermentation) affect digestibility and accessibility of saturated fatty acids.



Last winter, during the intervention,  the participants were given 15  microgram  per day as capsules  (obtained from Pharma Nord).  After 2 weeks all perticipants were above 30 nmol/ L,  a treshold that  we prefer being bypassed. The blood values increased most rapidly  for the participants with the lowerst blood values. 



Geir Kildahl Andersen et al. Quantification of fatty acids and their regioisomeric distribution in triacyl glycerols from porcine and bovine sources using 13C NMR spectroscopy. Lipids. Jan; 56(1), 111-112., doi: 10.1002/lipd.12277. Epub. 2020 Sep 2.