Composition, structure and absorption of milk lipids: A source of energy, fat-soluble nutrients and bioactive molecules

J. Bruce German, Cora J. Dillard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

198 Scopus citations


Milkfat is a remarkable source of energy, fat-soluble nutrients and bioactive lipids for mammals. The composition and content of lipids in milkfat vary widely among mammalian species. Milkfat is not only a source of bioactive lipid components, it also serves as an important delivery medium for nutrients, including the fat-soluble vitamins. Bioactive lipids in milk include triacylglycerides, diacylglycerides, saturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and phospholipids. Beneficial activities of milk lipids include anticancer, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and immunosuppression properties. The major mammalian milk that is consumed by humans as a food commodity is that from bovine whose milkfat composition is distinct due to their diet and the presence of a rumen. As a result of these factors bovine milkfat is lower in polyunsaturated fatty acids and higher in saturated fatty acids than human milk, and the consequences of these differences are still being researched. The physical properties of bovine milkfat that result from its composition including its plasticity, make it a highly desirable commodity (butter) and food ingredient. Among the 12 major milk fatty acids, only three (lauric, myristic, and palmitic) have been associated with raising total cholesterol levels in plasma, but their individual effects are variable - both towards raising low-density lipoproteins and raising the level of beneficial high-density lipoproteins. The cholesterol-modifying response of individuals to consuming saturated fats is also variable, and therefore the composition, functions and biological properties of milkfat will need to be re-evaluated as the food marketplace moves increasingly towards more personalized diets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-92
Number of pages36
JournalCritical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2006


  • Bioactive lipids
  • Conjugated linoleic acid
  • Lipoproteins
  • Milkfat
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • Saturated fatty acids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Food Science


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