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J Dairy Sci. 2011 Jan;94(1):59-65. doi: 10.3168/jds.2010-3571.

Survey of the fatty acid composition of retail milk in the United States including regional and seasonal variations.

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Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Consumers are increasingly aware that food components have the potential to influence human health maintenance and disease prevention, and dietary fatty acids (FA) have been of special interest. It has been 25 years since the last survey of US milk FA composition, and during this interval substantial changes in dairy rations have occurred, including increased use of total mixed rations and byproduct feeds as well as the routine use of lipid and FA supplements. Furthermore, analytical procedures have improved allowing greater detail in the routine analysis of FA, especially trans FA. Our objective was to survey US milk fat and determine its FA composition. We obtained samples of fluid milk from 56 milk processing plants across the US every 3 mo for one year to capture seasonal and geographical variations. Processing plants were selected based on the criteria that they represented 50% or more of the fluid milk produced in that area. An overall summary of the milk fat analysis indicated that saturated fatty acids comprised 63.7% of total milk FA with palmitic and stearic acids representing the majority (44.1 and 18.3% of total saturated fatty acids, respectively). Unsaturated fatty acids were 33.2% of total milk FA with oleic acid predominating (71.0% of total unsaturated fatty acids). These values are comparable to those of the previous survey in 1984, considering differences in analytical techniques. Trans FA represented 3.2% of total FA, with vaccenic acid being the major trans isomer (46.5% of total trans FA). Cis-9, trans-11 18:2 conjugated linoleic acid represented 0.55% total milk FA, and the major n-3 FA (linolenic acid, 18:3) composed 0.38%. Analyses for seasonal and regional effects indicated statistical differences for some FA, but these were minor from an overall human nutrition perspective as the FA profile for all samples were numerically similar. Overall, the present study provides a valuable database for current FA composition of US fluid milk, and results demonstrate that the milk fatty acid profile is remarkably consistent across geographic regions and seasons from the perspective of human dietary intake of milk fat.

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