For cheese lovers it will be news worth celebrating with an extra slice of cheddar.

The saturated fat in dairy products is now said to be not bad for health and may even protect against type 2 diabetes.

Cambridge University and the Medical Research Council studied the diets of more than 340,000 people to see if there was a link between saturated fat and the development of diabetes.

They found that while red meat, fried food, alcohol and carbohydrates appeared to have an impact on the development of type 2 diabetes, dairy foods seemed to protect against the disease.


"Our findings provide strong evidence that individual saturated fatty acids are not all the same," said Dr Nita Forouhi, the lead researcher from the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge University.

Saturated fat is typically found in fatty animal products such as butter, cheese and red meat. It is generally considered unhealthy and is linked to high levels of cholesterol, as well as type 2 diabetes.

Different types of saturated fat can be spotted in the body by looking for chain-like saturated fatty acid molecules which contain either an odd or even number of carbon atoms.

Molecules with odd numbers of carbon atoms - 15 and 17 - which are associated with eating dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese or milk, appeared to have a protective effect. Those with an even number - 14, 16 and 18 - were associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

Dr Forouhi added: "These odd-chain saturated fatty acids are well-established markers of eating dairy fats, which is consistent with several recent studies, including our own, that have indicated a protective effect against type 2 diabetes from eating yoghurt and other dairy products."

The findings appear in the journal The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.