Dairy Foods and Weight Management

The relationship between dairy food consumption and weight loss is an active area of investigation.
Dairy Foods and Weight Management

Dairy foods are an important part of a healthy diet. There is conclusive evidence that dairy foods provide essential nutrients, play a key role in bone health, and do not contribute to weight gain when consumed in recommended amounts. There is also some evidence that dairy foods may reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

While there has not been enough rigorous research done to make conclusive statements about a role for dairy foods in promoting weight loss, this is an active area of investigation.

Calcium's Role in Weight Loss
In studying the effects of dairy foods on weight loss, researchers first identified a key role for the mineral calcium. In general, the research in this area has used calcium-rich diets containing between 1,100-1,800 milligrams of daily calcium. When compared to diets that contained lower amounts of calcium, those with higher amounts produced an increase in the excretion of fat (fat lost via the gastrointestinal system) which contributed to weight loss.1

Dairy Foods Versus Supplements
The question is often asked whether taking calcium supplements instead of eating dairy foods could provide comparable results. Continued investigation into the relationship between dairy food consumption and weight loss has led researchers to explore whether it was the calcium alone or as part of a dairy food (as a whole) that was responsible for weight loss.

Diets high in calcium derived from supplements were compared to those high in calcium from dairy products. In terms of weight loss, the diets rich in dairy foods showed a greater effect on fat loss.2 Further research led to the observation that while calcium supplements did produce some weight-loss effect, the effect was greater with calcium-containing dairy foods.3

Types of Dairy Foods
Most of the research on dairy foods and weight loss has used fluid milk as the source for a low-fat or non-fat dairy product. Recently, a study published in April 2005 shows weight-loss benefits with the intake of yogurt.4 Again, substituting yogurt for other non-dairy foods in the diet resulted in greater weight loss, even when total calories remained the same. Thus, altering the diet to replace calories from less-nutritious foods with low-fat or non-fat dairy foods may have a positive effect.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage the inclusion of low-fat or non-fat dairy products as part of a healthful eating plan. While researchers continue to explore the exact mechanisms by which dairy products may impact weight management, their role in providing essential nutrients and preventing osteoporosis is assured.

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1Jacobsen R, Lorenzen JK, Toubro S, Frog-Mikkelsen I, Astrup A. Effect of short-term high dietary calcium intake on 24-h energy expenditure, fat oxidation and fecal fat excretion. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2005 Mar;29(3):292-301

2Zemel MB. Mechanisms of dairy modulation of adiposity. J Nutr. 2003 Jan;133(1):252S-256S.

3MB, Thompson W, Milstead A, Morris K, Campbell P. Calcium and dairy acceleration of weight and fat loss during energy restriction in obese adults. Obes Res. 2004 April;12(4):582-90.

4Zemel MB, Richards J, Mathis S, Milstead A, Gebhardt L and Silva E. Dairy augmentation of total and central fat loss in obese subjects. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2005 Apr;29(4):391-397.