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Weight-Loss Effects Of Dairy

Can dairy such as milk actually promote weight loss? How is that even possible?

Michael Zemel, PhD, director of the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, has published numerous papers on this subject. He outlines his latest research showing the role of calcium in weight gain and fat storage.

Too many people drop dairy from their diets when they try to lose weight, he says. "They're shooting themselves in the foot when they do that. Dairy products contain literally hundreds of compounds that all have a positive effect on human health and enhance the fat-burning machinery," he explains. See High-Protein or High-Carb Diet?

The why & how
"When we cut dairy products, we send the body a signal - to make more fat," says Zemel. "When your body is deprived of calcium, it begins conserving calcium. That mechanism prompts your body to produce higher levels of a hormone called calcitriol, and that triggers an increased production of fat cells."

High levels of calcitriol "tells" fat cells to store themselves in the body, he says. This increase in calcitriol also "tells" fat cells to expand, he says. "So you're getting bigger, fatter fat-cells. And a lot of big, fat-cells makes for a big, fat person."

Extra calcium in your diet suppresses this hormone, he says. Your body breaks down more fat, and fat cells become leaner and trimmer. A high-dairy diet can boost weight loss by about 70%, Zemel reports. "It turns out that milk, cheese, and yogurt are much more effective than calcium supplements or calcium-fortified foods," Zemel says.

Why? Dairy products are a complex collection of compounds. Like phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables, there's more than vitamins and minerals in dairy products."They are not classically nutrients, but are recognized as having beneficial effects."

Fat calories still count

Dairy isn't a weight-loss miracle, says Zemel. Calories still count. But even if you don't restrict calories, taking in more calcium will change your body composition. You're shifting calories from fat to lean body mass.

"On the scales, you may not see a change. But we've seen a loss of body fat," he says. "We need to think of milk as more than a calcium-delivery vehicle," he says. "It's more than just calcium. It's high-quality protein, a collection of amino acids that provides positive effects on skeleton, muscle, and fat."

Zemel's research holds water, says Lara Hassan, MS, a nutritionist with the Cooper Clinic in Dallas. Indeed, "studies are showing that high calcium increases fat oxidation or fat burning, and that results in greater fat loss - and weight loss if it's a reduced-calorie diet," she states. She cites one study in which obese men consumed two cups of low-fat yogurt a day - and made no other changes in their diet. They lost an average of 11 pounds over the course of a year.

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