Dairy and weight loss

March 21, 2009 at 12:11 am Leave a comment

This came up in a post on a friend’s blog. She is following Weight Watchers but didn’t know why they emphasised dairy intake. There are a couple of reasons why dairy is so important.

  1. It is a good source of calcium which is good for bones, as everybody knows. Recommended dietary intake for women is 1000 mg/day. It is estimated that few women get their full recommended intake, which, along with their tendency to smaller frames compared with men, puts them at higher risk of osteoporosis later in life. This increases the likelihood of breaking a bone. 50% of elderly people who break a hip will never live independently again, and 20% are dead within a year due to complications. Strong bones will help to keep you spry and independent into your dotage. Another way to strengthen bones, and improve balance, hence preventing falls in the first place: weight training. This is why all women should be lifting weights, and it’s never too late to start.

  2. Calcium is known to increase fat breakdown in cells and there is mounting evidence that increased calcium intake plays a role in preventing obesity and promoting weight loss. A small study published in 2004 compared the effects of three different calorie-restricted diets on weight loss in 32 obese adults. Each of the participants reduced their daily calorie intake by about 500 calories per day for 24 weeks and were divided into three groups:

    • High-dairy: Total calcium intake of 1,200-1,300 milligrams per day from three to four servings of dairy foods, specifically milk, hard cheese, and yogurt.
    • High-calcium supplemented/low-dairy: Total calcium intake of 1,200-1,300 milligrams per day made up of no more than one serving of dairy per day plus an 800-milligram calcium supplement.
    • Low-calcium/low-dairy: Total calcium intake of 400-500 milligrams per day with no more than one serving of dairy per day and a placebo supplement.

    They found that obese adults who ate a high-dairy diet lost significantly more weight and fat than those who ate a low-dairy diet containing the same number of calories. But while previous studies had found that increased calcium intake was associated with weight loss, this study showed that eating three to four servings of dairy products a day was more effective at enhancing weight loss than calcium supplementation alone with pills or calcium-fortified foods. Group A lost an average of 11% of total body weight f versus 6% in Group C, and concluded that including three to four servings of dairy in your diet can make a modest degree of calorie restriction as effective as a severe degree of calorie restriction. They also found the high-dairy group lost significantly more body fat than those in the other groups, particularly from the midsection. Excess fat in the abdominal area has been linked to a higher risk of heart attack and other health problems.

    It is not known for sure why dairy produce gives better results than calcium supplementation. One possibility is that the phosphorous and magnesium in dairy may enhance calcium’s beneficial effects on fat breakdown within the cells. In addition, the proteins in dairy products may help preserve muscle and increase metabolism. Whilst this was a small study, and funded by, you guessed it, the National Dairy Council, the evidence from clinical trials continues to pile up. Here are the results of just two studies published in 2008:

    • Study one was a nine-month clinical study of 338 men and women comprising 3 months weight loss and 6 months maintenance. The two groups were low dairy (<1 svg/day) vs. recommended dairy (3 svgs/day). The findings: Weight maintenance was similar for low and recommended dairy groups. But the recommended dairy group exhibited evidence of greater fat oxidation and was able to consume greater energy without greater weight gain compared to the low dairy group. They concluded that recommended levels of dairy products may be used during weight maintenance without contributing to weight gain compared to diets low in dairy products.

    • Study two was an Israeli study based on a cross-sectional survey of a random sample of 3246 Israleis aged 25 to 64. Nearly 3000 participants had height and weight measured and were divided into three groups by BMI (A: <25; B: 25-30; and C: 30+) and given a 24-hour dietary recall questionnaire – ie. what did you eat yesterday? They also measured waist circumference in most of the participants.
      The findings: The mean calcium intake was higher for group A than for groups B and C, but the difference was only statistically significant between the lowest BMI group (A) and the highest (C). Average daily milk consumption in group A was significantly higher than in groups B and C. They concluded that this study confirmed the inverse relationship between daily dietary calcium intake and obesity. This linkage relates to the intake of milk, but not to other dairy products.

So, how much do you need? A serving size of dairy contains around 300 mg calcium, so to meet your daily requirements you need around 3 servings (now 3 cups in the new US food pyramid). A serving (or cup) would be contained in:

  • 1 cup/200 ml/1/3 pint of milk
  • small pot yogurt or cottage cheese
  • 1.5 ounces/40 g/matchbox sized piece of cheese

The good news for people wanting to lose weight is that the calcium in dairy is found in the aqueous (water) part of milk, not in the fat, so that low-fat dairy has more calcium ounce for ounce than whole fat products.

Got milk?

Follow-up: This post has raised quite a bit of controversy. I will be doing some more research and posting at least one follow-up post, which I will link to from here in the future. Stay tuned.


Entry filed under: fat loss, heath and fitness, nutrition, weight loss, Weight Watchers.

Some days you just can’t lose Lost my first stone!

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    My Weight Loss Goals

  • 1. Crack 15 stone (210 lbs) for the fourth and final (I hope) time.
  • 2. Lose 10% of my body fat (14 stone 4).
  • 3. Fit into a size 18 (US 16).
  • 4. Get my body fat below 40%
  • 5. Lose another 10% of my body fat (12 stone 12/180 lbs).
  • 6. Get my BMI under 30 (12 stone 9/177 lbs) - no longer obese, just overweight now.
  • 7. Weigh less than my husband.
  • 8. Fit into a size 16 (US 14).
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  • 3. Run a 5K for charity.
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  • My highest measured weight ever:
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  • 12 Jan = 219.6 lbs, 45.8% BF
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  • 2 Feb = 218.8 lbs, 44.7% BF
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  • 23 Feb = 213.2 lbs, 45.2% BF
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  • Average weekly weight loss: 0.31%
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