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Dairy products, calcium, and fat intake
The National Dairy Council would have you believe that three servings of dairy products per day will help you lose weight. That's not quite true, as the original research followed people who had not previously been getting enough calcium going on a reduced-calorie diet that included the recommended three servings of low-fat dairy products in their diet plan.
Dairy Products Don't Help You Lose Weight
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the association between calcium and dairy intake and long-term weight change in US men. In an analysis of questionnaires sent to 19,615 health professionals between the years of 1986 and 1998, scientists found that a change in intake of total calcium, including calcium from dairy products, was not significantly associated with a change in weight.
Calcium & Vitamin D Supplements: The Risk/Benefit Ratio
Not long ago I got an email from a Dr. Gourmet reader who was frustrated by some of my answers to Ask Dr. Gourmet questions. For example, the question about whether drinking diet soda is linked to obesity. There isn't a lot of evidence, and it certainly doesn't show that drinking diet soda will cause obesity, but it doesn't look like drinking soda of any kind is all that great an idea, especially when coffee, tea and water is definitely great for you.
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One recent study involving weight loss appears to show that high calcium intake, whether in pill or dairy food form, will help reduce blood pressure and improve one's cholesterol profile. So was it the weight loss that did it, or the calcium in the dairy? Scientists at Laval University in Canada designed a study to help make that distinction (Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85:54-9).
They recruited 63 women whose Body Mass Index fell between 27 and 40 (overweight to obese) and were otherwise healthy. In addition, these women got less than 800 milligrams of calcium per day through their regular diet. They were randomly assigned to one of two groups: a group adding two tablets of a standard 600 mg of calcium + vitamin D supplement to their diet each day, and a control group who took two placebo tablets each day. All 63 women were also put on a nutritionally balanced diet that cut 700 calories per day from their previous caloric intake.
Over the next 15 weeks the women met regularly with a dietitian to help them manage their new diet and also had their blood pressure taken and their blood drawn for cholesterol testing.
As you might expect, all the women lost weight and saw improvements in their cholesterol levels and their blood pressure. But those women who were taking the calcium saw a greater improvement in their cholesterol scores. This held true even when the scientists controlled for other factors like the amount of total body fat lost by each subject.
The researchers note that it is still difficult to know whether calcium-induced improvements can be seen with increased consumption of dairy products or only to calcium itself.
I am not usually a fan of supplementation. I would far rather eat great food than take a pill. On the other hand, most people do not get enough calcium in their diet, which can lead to low bone density and osteoporosis. This is one time where I'll say that if you think that you're not getting enough calcium, you might want to check with your doctor about adding a daily calcium supplement to your diet.
First posted: January 17, 2007