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Dairy Products for Weight Loss
The dairy council would have you believe that eating more dairy products like milk, cheese and butter will help you lose weight. The research they point to, however, looked at people who were already on a low calorie diet who included three servings of dairy products in their diet. But if you're not reducing your calories and you eat more dairy, what happens? Do you lose weight anyway?

Avoid Colorectal Cancer: Drink Your Milk!
A study of 45,306 men between the ages of 45 and 79 and without a history of cancer were followed for seven years by researchers in Sweden (Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83:667-73). The study assessed their level of dairy product intake and correlated the subjects’ intake to the incidence of colorectal cancers of various types: colorectum, colon, proximal colon, distal colon, and rectum. (Previous studies had not differentiated between cancer locations.)

Dairy and Weight
Although the dairy council no longer advertises that drinking milk or eating yogurt will help you lose weight, I still have the occasional patient who will ask me about it. Usually I tell them about the two studies I've reported on, first way back in 2006 and then another in 2009, that essentially concluded that dairy products by themselves would have no impact on weight: the gold standard for weight loss is still calories in versus calories out.


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Dairy products, calcium, and fat intake

a glass of milk in a clear glass against a dark background

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. Other research, however, suggests that calcium intake might actually help people lose weight by causing the body to not absorb dietary fat. Another possibility is that the body might burn fat more quickly because of the higher calcium intake.

Recently Danish researchers sought to identify which, if any, of those effects calcium might have on the individual (Am J Clin Nutr 2007;85(3):678-87). They recruited 18 men between the ages of 18 and 50 who were otherwise healthy but overweight. The men were randomly assigned to a sequence of four test meals eaten once every three weeks: three of the meals had varying levels of calcium (low, medium, and high) from dairy products, while a fourth had a high level of calcium from a calcium supplement. After eating the test meals, the subjects' blood was drawn repeatedly at regular intervals to assess their cholesterol levels, glucose levels, and the levels of fat in the blood, which indicate how much of the meal's fat the body is absorbing.

The scientists found that the meal containing a high amount of calcium from dairy products, but not from a calcium supplement, did indeed reduce the amount of fat in the bloodstream after the meal. This strongly suggests that it's not just the calcium by itself causing the body to not absorb dietary fat. Instead, the researchers theorize that the cause may be something about the type of the calcium in the dairy products or even other factors in the dairy products interacting with the calcium in the dairy products.

What this means for you

Unfortunately, this isn't a green light for eating more dairy foods in an effort to avoid absorbing fat. These high-calcium meals were not everyday meals for the participants, so we can't say for sure whether a person's body might not get used to a higher dietary calcium level and begin to absorb the dietary fat as it would normally. That said, many people would benefit from more calcium in their diet, and milk and dairy products are a good source of calcium, as are watercress, arugula, spinach, and collard greens.

First posted: March 13, 2007