Dairy Does Dieters Right

Don't be so quick to nix dairy if you're trying to lose weight. According to new research by Michael Zemel, PhD, professor of nutrition at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, dairy increases the body's ability to burn calories. He also says most Americans get only half of the recommended three daily servings of dairy, a deficit that triggers fat-producing hormones.

Calcitriol, one such hormone, spurs fat cells to make even more fat from sugar. "It also inhibits fat breakdown and fat burning. So you are making more fat and breaking down less fat. The result is bigger, fatter fat cells," Zemel says.

A Serving Of Dairy Is...

  • 8 ounces of yogurt
  • 8 ounces of milk
  • 1.5 ounces of hard cheese (about the size of four stacked dice)


Zemel recently worked with 34 obese adults to measure dairy's effect on fat loss. Half ate about 1,100 mg of calcium daily, including three servings of fat-free yogurt; the other half got about 500 mg of calcium—the amount an average American eats. The participants who ate calcium-rich dairy foods as part of a reduced-calorie diet lost more weight and body fat than those who just cut calories (FASEB Journal, 2003, vol. 17, no. 5).

Adequate calcium intake suppresses calcitriol production. "We take away the stimulus that makes more fat and interferes with fat breakdown and fat burning," Zemel says.

If you still want to avoid dairy, will a calcium supplement do the trick? "It turns out milk is more than just a calcium-delivery vehicle," Zemel says. "The other compounds that coexist with calcium, that are part of dairy, work to increase fat-burning potential—to approximately double it."

—Dena Nishek