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"Calcium is no magic bullet. What the study says is that ... higher-calcium diets favor burning rather than storing fat. Calcium changes the efficiency of weight loss," Zemel tells WebMD.

The human body's metabolism makes weight loss difficult, he explains. "Many people who stick to a calorie-reduced diet don't lose weight as fast as they think they should. That's because they activate metabolic protection ... Their bodies sense starvation and hang on to energy -- fat -- more voraciously."

Too many dieters tend to immediately "jettison dairy foods from their diet, because they're just sure they're going to make them fat. In fact, they're shooting themselves in the foot, because they subject themselves to more empty-calorie sources. They would be better off if they would substitute high-fat dairy products with low-fat dairy," says Zemel.

Keeping in mind that the mouse study is preliminary, it is very well done and shows promise, Pamela Meyers, PhD, a clinical nutritionist and assistant professor at Kennesaw State University near Atlanta, tells WebMD. "But the calcium amounts the study suggests are effectively equal to what the USDA already recommends as a minimum for adults," she adds.

While nonfat dry milk was used in this study, few people buy that product, says Meyers. "Also, there are people who are lactose intolerant who can't consume dairy products. That's why we need to look at other food sources of calcium, [such as] ... dark leafy vegetables, salmon, mackerel, almonds, and oats. ... They also are very high in fiber, which helps in terms of weight management."

If using calcium supplements, it's important to choose those with added vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium, which help the body to better absorb calcium, says Meyers.

This study was supported in part by the National Dairy Council.

Vital Information:

  • According to a recent study in mice, a diet that includes low-fat dairy products can aid weight loss.
  • Researchers say this is because calcium stored in fat cells plays an important role in fat storage and breakdown.
  • Current recommendations encourage men to consume 1,000 mg to 1,200 mg of calcium per day and women to consume 1,000 mg to 1,300 mg daily.

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