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Dairy Calcium in Diet Melts Fat Abs

April 15, 2003 -- Don't dump dairy delights when dieting. That's the word from researchers who found that adding yogurt to a low-calorie diet helped people lose belly fat.

University of Tennessee scientist Michael Zemel, PhD, put 34 obese people on a low-calorie diet. Sixteen of them got pills with 400 to 500 mg of calcium per day. The other 18 people ate a higher calcium diet -- enough yogurt to give them 1,100 mg of calcium per day.

After 12 weeks, everybody lost a lot of fat. The comparison group had six pounds less fat, and the yogurt group lost about 10 pounds of fat. But those who ate Yoplait Light yogurt in the General Mills-sponsored study looked different from those who didn't. The yogurt eaters' waists shrank by more than an inch and a half. The comparison subjects lost about a quarter of an inch from their waist size.

Body scans showed why. Sixty percent of the yogurt eaters' weight loss was belly fat, while only 26% of the comparison group's loss was belly fat.

"Not only did yogurt help the study participants lose more weight -- the average weight loss was 13 pounds -- they were about twice as effective at maintaining lean muscle mass," Zemel says in a news release. "This is a critical issue when dieting. You want to lose fat, not muscle. Muscle helps burn calories, but it is often compromised during weight loss."

Zemel's earlier research shows that calcium -- especially dairy calcium -- slows down the body's fat-making process. He says that dieters should eat three servings of fat-free or low fat dairy products every day.

"The moral of the calcium story is to not dump dairy when you're dieting," Zemel says. "Not only is it critical to keep your calcium levels high so you won't lose bone density, it will also help you maintain your muscle mass and increase you fat loss."

It's unclear if the source of calcium affects fat loss -- whether it makes a difference if the calcium comes from the diet (dairy products) or from calcium supplement pills.

Zemel presented the study findings at this week's Experimental Biology 2003 meeting in San Diego, Calif.

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