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Dairy Products Beat Calcium for Weight Loss continued...

Researchers say participants were free to choose from fat-free, low-fat, and regular milk, cheese, and yogurt. They typically picked fat-free and low-fat milk and yogurt and regular cheeses, while keeping their overall fat intake the same.

Serving sizes were 8 ounces or a cup for milk and yogurt and 1.5 ounces of hard cheese (about the size of six dice) or 2 ounces of processed cheese, such as two slices of American cheese.

The study showed that all of the groups lost weight, but those who ate the dairy-rich diet lost the most with an average of 24 pounds compared with 19 pounds in the calcium supplement group and 15 pounds in the low-calcium/low-dairy group.

That translates to a loss of an average of 11% of total body weight for those in the high-dairy group versus 6% in the low-calcium/low-dairy group.

"What that means is that if you're including three to four servings of dairy in your diet, you can make a modest degree of calorie restriction as effective as a severe degree of calorie restriction," Zemel tells WebMD.

In addition, researchers found the high-dairy group lost significantly more body fat than those in the other groups, particularly from the midsection. Excess fat in the abdominal area has been linked to a higher risk of heart attack and other health problems.

Dairy's Role in Weight Loss

Previous studies have shown that calcium can boost weight loss by increasing fat breakdown in fat cells. But experts say this study suggests that taking in calcium from dairy products may actually improve on those effects.

"Dairy for some reason, yet unexplained, has a greater effect on fat loss and specifically trunk fat loss than does calcium alone," says Rachel Novotny, PhD, RD, professor and chair of the department of human nutrition, food, and animal sciences at the University of Hawaii in Manoa.

Although the bulk of dairy's weight-loss enhancing effects is caused by its calcium content, researchers say there are a variety of potential mechanisms that may explain those additional benefits and merit further research.

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