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Calories Count continued...

Zemel tells WebMD that while calcium appears to be an important component in the storing of body fat, eating three to four servings of dairy a day is a better way to maintain a normal weight and get calcium's benefits than taking calcium supplements. An 8-ounce glass of milk is generally considered a serving, as is a cup of yogurt and 1.5 ounces of hard cheese.

The researcher says several mechanisms appear to play a role in dairy's ability to influence body fat. A hormone known as calcitriol, which helps the body regulate calcium levels in the blood, also appears to stimulate human fat cells.

The more calcium there is in a fat cell, the more fat the cell will burn -- and the greater the weight loss.

"When we don't have enough calcium in the diet, that sends two messages to fat cells," he says. "One is to make more fat and the other is to slow down the process of fat burning."

He adds that some of the minerals in dairy products, such as phosphorus and magnesium, also seem to stop fat synthesis. These minerals may also preserve muscle mass and enhance the body's metabolism.

Both researchers emphasized that calorie restriction is still important for weight loss.

"Calories definitely count," Zemel says. "You can't just add dairy foods if you are already eating too much. You have to replace other foods and eat the appropriate number of calories."

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