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Plenty of Dairy Won't Hurt Diet but Won't Melt Pounds, Either

Nov. 19, 2004 -- A new study casts doubt on earlier, highly publicized findings suggesting that dairy foods burn off body fat.

Only last April, a University of Tennessee study found that people on high-dairy, low-calorie diets lost a lot more weight than those on low-dairy, low-calorie diets.

The National Dairy Council funded that study. Another dairy industry-supported study was expected to confirm these findings. But that didn't happen, says study leader Jean Ruth Harvey-Berino, PhD, professor and chairwoman of the department of nutrition and food science at the University of Vermont.

"When we got our results, it was quite disappointing that there were no differences between the high- and low-dairy groups in our study," Harvey-Berino tells WebMD. "It may be that a low-calorie, high-dairy diet may offer just two pounds more weight loss than a low-calorie, low-dairy diet. But it is not going to be a magic bullet."

Harvey-Berino presented the findings at this week's Las Vegas meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity.

Calories Trump High-Dairy/Low-Dairy Difference

Harvey-Berino and colleagues studied 54 borderline-obese people with an average age of 45. All got a low-calorie diet and a behavior-modification plan that included plenty of exercise. Half the subjects were restricted to only one serving of dairy food each day. The other half got three or four servings of dairy food daily.

After six months, everybody lost weight -- 22 pounds in the high-dairy group and 20.5 pounds in the low-dairy group. The difference is not statistically significant; that is, the difference is so small it could be due to chance.

That's a far cry from findings reported last April by Michael Zemel, PhD, director of the University of Tennessee Nutrition Institute. Zemel's high-dairy group lost about the same amount of weight: about 24 pounds. But his low-dairy group lost a lot less: only 15 pounds if they didn't get calciumsupplements and only 19 pounds if they did get calcium pills.

What's going on? Zemel says the weight of evidence in multiple studies since 1999 shows that dairy foods help the body burn fat. He suggests that people in the Harvey-Berino's low-dairy group may have eaten so few calories that they didn't get any additional benefit from dairy foods.

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