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Calories Trump High-Dairy/Low-Dairy Difference continued...

"You can only metabolize so much body fat," Zemel tells WebMD. "If you are on a diet with modest calorie restriction, you can improve that effect with dairy foods. However, if you are already restricting calories a lot, you may be at your body's maximum effect and may not see any extra effect of dairy foods."

That opinion gets the endorsement of Serena Ball, RD, a dietitian at the National Dairy Council.

"What Zemel's research has found, and what we see in other studies, is that dairy does enhance weight loss," Ball tells WebMD. "You can restrict calories by a smaller amount and still get a weight loss benefit if you take in plenty of dairy food -- three to four servings a day."

But Harvey-Berino says it's too soon to jump to this conclusion.

"In the clinical trials so far, the dairy industry has pulled the strings," she says. "This is a very selected group of individuals who participate in these trials. You are cherry-picking people and cherry-picking their diets. So when you compare people getting lots of dairy foods to people not eating enough dairy food for bone health, you see a difference in weight loss."

All Agree: Dairy Foods Essential

Whether dairy foods can really make a person burn body fat may be controversial. But everybody agrees that dairy foods are essential for good health.

The good news, Harvey-Berino says, is that people trying to lose weight can still eat all the dairy foods they need.

"Women on diets tend to cut out dairy, and that is not good," she warns. "You can eat high levels of dairy foods and still do very well with your weight loss."

That gets a hearty endorsement from both Zemel and Ball.

"People often lose bone when they diet," Zemel says. "So having a dairy-rich diet is the best protection against that bone loss -- and it [blunts] the bone effects of calorie restriction."

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