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Skinny Sipping: Drink Pounds Away

You can trick your metabolism with calcium and fill up with low-calorie beverages to help weight loss.

WebMD Feature

If you're already at your healthy weight, congratulations. You're in the minority. Most of us are trying to lose at least a few pounds -- or we should be trying. Could drinks -- milk, juice, tea -- help you shed those unlovely ounces?

Milk: Weight-Loss Drug?

In childhood, we heard it: Drink a glass of milk at every meal. Now TV commercials are touting the weight-loss effects of milk and other dairy products. Can dairy actually keep weight under control? How is that even possible?

 

Michael Zemel, PhD, director of the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, has published numerous papers on this subject. He outlines his latest research in the January 2003 Journal of Nutrition -- mouse studies showing the role of calcium in weight gain and fat storage.

 

Too many people drop dairy from their diets when they try to lose weight, he says. "They're shooting themselves in the foot when they do that. Dairy products contain literally hundreds of compounds that all have a positive effect on human health and enhance the fat-burning machinery," he explains.

The Why & How

"When we cut dairy products, we send the body a signal -- to make more fat," says Zemel. "When your body is deprived of calcium, it begins conserving calcium. That mechanism prompts your body to produce higher levels of a hormone called calcitriol, and that triggers an increased production of fat cells."

 

High levels of calcitriol "tell" fat cells to store themselves in the body, he says. This increase in calcitriol also "tells" fat cells to expand, he says. "So you're getting bigger, fatter fat cells. And a lot of big, fat cells makes for a big, fat person."

 

Extra calcium in your diet suppresses this hormone, he says. Your body breaks down more fat, and fat cells become leaner, trimmer. A high-dairy diet can boost weight loss by about 70%, Zemel tells WebMD.

 

But wait, there's more. "It turns out that milk, cheese, and yogurt are much more effective than calcium supplements or calcium-fortified foods," Zemel says. Why? Dairy products are a complex collection of compounds. Like phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables, there's more than vitamins and minerals in dairy products. "They are not classically nutrients, but are recognized as having beneficial effects."

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