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Is Calcium the New Magic Bullet?

New research suggests that upping your calcium intake can help you lose fat
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WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

New research suggests that low-fat dairy products may be a new weapon in fighting the battle of the bulge.

How? It seems that exciting evidence from University of Tennessee shows that adequate calcium intake not only helps prevent osteoporosis but can also enhance weight loss -- meaning increased dairy calcium appears to be a key factor in preventing osteoporosis, controlling high blood pressure, potentially reducing the incidence of colon and breast cancer, and promoting weight loss. Sound too good to be true? Read on.

Dairy Products Enhance Weight Loss

A recent study suggests that dietary calcium lowers body weight by converting a portion of dietary energy to heat rather than to stored body fat. When we reduce dairy products, we send the body a signal -- make more fat, says Michael Zemel, PhD, lead researcher on the study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

When your body is deprived of calcium, it conserves it, prompting you to produce higher levels of calcitriol, a hormone that triggers increased production of fat cells. Extra calcium in your diet suppresses calcitriol, leading to the breakdown of more fat, making fat cells leaner and trimmer. Zemel estimates that a high-dairy diet can boost weight loss by as much as 70%.

In his experiment, Zemel gave overweight people on a low-calorie diet about three daily servings of yogurt, totaling 1,100 milligrams of calcium, while another group received 400-500 milligrams of calcium supplements. The result: The yogurt eaters' waist size dropped more than an inch and a half and their weight dropped an average of 13 pounds compared with the supplement group, which lost six pounds or less and one quarter of an inch from their waist. The weight loss was belly fat, not only an important site for weight loss for health reasons, but a place most dieters welcome shrinkage!

Speaking of shrinkage, an important issue to remember when losing pounds is to make sure weight loss comes from fat and not muscle protein. Most diets cause dieters to lose a combination of fat, muscle, and water. The fact that participants in the Zemel study essentially lost just fat is another reason his results are intriguing.

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