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'Thin' Foods to Aid Weight Loss

Do you get plenty of calcium, soy, and fiber in your diet? If not, you're not eating the right "thin" foods.
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WebMD Feature

Is calcium part of your weight management plan? What about 35 grams of fiber per day, or more, and lots of foods with high water content? Soy?

If you're not taking advantage of these "thin foods," you may be making the job of weight loss and long-term weight maintenance harder than they need to be.

"What we see in research studies is that food is more than the sum of its parts," says Cindy Moore, RD, director of nutrition therapy at The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Foods that haven't been highly processed can have more than one effect in the body. Low-fat dairy foods are high in calcium and protein, but they also contain a range of other benefits that we are just beginning to understand in many cases."

And why not make that easier, she and other weight management experts say, by using what's easily available to help achieve your goals?

Calcium

A small, but growing body of research has found an association between calcium intake and long-term weight management.

"It's really remarkable what we're seeing in research on calcium," says Moore.

Women with the highest intake of calcium from dairy foods, in relation to their total daily calorie intake, lost the most weight and body fat over two years, regardless of exercise, according to a study in the December 2000 Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Although the recommended calcium level for young women is 1,200-1,500 milligrams (mg) daily, the study found that the average woman's daily intake of calcium was under 800 mg per day.

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"Calcium appears to suppress a highly specific chemical in the vitamin D group," says Moore. "This chemical promotes the laying down of fat. It also slows the metabolism of fat. Calcium blocks this chemical, resulting in less stored fat and greater fat metabolism."

In fact, Moore says, animal studies have shown that sufficient calcium can even raise your body's core temperature. More fat is burned to keep your body warmer. But this finding has yet to be confirmed in humans.

"Ideally, three servings of low-fat dairy products would give you the recommended amount of calcium, which is enough to suppress the fat-producing chemical," says Moore. "It's always better to get your nutrition from foods, but calcium supplements have nearly as great an effect."

In addition, the weight lost comes largely from the midsection. Fat deposits in this are a risk factor for heart disease.

"We don't know for sure exactly how the calcium causes these changes, but it's consistent across the studies," says Greg Miller, PhD, director of nutrition and science affairs for the National Dairy Council. "People who ate more dairy seem to partition energy into lean body mass rather than into fat storage."

Here are the calcium levels recommended for adults by the USDA:

Age 9 to 18: 1,300 mg

Age 19 to 50: 1,000 mg

Age 51 and over: 1,200 mg

That all sounds good, but what if you're picking out a calcium supplement? There's calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, coral calcium. There are dozens to choose from.

"Calcium carbonate or citrate doesn't matter," says Moore. "What's more important is that the supplement also contains vitamin D. That combination is what you need to maximize calcium's effects."

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