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Dairy Foods Help Burn Fat, Speed Weight Loss

Dairy Products Beat Calcium for Weight Loss continued...

That translates to a loss of an average of 11% of total body weight for those in the high-dairy group versus 6% in the low-calcium/low-dairy group.

"What that means is that if you're including three to four servings of dairy in your diet, you can make a modest degree of calorie restriction as effective as a severe degree of calorie restriction," Zemel tells WebMD.

In addition, researchers found the high-dairy group lost significantly more body fat than those in the other groups, particularly from the midsection. Excess fat in the abdominal area has been linked to a higher risk of heart attack and other health problems.

Dairy's Role in Weight Loss

Previous studies have shown that calcium can boost weight loss by increasing fat breakdown in fat cells. But experts say this study suggests that taking in calcium from dairy products may actually improve on those effects.

"Dairy for some reason, yet unexplained, has a greater effect on fat loss and specifically trunk fat loss than does calcium alone," says Rachel Novotny, PhD, RD, professor and chair of the department of human nutrition, food, and animal sciences at the University of Hawaii in Manoa.

Although the bulk of dairy's weight-loss enhancing effects is caused by its calcium content, researchers say there are a variety of potential mechanisms that may explain those additional benefits and merit further research.

For example, Novotny says that some of the minerals in dairy products, such as phosphorous and magnesium, may enhance calcium's beneficial effects on fat breakdown within the cells. In addition, the proteins in dairy products may help preserve muscle and increase metabolism.

But Novotny and Zemel are careful to point out that the results shouldn't be interpreted as license to indulge in dairy products in hopes of spurring weight loss. They caution that the bottom line of successful weight loss is still burning more calories than you take in.

"The question is whether within those calories are there choices you can make that will enhance the results," says Novotny. "I think the findings suggest that dairy products and calcium can be helpful in preserving muscle, losing fat from the upper body, and actually enhancing the weight loss process."

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