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The Science continued...

But calcium from dairy products produced the best weight-loss results. Mice on a medium-dairy diet had a 60% decrease in body fat, while those on a high-dairy diet lost 69% body fat.

The human evidence: A study of 32 obese people on a low-calorie diet divided them into three groups: those whose diet was high in dairy, those who ate little dairy but took calcium supplements, and those whose diets were low-calcium and low-dairy. After 24 weeks, everyone lost a lot of fat, but those who ate the dairy-rich diet lost five pounds more.

The dairy eaters' waists also shrank by more than an inch and a half -- the others lost only about one-quarter inch. Turns out, the yogurt group lost mostly belly fat, Zemel reports. Excess fat in the abdominal area has been linked to a higher risk of heart attack and other health problems.

Heaney has found "the calcium effect" in five of his own studies, investigating close to 1,000 women over a 20-year period. "Those with highest dairy intake had an average weight gain of zero. Those with the lowest dairy intake had an average weight gain of a pound per year," he tells WebMD.

How It Works

Calcium provides small increases in thermogenesis, the body's core temperature, Zemel explains. This may boost metabolism, which can prompt our bodies to burn fat.

If weight loss is your goal, eat three servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products every day, he advises.

But cardiologists (heart specialists) may not like this advice: Whole-fat milk works even better in a weight-loss plan, says Heaney. "In fact, whole-fat milk has a satiety value so you naturally won't eat so much. A high-carbohydrate diet leaves you feeling hungry all the time."

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