How Dairy Helps Your Diet

healthy yogurt for weight loss
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If you shy away from the dairy aisle when you're trying to lose weight, it's time to give low-fat and nonfat another try. Because dairy may give your diet a boost!  Research evidence suggests that calcium may help with weight loss

Calcium and Weight Loss Research 

A 2003 study showed subjects who consumed three servings of yogurt daily as part of a reduced-calorie diet lost about 20 percent more weight than those who cut calories alone.

 The yogurt-eaters consumed 1,100 mg of calcium daily. The non-yogurt eaters consumed about 500 mg of calcium a day (the average amount in the typical American's diet).

All of the study subjects followed an individualized diet plan that provided 500 fewer calories than they normally consumed. The yogurt-eaters lost 22 percent more weight; 61 percent more body fat; and 81 percent more stomach fat than the non-yogurt-eaters.

Additional research has shown more weight loss benefits as well.  A clinical study conducted in 2005 and another research study conducted in 2009 showed similar benefits for dieters. But experts are quick to point out that eating dairy alone doesn't necessarily cause weight loss. You still need to cut calories to slim down.

Dairy Provides a Double Benefit

In the 2003 study, yogurt eaters experienced an another benefit in addition to weight loss. Study author Dr. Michael Zemel said that "the yogurt-eaters were about twice as effective at maintaining lean muscle mass." He went on to explain why muscle mass matters.

 "This is a critical issue when dieting -- you want to lose fat, not muscle. Muscle helps burn calories, but it is often compromised during weight loss."

It's not just yogurt that can help you maintain muscle mass. Most dairy products are good sources of protein. A cup of milk, for example, provides 8 grams of protein.

And one container of nonfat Greek yogurt provides a whopping 17 grams of muscle-boosting protein.

Dairy Helps You Whittle Your Waist

If you want a smaller waistline, dairy may help you do it.  Study participants in Zemel's research project achieved smaller midsections with dairy. They lost 8 percent more stomach fat than their counterparts.

Abdominal fat is more dangerous than fat concentrated in other areas of the body.  Obese individuals who carry most of their weight at the stomach are at a greater risk of developing serious health conditions.

According to Dr. Zemel, the 1,100 mg of calcium helped the yogurt eaters trim an average of one inch from their waistlines. They also experienced a six-fold greater decrease in waist circumference. It appears that getting enough calcium may trigger the body to burn fat more efficiently and could even reduce the amount of new fat produced.

How Much Dairy Should I Eat?

Dr. Zemel recommends eating three servings of low or nonfat dairy each day. "The moral of the calcium story is to not dump dairy when you're dieting," Dr. Zemel said.

"A diet rich in low-fat dairy foods, like yogurt, can help make your weight loss efforts easier."

Dr. Michael Zemel co-authored a book called . It provides details on using calcium as an aid to weight loss, a calorie-reduction diet, and advice on using calcium supplements.

Edited by Malia Frey, About.com Weight Loss Expert

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