Dairy - Is It Good for Losing Weight?

milk pouring into cereal bowl

Everyone wants to look and feel their best. Many people struggle with their weight and are seeking a "magic bullet" that will help them lose weight quickly. While there are no such foods that guarantee easy weight loss, certain foods can help manage your weight.

One area getting a lot of interest in weight control is dairy and calcium intake, with some research suggesting that three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt each day as part of an energy-restricted diet help people lose weight. Such a diet also may help shed body fat, reduce waist circumference and increase lean mass.1 Many studies have been done on this link between dairy intake and weight:

  • A 2004 study concluded that people who consume three servings of dairy each day while on a reduced-calorie diet lose more weight than individuals consuming the same calorie-level, low-dairy diet.2
  • A review of research published in 2008 looked at more than 90 studies—including randomized clinical trials, metabolic experiments and observational studies—and found a link between high calcium intake and better body composition and weight maintenance across a range of ages.3
  • A review of 16 randomized clinical trials—the ‘gold standard’ of nutrition research—concluded that including dairy products in weight loss diets improves weight, body fat mass, lean mass and waist circumference compared with low-dairy weight loss diets.1
  • Another study found that adequate calcium intake--specifically from milk and dairy foods--decreases the risk of overweight people becoming obese or developing metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.4

These results extend to children and adolescents as well:

  • A 2008 study analyzing National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data found that adolescents who ate more dairy food had less body fat and a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who ate less.5
  • Adolescent girls whose diets more closely resembled the DASH eating pattern—rich in low-fat dairy products, fruits, vegetables and whole grains—had smaller gains in BMI (body mass index) over 10 years. Their dairy and fruit intakes were most closely linked to lower weight gains.6

While not all studies are consistent,7 the majority of the evidence indicates that consuming adequate calcium from dairy may help with weight loss and improve body composition when dieting. The mechanism of this effect is under investigation:

  • Calcium, specifically from dairy products, may help burn fat which could result in less fat being stored.
  • Components (such as protein) in dairy products may lead to earlier satiety.
  • Calcium in the intestine may bind with fat, preventing its absorption.

Many people avoid dairy products when dieting as a way to cut calories, not realizing this is counter-productive. It is important to include dairy products in any diet plan for their benefits to bone health, blood pressure, cancer as well as these possible benefits to weight management. Overall, dairy products contribute only 9 percent of the calories in the U.S. food supply, yet they provide a large proportion of several essential nutrients such as protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, B12 and D.

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics show that 36 percent of U.S. adults—over 60 million people—are obese. Among children and teens aged 2–19 years, 17 percent are overweight, a tripling since 1980.8 Being overweight or obese increases the risk of many chronic diseases and health conditions, raising the stakes for the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. 

For more information on this topic, check out Dairy and Healthy Weight resources compiled by the National Dairy Council. 

1 Abargouei AS et al. Int J Obes (Lond). 2012 Jan 17. doi:10.1038/ijo.2011.269. 
2Zemel et al. Obesity Research. 2004; 12(4): 582-590.
3 Heaney R., Rafferty K. Nutrition Reviews 2009;67(1):32-39. 
4 Pereira et al. J of Am Med Assoc. 2002; 287:2081-2089.
5 Moore LL et al. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2008;27:702-710.
6 Berz JP et al. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011 Jun;165(6):540-6.
7 Louie JC et al. Obes Rev. 2011 Jul;12(7):e582-92. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2011.00881.x.
8 cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.HTML