Q: Cassandra ~ I’m confused. For years I had heard that drinking milk can help with weight loss. But a friend who has recently lost quite a bit of weight referred me to your website and credited a milk-free diet for her success. Which is true?
A: Alisa ~ Your friend isn’t alone by any means. Upon going dairy-free, my husband dropped ten stubborn pounds in two months with no other changes in diet and lifestyle. My father’s extra inches on his stomach vanished when he cut out his daily 3 glasses of skim milk, and over the years, we have received hundreds upon hundreds of testimonies from people who have achieved unexpected weight loss from dairy-free living.
To date, not one of the people I know who went on a “high dairy” diet in an effort to lose weight (and I did know many!) shed a single pound …
Nonetheless, your confusion is valid. In 2005, massive campaigns were launched to promote milk as a magic pill for weight loss. These included the National Fluid Milk Processor Promotion Board’s “Milk your diet. Lose weight!” and the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board’s “3-a-Day. Burn More Fat, Lose Weight” promotions.
Of course, you can’t make such claims without some “scientific” backing, but no one says that evidence needs to be very credible. Out of 27 randomized, controlled research trials investigating the effects of dairy products on body weight, only three (all conducted by Dr. Michael Zemel , a researcher who was funded by the National Dairy Council and yogurt manufacturers) showed a link between dairy consumption and weight loss. Further, it was found that Dr. Zemel’s studies didn’t report which participants actually lowered their caloric intake … the believed cause of the weight loss.
To further the evidence against the dairy-weight loss campaign, the Phsysicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) reported that “Independent research, including a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has found that dairy product consumption either has little or no effect on weight loss or actually increases body weight.”
Due to insufficient and conflicting evidence, the plug was finally pulled on all advertising and marketing activities involving dairy-weight loss claims in 2007.
So how did a campaign that ran for just 2 years get so engrained in our brains? One reason was the sheer volume of promotion. Over 200 million dollars were spent (yes $200,000,000 – that is a lot of zeros) to convince consumers that high dairy consumption would somehow help them lose weight. It reached billboards, TV, newspapers, magazines, online media, and even our school systems. Some also site the continued use of famous athletes in “Got Milk?” campaigns as one of the reasons that the concept of milk and a healthy weight has been visually perpetuated.
Also, though the campaign was discontinued, no one is going to spend a competing $200 million in advertising to dispel the myth that was created … there is simply no money to be had in that type of promotion. The damage was done.
To read more on this issue, including a few of the independent studies that demonstrate the connection between dairy-free living and achieving health, see our prior article, “3-A-Day Dairy Diet, Another Fad Flop.”
Alisa Fleming is the founder of GoDairyFree.org and author of Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living. In addition to her own dairy-free lifestyle, Alisa has experience in catering to the needs of various special diets, including gluten-free, soy-free, egg-free, vegan, and multiple food allergies.