Let’s take a food already synonymous with several Western societies, the ones with the highest obesity rates in the world, and convince people that it’s the key to weight loss. Brilliant marketing scheme! Just one minor flaw, they forgot to take into account common sense.
If you confront the people who have gleefully taken on the new “3-A-Day of Dairy – Burn More Fat, Lose Weight” plan, you will find that most haven’t seen an ounce of weight loss, and some have even gained a few pounds. If you read the fine print of the studies, then you may be a successful dieter, but it is unlikely due to the dairy. Before you pounce on this new weight loss fad, consider the following facts:
Don’t Skip the Fine Print: Dairy along with a reduced calorie diet aids in weight loss. Wait a minute, isn’t a reduced calorie diet a weight loss plan of it’s own? Low fat and nonfat milk products are virtually the only dairy foods that will fit well within this diet plan. Don’t count on that tub-o-ice cream for weight loss benefits.
Take These Studies With a Grain of Salt: The studies most referenced by the Dairy Council were both conducted by researcher Michael Zemel, PhD, of the University of Tennessee. Although his motives may be pure, his research was still partially funded by grants from National Dairy Council. Zemel also has special interest in the promotion of his work. He has patented the calcium consumption equals weight-loss / control program, and has licensed the International Dairy Food Association (IDFA) for marketing and promotion.
Was it Really the Milk?: Dr. Zemel’s studies revealed a 1 lb per week weight loss for the high dairy dieters. These same dieters were told to reduce their overall caloric intake by 500 kcal per day. 3500 kcal equals one pound. Getting out our trusty calculator here, we can see that a reduction of caloric intake by 500 kcal per day would equal, believe it or not, 1 lb per week! His results somehow seem a bit less astounding.
Check the Size of the Study: The group that completed Dr. Zemel’s primary study was only about 30 people, including just 5 men. The high dairy group consisted of only 11 people. Not exactly a real world sample group. So why all the hype? It could be from the $200 million that the Dairy Council has spent since 2003 on the advertising and promotion of Zemel’s small studies.
What Do Other Studies Say?: Most studies on dairy and weight have in fact been inconclusive. Several have shown a positive link between dairy consumption and weight gain, and just a few smaller studies such as Zemel’s have shown an inverse link. Some researchers believe that the calcium in dairy may help to promote weight loss, but most agree that the hormones, whey protein, and milk fat are likely contributors to obesity. In fairness, here are three much larger studies on dairy and weight:
Dairy and Weight Gain in Young Women:
Researchers at Purdue University decided to put the dairy calcium versus weight theory to the test. They conducted a 1-year, randomized study and intervention on 155 young women, ranging in age from 18 to 30, who were judged to be healthy and of normal weight. These women had dietary calcium intakes of less than 800 mg per day, and energy intakes of 2200 kcal or less per day. They were randomly assigned to one of three groups: 1. Unchanged: Continue established dietary intake 2. Medium Dairy: Substitute dairy products into the diet, maintaining the same calorie intake, but increasing calcium to roughly 1000 to 1100 mg per day 3. High Dairy: Substitute dairy products into the diet, maintaining the same calorie intake, but increasing calcium to roughly 1300 to 1400 mg per day After one year, no statistically significant change was observed in body weight or fat mass between the groups. However, the high dairy group averaged a 1.5 kg weight gain and a .5kg fat mass gain. The control (low dairy) group faired the best with only a .8 kg weight gain, and they actually lost .5 kg of fat mass.
Dairy Consumption: The Effects on Diabetes, Obesity, and Heart Disease in Women
The British Women’s Heart and Health Study examined 4,286 British women ranging in age from 60 to 79 for links to the Metabolic Syndrome. The Metabolic Syndrome was defined as those women who had Type 2 Diabetes or Pre-Diabetes (insulin resistance or high fasting glucose) and, in addition, at least two of the following: Obesity, Hypertension, and Lipid Disorders (i.e. high triglycerides or low HDL). The results were promising. Those women who avoided milk were about half as likely to have the Metabolic Syndrome when compared to milk drinkers. The non-milk drinkers benefited from lower insulin resistance levels, lower triglyceride levels, lower BMI’s (Body Mass Index) and higher levels of that healthy HDL cholesterol.
Children & Milk Consumption: Are They Growing Up or Out?
A large study led by Catherine S. Berkey of Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, followed the diets and weight of 12,829 United States children. The children were diversified across all 50 states, and ranged in age from 9 to 14 years when the study began in 1996. Data was collected from the children through 1999, and the results were a bit of a surprise. Those children consuming more than 3 servings of milk per day were approximately 35% more likely to become overweight than those children who drank just 1 or 2 glasses of milk per day, even though most of the children were drinking low-fat milk. This association still held after the researchers took into consideration physical activity, other dietary factors, and growth. This study has emerged at a time when obesity among children is at an all time high, the rate has more than tripled since 1980.
- “Avoiding milk is associated with a reduced risk of insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome: findings from the British Women’s Heart and Health Study.” By Lawlor DA, Ebrahim S, Timpson N, Davey Smith G.; Diabetic Medicine, 2005;22:808-11.
- “Dairy products do not lead to alterations in body weight or fat mass in young women in a 1-y intervention” by Carolyn W Gunther, Pamela A Legowski, Roseann M Lyle, George P McCabe, Marianne S Eagan, Munro Peacock and Dorothy Teegarden; American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 81, No. 4, 751-756, April 2005.
- “More Milk Means More Weight Gain.” By Rob Stein; Washington Post, Tuesday, June 7, 2005; Page A03
- “Milk, Dairy Fat, Dietary Calcium, and Weight Gain.” By Catherine S. Berkey, ScD; Helaine R. H. Rockett, MS, RD; Walter C. Willett, MD, DrPH; Graham A. Colditz, MD, DrPH; Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 2005;159:543-550.