December 26, 2008

You Ask, I Answer: Calcium & Weight Loss

What are your thoughts on the belief that high calcium intakes help with weight loss?

-- Flor (last name withheld)
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Since the public loves the idea of magic bullets and fat-burning foods, the notion that a little extra calcium in the diet results in more effective weight loss really struck a nerve.

A few years ago, the dairy industry began advertising the claim that three glasses of skim or low-fat milk a day were more than just a good source of calcium -- they also helped with weight management.

Truth is -- there is no concrete science to support those statements.

The vast majority of clinical trials looking at calcium and weight loss fail to demonstrate a link between high intakes of the mineral and higher rates of weight loss.

Notice that even the "calcium helps you lose weight" campaign ultimately came down to calories. After all, consumers were encouraged to drink low-fat or skim milk, not whole.

If calcium in and of itself were a miraculous fat burner, it technically wouldn't matter if the product containing it were fat-free or not.

I encourage everyone to always be suspicious of specific foods or nutrients marketed as "fat burning," and instead keep in mind that weight management is more about general dietary patterns.

Drinking six cups of green tea a day isn't going to do much in terms of weight loss if your total caloric intake is 1,000 calories higher than it should be.

Similarly, chugging down a glass of skim milk along with a 450 calorie muffin isn't going to produce any amazing results.


philip said...

Sensible article and I agree with your sentiments.
I don't know about the link between calcium and fat burning/ weight loss. That idea is new to me.
I do concur with the sound advice given of losing weight by means of a balanced diet.
It's the best way to reduce weight in my opinion.

Kristin said...

Maybe it's not so much that milk "burns fat", but maybe the protein and volume of the milk fills people up more so when some people drink milk they eat fewer high calorie foods than they normally would?

Karen Kafer, RD said...

My name is Karen Kafer and I'm a registered dietitian who works for the National Dairy Council (NDC).

Andy, I very much enjoy reading your blog and appreciate you sharing the research from the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine. I thought you'd be interested in the following research that further discusses dairy's role in maintaining a healthy weight. Listed below are four studies funded by the National Dairy Council that specifically address the topic. Of course, the National Dairy Council is careful to provide research grants only to well-established, reputable researchers, whose work reflects the highest level of scientific integrity. I hope you and your readers find these useful.

In particular, this 2008 study from Nutrition Reviews –
located here:
looked at data from more than 90 studies including randomized clinical trials, metabolic experiments and observational studies that assessed the relationship between calcium and/or dairy intake and the proportion of fat and lean mass in the body. The researchers found that the majority of research suggests that high calcium intake, from sources including dairy foods, may affect body composition by some combination of reducing body fat mass while preserving lean body mass, reducing weight gain and increasing weight loss on calorie-restricted diets.

A 2008 study from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association - located here: - found that children and adolescents who drink flavored milk or plain milk have higher nutrient intakes of vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium, and have a body mass index (BMI) lower than or comparable to the BMIs of non-milk drinkers. This research found that consuming either flavored or plain milk does not adversely affect BMI measures in children or adolescents.

Another 2008 study published in the Journal Nutrition & Metabolism - located here: - found that consuming the recommended three servings of dairy foods a day helps maintain weight, following weight loss by overweight and obese adults. The results of this study showed that while weight maintenance was similar for the low and recommended dairy groups, eating three servings of dairy foods a day allowed participants to eat more calories. In fact, the group of study participants who consumed three servings of dairy foods a day exhibited evidence of greater fat oxidation (fat burning) and were able to consume more calories without greater weight gain compared to the low dairy group.

And even more recently, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition - located here: - found that adolescents (ages 12-16 years) who consumed closer to or at the recommended number of dairy servings each day had a lower body mass index (BMI) and less body fat that those with lower daily dairy consumption. In fact, the researchers noted that children and adolescents who consumed more dairy generally had a better overall diet quality and a healthier lifestyle, and those who consumed less dairy had consistently higher levels of body fat.

Again, I hope you find these resources useful. If you are interested in learning more about dairy’s role in maintaining a healthy weight, feel free to visit

Karen Kafer, RD
National Dairy Council