NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Recent claims that low-fat dairy products or calcium can help people lose weight are untrue, according to a review of the published scientific literature, which shows that neither dairy products in general nor calcium intake promote weight loss.
"Don't believe the hype," Dr. Amy Joy Lanou told Reuters Health. "The ads that promote milk as helping to achieve a healthy weight are misleading; the science does not support these ads."
Lanou, an assistant professor in the department of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina in Asheville and Neal D. Barnard with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, DC, evaluated evidence from 49 clinical trials that assessed whether dairy products or calcium can help people lose weight.
Of the 49 trials, 41 showed no effects of diary or calcium on weight, two showed an increase in body weight with a dairy regimen, one showed a lower rate of weight gain and only five showed weight loss.
However, it's quite likely that an association between calcium or dairy intake and weight loss seen in some "observational" studies may be due to other factors, such as increased exercise, cutting out high-calorie foods with little nutritional value, lifestyle habits, or increasing fiber, fruit, and vegetables in the diet, the researchers say.
"Our findings demonstrate that increasing dairy product intake does not consistently result in weight or fat loss and may actually have the opposite effect," Lanou and Barnard conclude in the latest issue of Nutrition Reviews.
Lanou said she was not at all surprised by the findings because milk is designed for growth. "Milk is a food that is designed for helping small mammals grow into rather large ones in a relatively short period of time," she explained. "It is counterintuitive to think that a food that has lots of calories, fats, and protein would be helpful for weight loss."
She suggests switching to water. "We drink way too many of our daily allotted calories in milk, milkshakes, lattes, sodas and other sweetened beverages. Water is healthy and naturally calorie-free," Lanou said. "Choosing water instead of milk means you can enjoy more nutrient-dense foods such as fruits vegetables, grains, and legumes and stay within your energy needs."
SOURCE: Nutrition Reviews, May 2008.