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KNOXVILLE — Adding three daily servings of yogurt to a reduced calorie diet can greatly increase fat loss, a University of Tennessee nutrition professor said Monday.

Dr. Michael Zemel presented findings from a recent study at the Experimental Biology Meeting today in San Diego. Zemel-s research over the past decade has established a clear link between calcium intake and the ability of the body to burn fat. He has documented that increased calcium levels in the diet signal fat cells to stop storing fat and to start burning it.

“When we put people on diets that include three servings of yogurt a day, we-re able to nearly double the amount of fat that-s lost, compared to people on a low-dairy diet,” Zemel said.

Zemel and his colleagues at the University of Tennessee studied 34 healthy obese adults who were divided into two groups and placed on 12-week diet plans that provided 500 fewer calories per day than their usual intake.

One group ate 1,100 milligrams of calcium each day, including three servings of light yogurt. The low calcium control group ate only 500 milligrams of calcium per day.

Participants on the increased calcium diet lost 22 percent more weight and 61 percent more body fat than others who merely reduced their caloric intake.

The study was funded by General Mills, and subjects ate the company-s Yoplait Light yogurt.

“We have one more tool to combat the obesity epidemic,” Zemel said. “People shoot themselves in the foot by jettisoning dairy when they go on diets. What they need to do is maintain or increase the dairy intake for a host of health-related reasons, and here-s one more: it-s going to help you burn fat.”