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KNOXVILLE — Adding three to four servings of dairy foods to a reduced calorie diet can significantly increase weight loss, a University of Tennessee nutrition professor said Friday.

Writing in the current issue of Obesity Research, the official journal of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, Dr. Michael Zemel details a 24-week study in which adults on a reduced-calorie diet ate three to four servings of dairy foods each day. This group lost an average of 24 pounds, significantly more than other participants in the study, who also cut calories but consumed few or no dairy foods.

The research was funded by the National Dairy Council.

“The practical significance of this research is simple– people lose more weight on diets that include three servings of dairy than on diets that don’t,” said lead researcher Michael Zemel, Ph.D., director of the UT Nutrition Institute.

“By reducing body fat in the abdominal region, people may also reduce their risk of developing several chronic diseases, including heart disease and hypertension,” Zemel said.

Obese adults were placed in one of three groups: one low in calcium and dairy, one high in calcium supplements but low in dairy, and one high in dairy- at least three to four servings of milk, cheese or yogurt every day. Each person, regardless of their calcium/dairy group, consumed a diet that was 500 calories lower than their normal caloric intake. Participants were able to choose from fat-free, low-fat and regular dairy products.

After 24 weeks, those on the high-dairy diet lost the greatest percentage of total body weight (11 percent), significantly more than those in the high-calcium supplemented group (9 percent) and the low-calcium/low-dairy group (6 percent).

Fat loss followed a similar trend, with people on the high-dairy diet losing significantly more body fat than those in the other two groups, specifically in the abdominal region.

“It’s clear from our research that the unique combination of essential nutrients in dairy foods has a powerful, positive impact on metabolism and weight loss,” said Zemel.

Zemel has been studying the dairy-weight loss connection for 14 years. He is the author of “The Calcium Key,” published in January by Wiley Press.