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Should I exclude dairy if I am trying to lose weight?

No, a weight loss programme should not exclude milk from the diet. It is a myth that milk is fattening and leads to weight gain. In fact, the opposite is true: a diet rich in milk and low-fat dairy allows a reduction in body fat and promotes weight loss.

Research has shown that the combination of nutrients in dairy, especially calcium and protein, promotes weight loss and can help to maintain a healthy target weight through their effect on energy metabolism.

  • A diet rich in calcium suppresses the influx of calcium into fat cells, which, in turn, stimulates the breakdown of fat and inhibits fat storage.
  • Including dairy in your diet may help you to feel satisfied for longer, which can contribute to controlling energy intake.
  • Taking in protein from milk and dairy products also helps you to lose total and visceral fat but gain lean body mass, which is considered a more favourable body composition.

In addition to the beneficial effect on weight management in a kilojoule-restricted diet, low-fat and fat-free dairy products also provide a valuable source of nutrients to maintain a healthy body and control energy levels. Excluding dairy products during a weight loss programme may lead to a nutrient deficiency that could hinder optimal health.

What is the role of dairy in muscle health?

Dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are good sources of calcium and rich in high-quality protein. Calcium has a role in normal muscle function, while protein contributes to muscle growth and maintenance.

Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids, with the amino acid leucine being one of the most effective at stimulating muscle growth. The dairy protein whey, which is rich in leucine, particularly seems to benefit muscle growth and repair.

Dairy foods are also recognised as versatile and convenient foods that can be enjoyed as part of a meal or a snack. This makes it easy to include protein at regular intervals, which is recommended to sustain the constant supply of protein needed by active muscles throughout the day.

Are dairy products fattening?

For weight loss, it is important to include nutrient-rich foods in the diet while decreasing the total energy intake. The kilojoule (kJ) value of a food is merely an indication of the energy content. Dairy contributes to weight loss owing to its naturally high calcium and protein content. Research has shown that the combination of nutrients in dairy, especially calcium and protein, promotes weight loss and maintenance owing to the impact on the energy metabolism. A diet rich in calcium suppresses the influx of calcium into fat cells, which, in turn, stimulates the breakdown of fat and inhibits fat storage. Including low-fat and fat-free dairy products as part of a kilojoule-restricted diet can give positive results in weight management.

Is milk fattening?

The perception that milk is fattening may be due to the use of the term ‘full-cream’ in relation to milk. However, full-cream milk is standardised to have approximately 3.4% fat, low-fat milk has 1.5% and fat-free (skimmed) milk contains less than 1% fat.

Milk is, in fact, considered to be a nutritious component of a healthy, balanced diet. Research indicates that the mix of nutrients naturally found in dairy products (referred to as the dairy matrix), especially calcium and protein, may have an important role in weight management, although the precise mechanism governing the positive link between dairy and weight management is still uncertain. As dairy products naturally contain calcium, protein and other essential nutrients, consuming three servings of dairy daily may not only contribute to weight management but will also improve the overall nutritional quality of the diet.