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Fitness Investigates: Behind Milk Myths

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Are dairy products good for you -- or not? Can milk, cheese, and yogurt help you lose weight and fight disease? Fitness investigates.

Can Milk Help You Lose Weight?

To brie or not to brie? That's what you might be asking yourself in light of the recent headlines about dairy products: For every potential benefit, like weight loss, there seems to be a possible risk, like ovarian cancer. Experts say this may stem from the fact that dairy products are made from milk, which is surprisingly complicated stuff. "Milk contains calcium, fat, lactose, vitamin D and, in some cases, hormones; some of these components are thought to reduce disease risk and others to increase it," explains Marji McCullough, senior epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.

Ultimately, how much you lighten your latte depends on your medical history. Women with certain health concerns might want to incorporate more dairy in their diet. And those with other health worries might get their daily 1,000 milligrams of calcium (crucial to preventing osteoporosis) from supplements and other non-dairy foods like canned salmon, tofu, and calcium-fortified orange juice. Here's what you may have heard -- and what you need to know.

Headline: Dairy Helps You Lose Weight

In 2004, Michael Zemel, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Tennessee, authored a much-publicized study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found that consuming three servings of low-fat dairy products daily (one yogurt, a glass of skim milk, and one and a half ounces of cheese) helps burn fat and speed weight loss. A 2005 Dutch study reported that people who consumed adequate amounts of calcium were slightly leaner than their calcium-poor counterparts.

Expert Take: According to Zemel, the weight-loss benefit can't be replicated by taking a calcium supplement. He suspects that the slimming effect comes from an interaction between the calcium and other components in dairy products. But don't dive headfirst into a pot of fondue just yet. "You can't include milk, cheese, and yogurt in your diet, eat whatever you want, and not gain weight. You still have to pay attention to calories."

What to Do: If you want to drop pounds, include three servings of low-fat dairy products in your daily diet, but also keep an eye on overall calorie and fat count.

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