One key to losing weight is to upgrade the quality of your diet rather than focusing exclusively on calorie intake. For one, the nutritional value of foods is important for overall health. Plus, certain foods tend to be more satiating than others, meaning you may consume fewer calories when you eat these foods. For example, an apple tends to be more satiating than a cookie – and one that is definitely more nutritionally dense!
As you probably know, two key dietary components are linked with a reduction in appetite and total food consumption – protein and fiber. Fiber is a dietary component you find only in plant-based foods while protein is in both plant-based and animal foods. While dairy foods contain no fiber, they are a notable source of protein. In fact, some experts believe that dairy foods help with weight loss, possibly through their satiety benefits. Is there any evidence to support this idea?
What’s in Dairy Foods?
You’re probably already familiar with the wide array of dairy foods out there. They include popular options like cheese, yogurt, and of course, milk and kefir. Dairy foods, including milk, are nutrient dense and contain a mixture of protein, fats, sugars, vitamins, and minerals, including calcium. The main proteins in milk are casein and whey protein. Plus, yogurt, being a fermented dairy product, contains active bacterial cultures, assuming you choose one that actually has active cultures.
More recently, kefir, a fermented dairy drink, has grown in popularity, thanks to the knowledge that probiotic bacteria in this beverage plays a role in gut health and may be beneficial for immune health as well. Lesser known is the fact that milk contains tryptophan, a brain chemical that’s a precursor to serotonin. Serotonin impacts mood, and sleep, both of which can affect appetite.
How Might Dairy Foods Help with Appetite Control?
You might think you feel fuller after eating a piece of cheese or drinking a cup of milk – but why? For one, a cup of milk contains around 8 g of protein. That’s important since protein is the most satiating macronutrient and one that helps us curb the urge to snack. Other dairy foods, including cheese and yogurt, are also relatively rich in this essential macronutrient. Plus, dairy foods contain whey protein, a rapidly absorbed form of protein that several studies have linked with greater satiety and with appetite suppression.
In addition, dairy products contain GMP, an amino acid peptide formed during the making of cheese. Small amounts of GMP remain in the finished dairy product and are absorbed. Studies show that GMP boosts the release of CCK, an appetite-suppressing hormone made by the small intestine. Taken together, these proteins and peptides may have appetite suppressive effects.
What about Calcium?
Calcium is a mineral you hear a lot about these days and most people don’t get enough. One reason that people add dairy products to their diet is to ensure that they DO get enough calcium. Although you can get calcium from other sources, including vegetables, you don’t absorb non-dairy calcium as well as calcium from dairy sources. Dairy foods are a big contributor to calcium in the American diet. In fact, one cup of milk contains almost 300 mg of calcium, an amount that supplies a quarter to a third of the recommended calcium intake for most people. So, dairy is a significant source of calcium for people who eat these foods. Some studies have looked at whether calcium from dairy foods is beneficial for weight loss. Unfortunately, the results of the research are inconsistent. Some studies show appetite suppressive benefits of calcium-rich foods while others do not.
Whether calcium helps with weight loss may have to do with how much calcium you already get in your diet. It appears that people who are calcium deficient and eat a calcium-rich diet DO have some weight-loss advantage. However, those who already consume the recommended amount get no additional weight loss benefits from consuming more. However, the mechanism by which calcium helps with weight control isn’t necessarily by reducing appetite.
How DOES calcium potentially help with weight control? One study found that calcium may support weight loss by a different mechanism, by binding to fat in the intestinal tract, thereby reducing its absorption. One study found that fat excretion increased by 2.5 times in those consuming the most calcium. Another study found that a diet high in calcium boosts fat oxidation. Both of these mechanisms may boost fat loss. However, even in studies that show a weight-loss benefit, the effect is modest. You’re unlikely to lose a significant amount of weight just by increasing the number of dairy foods in your diet. It’s never quite that easy, is it?
So, dairy foods may reign in appetite because they contain protein, particularly whey protein, as well as peptides like GMP that activate appetite suppressing hormones. In addition, dairy foods potentially help people who are already deficient in calcium lose weight. But, some dairy products, like yogurt and kefir, also contain probiotics, beneficial gut bacteria. Studies suggest that probiotics impact nutrient absorption and that, in turn, may influence how many calories we harvest from food. We can’t ignore the potential role that gut bacteria play in weight control. So, fermented dairy foods may have an effect on weight control independent of their calcium and protein content. More research is needed to confirm this.
The Bottom Line
Consuming dairy products may be helpful if you’re trying to lose weight, but the benefits will likely be modest. The mechanism by which calcium helps with weight control may not be exclusively through suppression of appetite. Yet, we would expect foods high in protein, particularly whey protein, to reign in appetite to some degree. If you enjoy dairy foods, eat them in moderation, but don’t count on them to substantially help with weight loss. The best approach is to focus on eating a well-rounded diet of whole foods, including lots of fruits and vegetables.
HealthLine.com “The Yogurt Diet: Weight Loss Fact or Fiction?”
Nutr Metab (Lond). 2016; 13: 14.
Related Articles by Cathe: