Why are two out of three Americans overweight? Certainly we’re eating more and exercising less. But there is another cause a lack of the mineral calcium in our diets.
If you are among the Americans getting the lowest average level of calcium 255 milligrams (mg) per day you are 84% more likely to be overweight than if you are among those getting the highest average level 1,346 mg per day according to an analysis of data from the government’s Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Simply by getting adequate calcium in our diets, as many as four out of five of us could lose the extra weight.
Calcium and your fat cells
Calcium does far more than just keep your skeleton strong. Without enough calcium circulating in your bloodstream, your heart wouldn’t beat, your blood wouldn’t clot, your hormones wouldn’t regulate your metabolism and your nerves wouldn’t transmit signals.
If calcium levels fall if you eat a low-calcium diet, for example the body releases more of the hormone calcitriol. Calcitriol increases absorption of calcium in the intestines, so you get the most calcium possible from food.
In addition, it increases reabsorption through the kidneys, so that you lose as little calcium as possible through excretion.
Calcitriol also controls how fat cells work. When you get too little calcium and more calcitriol is released, your fat cells make and store more fat, causing weight gain.
In a study we conducted at the University of Tennessee, overweight people were put on one of three eating plans for six months.
- Group 1 ate a diet that was 500 calories below maintenance level the level at which you neither gain nor lose weight and had no more than one serving of dairy a day for a total of 400 to 500 mg of dietary calcium.
- Group 2 ate the same calorie-restricted diet but took an 800-mg calcium supplement for a total of 1,200 to 1,300 mg of calcium.
- Group 3 also ate the calorie-restricted diet but included three servings of low-fat dairy a day, bringing their total calcium intake to 1,200 to 1,300 mg.
Results: Group 1 lost 6% of total weight, Group 2 lost 7.5% and Group 3 the low-fat dairy group lost 11%. Group 3 also lost more body fat than the other groups, particularly around the waist area. This is an important finding because a slimmer waist is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer.
This means that adding three servings of low-fat dairy to your diet can…
- Increase the amount of weight you lose by 70%.
- Increase the amount of body fat you lose by 64%.
- Help you lose 47% more fat from your belly.
Other studies have replicated these findings as well. In a 10-year study of 3,000 people ages 18 to 30, researchers at Harvard University found that people who ate three servings of dairy a day had a 60% lower risk of being overweight than those who consumed less calcium.
Food vs. Supplements
Studies show that calcium from dairy foods is more effective for weight loss than supplements. Why? Food is a complex mixture of known and unknown components. There is a co-operation among the components that can’t be reproduced in a nutritional supplement.
Dairy contains calcium and a host of other biologically active components, including the amino acid leucine. Recent investigation conceals that leucine might boost the capability of muscle to use fat.
What to do
To lose an average of one pound per week, you need to cut calorie intake and increase calorie burning by about 500 calories per day, or 3,500 calories per week. To boost the loss to 1.5 to two pounds, you need three or four servings of dairy a day, for a total of 1,200 to 1,600 mg of calcium. The easiest way to get that is with three servings of non-fat (skim) or low-fat milk (8 ounces per serving), yogurt (8 ounces) or cheese (1.5 or 2 ounces, processed).
Strategy: Have milk just before a meal. Research show that receiving a liquefied form of dairy before consumption helps you feel full sooner at that meal and consume less at the next meal.
If you’re lactose intolerant, try yogurt with live cultures or cheese (it has very little lactose) or take a lactose supplement when consuming dairy.
To cut 3,500 calories a week: One brisk, hour-long walk burns about 250 calories. If you do that four times a week, you still need to cut 2,500 calories per week, or about 350 calories a day. Look for one or two high-calorie items to eliminate from your daily diet.