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Calcium-Rich Foods for Weight Control?

With so many people gaining weight and trying to lose it, often unsuccessfully most of us welcome pointers based on solid research. These, unfortunately, are few and far between. So it's good news that a group of common healthful foods with large amounts of one essential mineral may help people lose weight or keep them from gaining it. The foods are milk, yogurt, and other dairy products, and the mineral is calcium. This research is only preliminary, but the news is promising.

For years evidence has been mounting that eating calcium-rich foods helps control or reduce weight, as shown by animal and human studies. For example, researchers at Purdue University studying young normal-weight women found that, over a two-year period, those with a high calcium intake from dairy products gained less weight and body fat than those consuming less calcium. Reviewing five clinical studies, the calcium expert Dr. Robert Heaney and his colleagues at Creighton University in Omaha concluded that having a low calcium intake over the long term more than doubles the risk of a young woman being overweight. In another review, Dr. Michael Zemel, professor of nutrition at the University of Tennessee, found that dietary calcium especially from dairy products plays an important role in how energy is regulated in the body and thus may influence weight control.

Calcium has several benefits notably it keeps bones strong and helps control blood pressure. Low-fat and nonfat dairy products are an essential part of the DASH diet, designed to lower blood pressure. As for weight control, there are some complicated biochemical theories about how calcium may affect body weight. It may aid in the breakdown of body fat, for instance, or cause fat cells to make less fat.

Recently, a review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that research has so far been encouraging, and that it is time for a large, well-designed study on whether calcium really can help with weight loss. Also, must the calcium come from dairy products? According to Dr. Zemel, calcium from supplements or from other calcium-rich foods, such as dark greens, would also have an effect. But calcium from dairy products seems to work best. Other substances in milk (such as magnesium and boron) may play a synergistic role with the calcium.

Remember this: The key to weight loss and weight control is, as always, consuming fewer calories than you burn. Calcium by itself will not make you lose weight. But if you are trying to lose weight, don't drop dairy foods from your daily fare. Just choose low-fat or nonfat products. You may lose weight faster if you keep your calcium intake high.

If you are under 50, you should be getting 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily from food and/or supplements; if you are a woman over 50 or a man over 65, aim for 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams. This will help your bones and may help your blood pressure. If it also helps with weight control, so much the better.


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