Not All Foods That Count as Dairy Come From a Cow

Grilled steak with fresh vegetables and herbs

Diary foods include a wide variety of types of foods from whole milk through to low fat yogurts. Milk and dairy products are most often from cows, however there are options to consider including goats milk, soy milk products and almond milk products that are not true dairy. Dairy products contain milk sugar, known as lactose, as well as vitamins and trace minerals and larger amounts of calcium.

Unlike other food groups, humans can live without consuming dairy products since the nutritional elements in dairy is available through other food sources. For many years, diets, particularly restrictive types of diets, recommended the complete removal of diary products. New research tends to indicate that choosing low fat types of cheeses, yogurts and milk may actually help increase weight loss. Surprisingly the addition of these foods, which are in portion controlled in the tests, did not increase the subject’s actual caloric intake as the people actually cut back on other portion sizes when consuming dairy. 1

The same study showed that people adding low fat dairy to their weight loss program actually lost more body fat than those that had no dairy intake on the same caloric diet. The weight loss was most pronounced around the midsection, with this fat deposit being linked to heart attack and cardiovascular disease. This development of the “apple” shaped body during weight gain can have increasing risk for women in the development of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some types of cancers.2 Researchers hypothesized that the combination of minerals, particularly magnesium and phosphorous, may actually make the calcium in diary more effective in breaking down cellular fat.  This was also confirmed by comparing the weight loss with calcium supplements and diary products, with the dairy product subjects losing more weight than those taking supplements. 3

There is some evident of mixed results with regards to adding dairy products to a diet for weight loss. Several studies including one by the University of British Columbia in Canada found that there was no significant difference in a majority of studies between the control groups and those that supplemented their diets with diary products or calcium supplements.4  Yet other critics point out that many of the research studies were funded, at least in part, by the Dairy Council, which was disclosed in each of the applicable research studies. The researchers in these studies did report that effective weight loss over time required a decrease in calories consumed and an increase in calories burned, which could not happen just by adding a particular food group to a diet.

Dairy Servings

Dairy servings, according to the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans need to be the smallest portion of foods consumed at a meal. Generally most adults can consume up to three servings per day with one serving equally 8 ounces of milk, ½ cup of yogurt or one ounce of cheese. Once ounce of cheese is approximately a one inch cube, which is typically much smaller than the average person estimates as being one ounce. This lack of ability to appropriate estimate a serving size can lead to problems in consuming larger than estimated amounts of dairy. This can increase both saturated fat intake as well as the intake of calories, especially if the cheese is made from whole milk. Selecting low fat or reduced fat options helps to cut the calories that are inherent in all dairy products.

Cheeses, particularly hard cheese, can also be very high in sodium content. Salt adds flavor to the cheese and gives that unique tang, but it also can be detrimental to weight loss, hypertension and problems with blood pressure regulation. Carefully checking sodium values and staying accurate with portion sizes will be important if these are health concerns.

Good sources of dairy products other than milk can include yogurt, which is both rich in calcium as well as low in caloric value. Choosing low fat or non-fat yogurts is the best option for quick weight loss as yogurt can substitute for desserts, for creams in foods as well as in a topping for fruits or vegetables. Low fat vanilla yogurt is great on fruits and unflavored regular or Greek yogurt is a good option for combination with spices and herbs as a dip for vegetables or as a condiment.

Since dairy is often combined with other food sources as mentioned above, tracking the amount of dairy consumed per day is difficult if calories or foods are not monitored. To avoid over consuming dairy portions and servings a food journal that keeps track of the food types and amounts consumed can be helpful.

Alternative Calcium Sources

 While milk and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are excellent sources of many vitamins, minerals and calcium, there are other foods that provide the same sources. Individuals that are lactose intolerant may choose to consume non-dairy sources of the nutrients mentioned above. Surprisingly some of the alternate sources of calcium offer additional benefits such as reduced fat, increased protein, increased fiber, and higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals.

Good sources of non-dairy calcium include:

  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Collard and Mustard greens
  • Tofu
  • Soy milk
  • Beans
  • Bok Choy
  • Okra
  • Whole Grains
  • Nuts

Adding these food items to the diet provides several addition benefits to quick weight loss including additional fiber and protein sources that are very low in fat and calories. These foods are also low to moderate on the glycemic index, helping to keep blood glucose levels stabilized and regulated.


1 Zemel, M. B., Richards, J., et al. (2005). Effects of Calcium and Dairy on Body Composition and Weight Loss in African-American Adults. Obesity Research , 1218-1225.

2 Abdominal Fat And What To Do About It. (2006, December). Retrieved from Harvard Health Publicatior: www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it.htm

3 Zemel, M. B., Thompson, W., et al. (2004). Calcium and Dairy Acceleration of Weight and Fat Loss during Energy Restriction in Obese Adults. Obesity Research , 582-590.

4 Barr, S. I. (2003). Increased Dairy Product or Calcium Intake: Is Body Weight or Composition Affected in Humans? The Journal of Nutrition, 245S-248S. n>�j  �> p/> =NoSpacing>

3 Newby, P., Maras, J., et al. (2007). Intake of whole grains, refined grains, and cereal fiber measured with 7-d diet records and associations with risk factors for chronic disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 1745-1753.

4 Cleveland, L. E., Moshfegh, A. J., et al (2000). Dietary Intake of Whole Grains. Journal of The American College Of Nutrition , 3315-3385.


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