Dairy foods and weight management

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  • Eating milk, yoghurt and cheese is not linked with weight gain

    In developing the Australian Dietary Guidelines, The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) reviewed the body of evidence published between 2003 and 2009 for the relationship between weight and eating milk, yoghurt and cheese. The review found no link between eating milk, yoghurt and cheese and weight gain or risk of obesity in adults.1

    Studies published since the NHMRC’s review continue to show a neutral effect of these dairy foods on weight status. Two recent meta-analyses collated results from numerous randomised controlled trials from the 1960s to 2012. Both found including at least three serves of dairy foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese in an everyday diet was not linked to weight gain compared to individuals eating a habitual diet with lower amounts of dairy foods (ranging from less than two serves to less than one serve per day).2,3

  • Eating dairy foods every day as part of a reduced calorie diet can improve weight loss

    In kilojoule-controlled weight loss studies, the two meta-analyses showed including at least three daily serves of milk, yoghurt and cheese resulted in significantly improved weight loss outcomes including:

    • • Greater weight loss;

    • • Increased muscle mass;

    • • Reduced fat mass; and

    • • Reduced waist circumference.

    These results were identified when compared to diets which excluded adequate daily serves of these dairy foods.

    Australians should feel confident that enjoying dairy foods will not lead to weight gain because scientific evidence shows if foods such as milk, yoghurt and cheese are incorporated into a healthy diet and exercise program (as part of a weight-loss effort) they can lead to better results.

  • Explaining the results

    There are four reasons that may explain the beneficial effects of dairy foods within weight-loss diets (it is likely to be a combination of these overlapping effects):

    • • Dairy calcium may reduce the amount of dietary fat absorbed by the body.4

    • • Insufficient calcium intake promotes regulatory changes that can reduce fat mobilisation and oxidation (i.e. people tend to burn less fat when they have a low calcium intake).5

    • • Some studies suggest dairy foods may help to reduce feelings of hunger and the desire to eat.6

    • • Dairy foods are a source of protein – a macronutrient with a well-known positive role in weight loss.

  • If people are already overweight, should they really increase their dairy intake?

    The 2013 Australian Dietary Guidelines encourage people to choose nutritious foods from the five food groups (including milk, yoghurt and cheese) and to limit discretionary foods (or ‘junk’ foods), which are often high in kilojoules, but low in nutrients.

    Discretionary foods contribute excessively to the energy intake of Australians. In the 2011–2012 Australian Health Survey it was estimated that discretionary foods accounted for 35% of total energy intake.7 Eating less of these foods allows more nutritious foods commonly lacking in the diet to be accommodated within appropriate energy intakes. 

    In short, Australians should be advised to cut down on discretionary choices and ensure that they achieve at least the minimum recommended daily intake of foods from the five food groups.  That way, there is plenty of room for milk, yoghurt and cheese in the diet – and by including three to four daily serves of these dairy foods within a reduced-energy diet, weight and body fat loss will be enhanced.

  • References for this page


    1 National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2013.

    2 Abargouei A, Janghorbani M, Salehi-Marzijarani M, Esmaillzadeh A. Effect of dairy consumption on weight and body composition in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trials. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2012;36(12):1485-93.

    3 Chen M, Pan A, Malik V, Hu F. Effects of dairy intake on body weight and fat: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(4):735-47.

    4 Christensen R, Lorenzen J, Svith C, Bartels E, Melanson E, Saris W et al. Effect of calcium from dairy and dietary supplements on faecal fat excretion: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Obes Rev. 2009;10(4):475-86.

    5 Gonzalez J, Rumbold P, Stevenson E. Effect of calcium intake on fat oxidation in adults: a meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. Obes Rev. 2012;13(10):848-57.

    6 Tremblay A, Gilbert J. Human obesity: is insufficient calcium/dairy intake part of the problem?. J Am Coll Nutr. 2011;30(sup5):449S-53S.