Once the post-Christmas pounds are lost how do you keep the weight off? (06 January 2005)

Calcium - a powerful weapon in the battle of the bulge

January and everyone is on a diet. But once you have lost the weight, what should you eat as an ideal maintenance regime?

New research from the University of Tennessee in the USA suggests that calcium and, in particular, the calcium found in low-fat dairy products could be the secret to keeping your weight down long-term.

The research, published in the Journal of Nutrition, was conducted by Michael Zemel and Xiaocun Sun. They found that mice fed a high-calcium maintenance diet for six weeks (after weight loss) regained only half the weight and 45% of the body fat compared to those on a low-calcium diet.

When fed dairy products containing natural calcium the results were even better – with mice fed milk or yogurt-based diets regaining 85% less body fat, than the mice on the low-calcium diet.

The researchers suggest that eating calcium actually slows down fat formation and stimulates fat breakdown. Eating calcium also appeared to increase core body temperature, increasing the metabolic rate.

Weight maintenance after weight loss is notoriously difficult and achieved by very few in the long-term. Most people are able to lose weight by a variety of means, but keeping it off is by far the greater challenge. This new research by Zemel and Sun makes a strong case for including low-fat dairy products as part of a balanced maintenance diet, to stop those post-Xmas pounds piling back on!


Notes to editors

Mice with the agouti obesity gene used in this experiment are a good model for dietary-induced obesity in genetically susceptible human individuals, because the agouti obesity gene is also expressed in human fat cells.

More about the experiment: the researchers induced obesity in the mice, then restricted their food intake for six weeks to induce weight and body fat loss. The mice were then given free access to one of three types of diets. The first diet was low in calcium; the second diet was high in calcium: cereal fortified with calcium carbonate. The third type of diet was also high in calcium: naturally calcium-rich milk or yogurt.

Dairy protein and weight loss: a recent paper reporting on Professor Donald Layman’s work at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, shows that high quality dairy protein, which provides all nine essential amino acids in ideal proportions, is not to be overlooked in the battle of the bulge. Diets built around high quality protein, such as that found in milk, cheese and yogurts, improve blood glucose control and favour lean tissue in the body. High quality protein stimulates muscle protein formation and helps maintain muscle during weight loss – both important to help the body burn calories. High quality protein also stabilises blood glucose and insulin levels, helping to keep hunger pangs at bay. Other high quality protein foods include meat, poultry, fish and eggs.


  1. Sun X & Zemel MB (2004). Calcium and dairy products inhibit weight and fat regain during ad libitum consumption following energy restriction in aP2-agouti transgenic mice. Journal of Nutrition; 134:3054-3060.
  2. Feeney MJ (2004). Dietary protein and branched-chain amino acids: important roles in blood glucose stability. Health Connections; Issue 2, Vol 1.
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