Ask Dr. Dairy: Can dairy foods help manage weight?

In this series, Dr. Greg Miller, Ph.D., FACN, answers questions received from the health and wellness community.

Question: Can dairy foods help you manage your weight?

Answer: A healthy eating pattern, which includes low-fat or fat-free dairy foods, provides a foundation for managing your weight. Research indicates eating dairy foods, like milk, cheese and yogurt, is not linked to weight gain when consumed within calorie limits. As part of a higher protein eating pattern, dairy foods can help with your weight management goals, especially when consumed within a calorie restricted diet paired with physical activity.

Dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt contain high-quality protein. Research shows that eating a higher-protein diet can help you manage your weight and feel full. In addition, a higher-protein eating pattern can help maintain lean body mass while you’re losing weight. Since more muscle can help burn more calories, preserving lean mass may help people maintain a healthy weight. A diet higher in protein along with resistance exercise can optimize your body’s ability to build muscle from carbohydrates or fat. Researchers continue to study the complex effect of protein on satiety, food consumption and body weight. Dietary intervention studies have demonstrated that higher-protein diets can help enhance satiety, reduce hunger, and fit into a weight loss plan.

To help with appetite control, satiety and weight management, more protein is needed than the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) (0.8 grams/kg body weight), but the amount is still within the recommended range. Research supports a higher protein meal plan for weight management that provides ~1.2 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This translates into approximately 68-90 grams of protein per day for a woman weighing 125 pounds and 95-127 grams of protein per day for a male weighing 175 pounds.

Managing weight can be challenging because it often involves making several lifestyle changes, from eating smaller portions and making better food choices to fitting in more physical activity. People may be tempted to cut calories by reducing nutrient-dense foods from meals when they’re trying to lose weight. However, instead, people can focus on reducing nutrient-poor foods that are sources of excess calories.

For those who want to reduce fat and/or calories in their meal plans and still include dairy, there are many options to choose from, including low-fat and fat-free milk and yogurt, as well as part-skim and reduced-fat cheeses, which contain at least 25 percent less fat than regular cheese.