When we think of nourishing farm products we usually imagine green veggies and succulent fruits. Well, put those tasty dairy products back in the picture to help you lose weight. Low-fat dairy products are calcium-rich. What’s that have to do with weight? Calcium not only builds strong bones and teeth and prevents osteoporosis but also helps burn fat. And fermented dairy foods like yogurt and kefir have the added advantage of beneficial, healing micro-organisms.
1. Dairy closes the barn door to fat. Calcium reduces your body’s ability to store belly fat, a prime indicator of metabolic abnormalities that lead to diseases such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Calcium helps burn fat so that less is produced by the liver. A study published in Obesity Research found that eating calcium-rich dairy foods, such as low-fat milk, yogurt and kefir, helped obese adults lose a significant amount of weight, especially around the all-important middle. The dairy sources with the highest levels of calcium are buffalo-milk curd cheese (known in India as paneer — 480 mg per cup) and plain low-fat yogurt (415 mg per cup).
2. Dairy calcium aids hormones. Exercise isn’t the only way to burn fat. Eating a calcium-rich diet reduces blood levels of parathyroid hormones, which maintain normal levels of calcium in the body. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, higher levels of calcium consumption led to corresponding lower levels of parathyroid hormones in the bloodstream and more fat burning after eating. These hormones also instruct bone cells to release calcium into the bloodstream when calcium levels drop too low. When you eat dairy every day, you support the hormones that keep your body balanced.
3. Kids need lots of low-fat dairy. Kids between the ages of 9 and 18 people require 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day for optimal bone growth. What type of calcium is best? A Purdue University study study showed that calcium from natural dairy products is absorbed better than supplemental calcium carbonate. Furthermore, researchers at the University of Tennessee who compared the relative height, weight and dietary intake of 50 children from 2 months to 8 years old found that a calcium-rich diet resulted in a significant reduction in the percentage of body fat. However, adding low-fat dairy won’t do the trick by itself. If your child shows signs of being overweight, add daily exercise and avoid foods that pack on the pounds, such as fried foods, fast food and soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. Most important, be sure he or she gets 3-4 cups of milk, cheese, yogurt or other dairy every day.
4. Yay for yogurt! Yogurt and kefir are fermented foods made from milk with the addition of lactobacillus, beneficial bacteria that transform milk sugar (lactose) into lactic acid and give yogurt its tart flavor. The live cultures of beneficial bacteria in yogurt also support and strengthen your immune system and increase longevity.
In a 3-month study published in the International Journal of Obesity, obese adults who ate 3 daily portions of yogurt enjoyed 61% more total fat loss and 81% more abdominal fat loss than those who ate little or no dairy products or calcium, plus, the weight loss did not cut into losing muscle mass.
Watch out, though, because big food companies have turned naturally good yogurt into a form of creamy candy by adding extra sugar and artificial flavors. That kind of yogurt won’t nourish you or your kids at all. As a matter of fact, it’ll pack on the pounds with calories and mask the fat-burning benefits of the real thing.
Get plain yogurt and add some chopped fresh fruit at home. It tastes fantastic! Be on the lookout, too, for creme fraiche, a luxurious French-style cultured cream that is milder than sour cream and a great addition to many dishes. It is available in Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and other markets.
5. Organic is always better, especially with dairy. The dairy industry has changed a great deal over the last 100 years — and not necessarily for the better. Genetically modified foods created by corporate giant Monsanto have found their way into the food supply as a way to increase yields. One such genetically engineered food is milk that has been treated with the growth hormone rGBH. Although the FDA insists that rGBH is safe, Europe has actually banned American milk because of the strong link between this growth hormone and cancer. So buy organic milk to avoid chemical pesticides and make sure your dairy product is clearly labeled “No rGBH.”
If it’s possible where you live, buy fresh organic milk from grass-fed cows or goats sustainably raised on small family farms. Pastured dairy contains much greater levels of beneficial omega-3 fats and cancer-fighting conjugated linoleic acids and is more digestible. Look for dairy that has not been ultrapasteurized or homogenized, destroying beneficial enzymes and bleaching the milk to increase its shelf life. Unhomogenized milk is known as “cream top,” because the cream naturally floats to the top and can be skimmed off or eaten as a treat.
If you can find a reliable source for raw milk and dairy products, all the better, because none of the beneficial enzymes have been destroyed. Historically, the laws around selling raw milk are very stringent in most states, and you will be required to buy direct from a farm and possibly be asked to buy “shares” in a cow, thereby allowing you to drink milk products from “your” cow. Many people find that raw milk is more digestible because of its intact beneficial enzymes, and there are many reports of health conditions clearing up from drinking raw milk. For more information on the pros and cons of raw milk and places to buy it in the US, log onto the Weston Price Foundation website at http://www.realmilk.com.