~ Making Whey for Dairy Foods, the New Diet Aide

Saint Paul Pioneer Press, 09-12-05

Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet eating her curds and whey... which may have helped her keep her shapely figure.

Dairy foods are currently under intense study for their effects on weight management, according to Dr. Michael Zemel, nutrition researcher from the University of Tennessee.

"We know that a dairy-rich diet helps in weight loss in people who are cutting calories roughly doubling the effectiveness of calorie-cutting alone. And that would be by incorporating three servings of milk, cheese or yogurt into the daily diet."

How can this be?

Calcium from dairy and other sources has what Zemel calls an "anti-obesity effect." His studies found people on weight-loss diets lost more weight and fat when they ate a high-calcium diet (1,200 milligrams a day) vs. a low-calcium diet (400 milligrams a day). And the people who got their calcium from dairy foods lost more weight and fat than the people who got their calcium from supplements or other calcium-fortified foods.

"When you don't have enough calcium in your diet," he explains, "your body releases hormones to help your body retain calcium. Unfortunately, one of those hormones (calcitriol) also sends messages to your fat cells that interfere with the biochemical machinery involved with fat breakdown. When you get adequate calcium in your diet, you suppress that hormone, so your fat cells can more normally break down and burn fat."

Why do dairy foods have a greater effect on weight loss than calcium from other sources?

That's what Zemel wanted to know. He began to look at other components in dairy foods. "Just like the nursery rhyme, we separated milk into curds (casein) and whey two distinct proteins in milk. Where's the extra good stuff? It turns out to be in the whey.

"The types of protein in whey help protect muscle during weight loss," says Zemel.

For example, whey protein contains leucine, an amino acid that is readily used by muscle tissue. Studies have found a diet high in leucine helps store protein into muscles.

Along came a spider... pardon me for being skeptical.

"I was skeptical myself," says Zemel, who states his research on dairy and calcium has been corroborated by 50 other research papers outside his lab. "I did not publish this for 12 years, until we were able to understand the mechanism.

"Let's be clear, however. It's not as simple as drinking three glasses of milk a day and lose weight. Calcium and dairy foods do not erase calories. Calories absolutely count."

Zemel also states "a substantial portion of my research is funded by the dairy industry, and I make no bones about it. Quite frankly, I will take money for my research from anybody who will give it to me, as long as there are no strings attached.

"And that is the case with anybody's work with the National Dairy Council. Not all the work in this field was supported by the dairy industry, however. Many people who published corroborating data have done so from databases that are not industry funded."

... and hopefully did not frighten Miss Muffet away.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, Calif. Readers may send her an e-mail at bquinn@chomp. org.

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