Fulfilling Your Daily Dairy Needs

Got milk? With all the conflicting information about the link between weight loss and dairy products, many people are left wondering if milk can really help shed those unwanted pounds.

The Saturday Early Show's Dr. Mallika Marshall says if you are confused, you are not alone.

Some recent studies suggest that incorporating dairy into your diet can help you lose weight — in particular, fat around the middle. But keep in mind that some of those studies were sponsored by the Dairy Council. There have been other recent studies that suggest adding additional dairy products to your diet can actually make you gain weight.

Until more research is done to establish whether there are special properties in milk and other dairy products that promote weight loss, Marshall says you should get a few servings of low-fat dairy in your diet — if for nothing else than to keep your bones healthy and strong.

Is it known why people who consume more dairy products tend to be thinner?

"No. Some people believe that there is something unique about milk and other dairy products that help regulate body fat," says Marshall. "Dairy is certainly rich in calcium, which could play a role. Milk also contains a lot of protein. It's also possible that people who eat more dairy may eat healthier diets in general. But obviously more research needs to be done."

Whether you use it as a weight loss tool or not, milk really does a body good — as do other dairy products.

Dairy is still important in helping you maintain good bone health, and it contains other healthy nutrients like protein and vitamins. Marshall says people of all ages need to incorporate several servings of low-fat dairy in their diet for overall good health.

Is it OK to get your calcium through a supplement? "Just like we suggest that you get your vitamins through the foods you eat, we also suggest you get your calcium through your diet," Marshall said. "This is not to say that there is anything wrong with using supplements, but they should not be an excuse for a poor diet. They should only be used to fill in the gaps."

So which foods and beverages are good sources of calcium?

Obvious choices are low-fat milk and low-fat plain yogurt. Also kind of obvious are cheeses. Marshall says the best choices here are parmesan, cheddar, low-fat mozzarella and low-fat cottage cheese. What's not so obvious is fortified orange juice, sardines and broccoli.

On the other hand, ice cream, whole milk, cream cheese, sour cream and high-fat smoothies all contain lots of calcium, but they come with a price. All are high in fat, and in most cases, loaded with sugar.

So while it's certainly OK to occasionally indulge in these foods, Marshall says by no means make them a staple of your diet. There are enough other tasty foods and beverages out there that can fulfill your daily dairy requirements.