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Do You Need to Give Up Dairy Foods to Lose Weight?

Do You Need to Give Up Dairy Foods to Lose Weight?
Dr. Constance Odom, MD Picture of Dr. Constance Odom, MD

Medically reviewed by

Written by our editorial team.

Last Edited 4 min read

There has been much debate about whether or not dairy is healthy and if you really need to give it up in order to lose weight. The average American consumes around 36 pounds of cheese every year along with 24 pounds of frozen dairy products like ice cream or frozen yogurt. Although dairy is a popular food in the United States it's definitely not the healthiest, especially when you are considering the dairy products that have added sugar like ice cream and yogurt. There are plenty of weight loss benefits if you avoid these dairy products, but there are a few dairy foods that can actually help you lose weight.

Giving up dairy won't necessarily help you lose weight

It's not that all types of dairy is bad for you, but there are obviously some dairy foods that aren't going to help you lose weight because of their processing or ingredients that make them unhealthy. For example, ice cream is one of the worst foods that you can eat because of the high fat content with 14.26 grams of fat per cup and 32.4 grams of carbohydrates. The carbohydrates in ice cream come from simple sugars which spike your insulin levels and can easily lead to insulin resistance when you consume ice cream or other high sugar dairy foods on a regular basis. Ice cream and frozen yogurt are almost equal in this effect, as frozen yogurt has an even higher number of carbohydrates per cup at 34.8, and that's not considering the many other sugar rich ingredients that are often added to it like candy, fruit, syrup or other ingredients.

The important thing to remember if you're trying to lose weight is that any simple carbohydrate consumption or starch consumption is going to make it more difficult to lose weight, and the chances are that you'll actually gain weight if you eat enough of it. So when it comes to dairy, it's more about the quality of the particular dairy food that you're eating rather than the fact that it's dairy. As mentioned below, consuming dairy in general does have some health risks for some people, but most people can consume dairy products like low fat yogurt, cottage cheese, and other types of low fat cheese fairly regularly without having to worry about weight gain, assuming that there are no added ingredients that can cause weight gain, primarily sugar.

Dairy is essential for maintaining a healthy bone structure

It's not a good idea to totally ditch dairy, in spite of the health consequences of some dairy foods that aren't the healthiest. As you get older, your skeletal system starts to deteriorate faster than it grows, and this starts happening around the age of 30. In order to ensure that it remains strong you need to have regular calcium in your diet. Dairy is one of the best sources of the calcium that your body can absorb and use to fortify your bone structure, although calcium is available in other foods of course. Your body readily absorbs the calcium from dairy foods and that means that it's essential to continue to consume them as you get older, assuming that you can tolerate them and aren't allergic.

Of course there are alternative foods that you can eat if you really don't like dairy or are allergic, and some good other options include darky leafy green vegetables, broccoli, green beans, fortified tofu, fish canned with bones, and almonds. These foods can be used in place of dairy foods, but it certain helps if you are getting a sufficient amount of calcium by eating dairy on top of these other healthy foods. It can help your body protect itself against osteoporosis as you age, and although bone loss is affected by many factors including genetics, physical activity and hormones, making sure that you are getting enough calcium in your diet is essential.

Stopping dairy consumption can reduce your risk of certain cancers

The other thing to consider, which may be of particular importance if you have a family history of cancer, is that some types of cancer can be reduced by avoiding dairy consumption. For example, your risk of prostate cancer can be reduced by 34% if you reduce or eliminate your dairy consumption, and this study was performed at Harvard [1]. The same thing occurs with women; your risk of ovarian cancer may be doubled if you consume more than one glass of milk per day. The effect is thought to occur because dairy can increase the amount of insulin growth factor in the body, which in turn can cause some types of cancer to proliferate faster.

It doesn't mean that you necessarily need to completely eliminate dairy in order to reduce your risk of these cancers, but there is at least somewhat of a proven correlation between dairy consumption and ovarian or prostate cancer. There may be other risk factors in play that can also trigger these cancers, for example it is also known that meat and fat consumption can increase prostate cancer risk, and those in the study who consumed dairy may have also had a higher consumption of meat and some types of fat. Although research is ongoing, it may be a good idea to eliminate dairy if you have a family history of these cancers.

Talk to your nutritionist or doctor if you aren't sure

Basically, dairy can be a tricky food that some people may need to avoid if they have an allergy, a predisposition to prostate or ovarian cancer, or any other health concern that would justify not eating dairy food. A lot of people can eat low fat and low sugar dairy foods and get their health benefits like calcium and high quality protein which can protect against bone degeneration and muscle loss as a person ages. Dairy is also important for younger people for bone growth and muscle growth. If you aren't sure whether or not you should be eating dairy foods regularly or if you should avoid them for weight loss, talk to your medical provider or nutritionist to discuss your health and your medical history.


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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your physician about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Nu Image Medical may not offer the medications or services mentioned in this article.