Clever calcium

We all know that calcium is essential for strong bones, but did you realise that it may also have a role in weight loss?

Words: Malindi Greenwood

In with calcium in with weight loss

In the 1980s, a US study of 10,000 people aged 18 to 74 found that those who consumed more dietary calcium weighed less1. Several other studies have since supported this finding, including some involving children1

Research has also associated a higher intake of calcium with a reduced risk of having abdominal obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and insulin resistance2. Some researchers have suggested that people whose diet is high in calcium weigh less simply because their lifestyle is healthier overall3. Diets rich in milk have been found to reduce total kilojoules and encourage a healthier body weight1.

The Baltimore Longitudinal Study, which looked at different diet patterns in relation to weight management, found that the diet most conducive to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight was low in meat, fast food and soft drinks and rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy3. A similar study reported that diets rich in high-fibre foods and low-fat dairy products were associated with a smaller waist circumference3

A trial using yoghurt to boost calcium intake in a group of obese, low-calcium consumers found that, after 12 weeks, the yoghurt consumers achieved a 22 percent greater weight loss and 61 percent greater loss of fat mass than a control group1.

Why dairy?

There are at least three reasons that might explain calcium’s effect on weight.

  • Calcium impairs fat absorption, reducing energy intake from fat-containing foods. One study found that increasing calcium intake from 700mg to 2,300mg per day more than doubled fat excretion4.
  • Increases in dietary calcium trigger hormonal changes that enhance fat breakdown and inhibit the deposition of fat, especially around the abdomen1. By preventing gains in abdominal fat and waist circumference, a calcium-rich diet may also improve blood lipid (fat) levels and reduce the risk of the metabolic syndrome.
  • Calcium-enriched diets appear to reduce hunger. A weight-loss trial comparing calcium-enriched diets to a control group found that those who consumed more calcium felt less hungry and snacked less. Consuming more calcium has even been shown to relieve food cravings in pre-menstrual women1.
Finding the balance

Although calcium cannot claim to be the magic answer to weight loss, it’s definitely worth ensuring you have adequate quantities of this nutrient in your diet. If your current calcium intake is below the recommended daily intake of 1,000–1,300mg per day, try to boost it with low-fat dairy foods, like milk, cheese and yoghurt, plus other calcium-rich foods, such as tofu, almonds and tinned salmon.

And go for the real thing rather than supplements if you can. One trial that compared the effect of taking an 800mg daily calcium carbonate supplement to consuming 1,200–1,300mg a day of dietary calcium found that the group consuming dietary calcium lost 44 percent more weight than those popping the pills1.  

References: 1. Major, G.C. et al. Recent developments in calcium-related obesity research. Obesity reviews 2008; 9: 428-445 2. Yanovski, J.A. et al. Effects of calcium supplementation on body weight and adiposity in overweight and obese adults. Annals of Internal Medicine 2009; 150:821-829  3. Lanou, A.J. & Barnard, N.D. Dairy and weight loss hypothesis: an evaluation of the clinical trials. Nutrition reviews 2008; 66: 272-279 4. Bendsen, N.T. et al. Effect of dairy calcium on fecal fat excretion: a randomized crossover trial. International Journal of Obesity 2008; 32: 1816-1824  





Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.