Calcium Does a Body Good in More Ways Than One
Calcium has always been touted for its role in building strong bones. However, it has also been in the spotlight for a completely different reason – its role in fat metabolism and weight loss. A few research studies have suggested that a diet high in calcium could help break down stored fat. However, you should view these types of claims with a skeptical eye and make sure to take away the facts without labeling calcium as a “miracle weight loss solution.”
NUTRITIONAL FACTS AND FIGURES
According to a 2004 study conducted by researchers at the University of Tennessee’s Department of Nutrition and funded by the National Dairy Counsel, a diet that included low-fat dairy products could aid in weight loss. Researchers said that calcium stored in fat cells play an important role in regulating fat storage and breakdown. It’s thought that the more calcium there is in a fat cell, the more fat that is burned.
Past research showed that a low-calcium diet is associated with increased levels of certain hormones; these hormones increase fat synthesis and storage. The results of the 2004 study suggest that a high calcium diet suppresses the activity of these hormones thereby reducing fat mass. The study findings are also supported by data from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination (an on-going nationwide nutritional survey), which showed an inverse relationship between calcium and diary intakes and body fat in adults.
So, how much calcium and what calcium sources should you consume to benefit from its potential fat metabolizing effects? In this study, calcium from dairy products exerted a substantially greater effect on both fat loss and fat distribution compared to an equivalent amount of supplemental calcium. While calcium supplements may help you reach your daily recommended calcium intake, you are always better off meeting your nutrient needs via foods. Recent research indicates a possible cardiovascular risk associated with calcium supplementation. Additional research is necessary to confirm this relationship though.
As for the claim that dairy aids in weight loss- this has been scientifically questioned. Other larger scientific studies have shown that the addition of dairy products to the diet does not reliably result in weight loss, and can result in weight gain or no effect at all.
Current calcium recommendations for men are 1,000 mg to 1,200 mg per day; for women, it is 1,000 mg to 1,300 mg daily. To get a list of some animal and non-animal calcium food sources, read about calcium in the “Bone Building Basics” bite.
Consuming a high calcium diet does NOT mean that you can eat anything and everything in sight and still lose weight by consuming enough calcium. Nor does it mean that you should overdose on calcium-rich foods in order to increase fat breakdown. Consuming much more than the recommended amounts of calcium has not been shown to further increase fat metabolism and it can be toxic and may increase your risk for heart disease or stroke.
Bottom line: If you enjoy eating dairy, include at least 2-3 servings/day to satisfy your cravings and meet your estimated calcium needs. . For those who are lactose intolerant, opt for calcium-rich non-dairy products (baked beans, oranges, almonds, fortified soymilk, kale, tofu) or calcium supplements.
Note: In addition to building up bone mass and its potential role in fat breakdown, calcium intake is also positively correlated with sodium excretion. Therefore, consuming adequate calcium may help fight hypertension, as well.