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Do you need to cut out dairy to lose fat?

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Q: Do I need to cut out dairy to lose fat?


Definitely not! Cutting out dairy to get lean is one of the biggest dieting myths. It most probably arose from the fact that a certain percentage of people are lactose intolerant (i.e., they can’t properly digest milk sugar), which often results in abdominal bloating and thus a smooth-looking physique. Lactose intolerance does not, however, increase fat deposition, nor does it impair fat-burning ability.

Fact is, the consumption of dairy actually enhances fat loss. This is largely due to its high calcium content. Most people know that calcium is important for strong bones, but what is not as well understood is that it also mediates many other bodily functions, including revving up metabolic function. Although the exact mechanism isn’t clear, it appears to be related to their regulatory effects on the calcitrophic hormones (i.e., parathyroid hormone and a hormone called 1,25(OH)2D), which are known activators of lipogenesis (i.e., fat formation). Specifically, low-calcium diets increase calcitrophic hormone activity and thus increase fat storage, while higher-calcium diets suppress these hormones and thereby heighten fat metabolism. In fact, simply increasing calcium intake from 400mg to 1,000mg has been shown to produce a loss of around 11 pounds (ca. 5 kg) of fat over a one-year period without changing any other facet of the diet.

What is most interesting is that consuming calcium through dairy products promotes fat loss to a much greater extent than taking calcium supplements. This is thought to be due to various bioactive compounds in dairy, including angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and a high concentration of branched-chain amino acids (especially leucine), which act in concert with calcium to burn fat.

So if you want to maximize your body’s fat-burning capacity, consume a healthy amount of dairy products in your diet, with the majority coming from those that are reduced fat. Saturated fat is calorically dense and biologically inert. It only serves to increase caloric consumption and impair fat burning. Low-fat cottage cheese, milk, and yogurt are excellent sources of calcium that won’t result in dietary calories piling up in a hurry.

The other thing to watch out for in dairy is added sodium. In and of itself, sodium is a necessary part of your diet and serves an important role in water balance and muscle function. But too much is bound to cause water retention and a puffy look. Scrutinize labels. Some dairy products contain in excess of 500mgs of sodium – way more than you need in an isolated serving.

If you are lactose intolerant, opt for lactose-free dairy products. You also can purchase lactose tablets, which supply the enzyme lactase that helps digest the sugars present in dairy foods. A very small percentage of the population is allergic to dairy (less than 3 percent). If you fall into this category, you have no choice but to abstain from consumption.

Brad Schoenfeld

Brad Schoenfeld, Ph.D., CSCS, CSPS, FNSCA is an internationally renowned fitness expert and widely regarded as one of the leading authorities on training for muscle development and fat loss. He is a lifetime drug-free bodybuilder, and has won numerous natural bodybuilding titles. He has published over 60 peer-reviewed studies on various exercise- and nutrition-related topics. Brad is a best-selling author of multiple fitness books including The M.A.X. Muscle Plan (Human Kinetics, 2012), which has been widely referred to as the “muscle-building bible” and Strong and Sculpted (Human Kinetics, 2016), which details a cutting-edge, body-sculpting program targeted to women. Brad also has authored the seminal textbook Science and Development of Muscle Hypertrophy (Human Kinetics, 2016), the first text devoted to an evidence-based elucidation of the mechanisms and strategies for optimizing muscle growth. In total, Brad’s books have sold over a half-million copies. For more information, visit For more information, visit

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