There is no need to cut out dairy products when trying to lose weight, according to a new study published in the August issue of Obesity Research.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that obese adults can include up to four servings of dairy foods per day in a reduced-calorie diet, combined with moderate exercise, and still lose a significant amount of weight and body fat.

This new randomized clinical trial compared the weight-loss results of 72 obese adults following three different reduced-calorie diets:  a "high-dairy" diet that included four servings of dairy foods (milk, yogurt or cheese) each day; a "high-dairy/high fibre/low glycemic index" diet that included four servings of dairy each day; and a "moderate-dairy" or standard diet that included two servings of dairy foods each day.

After nearly one year (48 weeks), the participants in all three groups experienced significant weight loss and body fat loss -- providing further evidence that dieters don't need to cut dairy from their diet to lose weight successfully.

While all groups lost similar amounts of weight and body fat, the participants in the high-dairy groups who most closely followed the prescribed diet and exercise plan also consumed four daily servings of dairy and about 100 to 150 more calories each day.  Even with the higher calorie intake, they still lost the same amount of weight as the dieters who consumed 2 servings of dairy a day and fewer calories.

Previously published clinical trials have found that overweight and obese adults who consumed 3 servings of dairy each day were able to lose twice as much weight and fat as those on low-dairy diets (1 serving or less), when the groups had similar reductions in calories.  Additionally, numerous population-based studies have shown a connection between a diet adequate in calcium and lower body weight.

"These new findings are important to help us gain further information about the dairy/weight loss connection, which has been reported in several clinical studies," said co-author Michael Zemel, PhD, professor of nutrition and director of the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee. "On the whole, research shows that when comparing groups that have similar calorie reduction, those who consume adequate dairy see better results than those who don't."

Past studies indicate that the weight loss effect may be the strongest when dairy and calcium intake is increased from inadequate (one serving or less) to adequate levels, or three servings each day.  The effect appears to be more modest when increasing dairy intake from moderate levels -- or about two servings a day -- to higher levels.

"It's not surprising that the weight-loss benefit of dairy was less apparent in this study since the methodology explored 'moderate' vs. 'high' dairy consumption instead of 'inadequate' vs. 'adequate' dairy consumption," explained Zemel.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend 3 servings of milk and milk products daily, yet most Americans are only getting half of that amount.  "The evolving science showing that dairy intake can increase weight loss in the context of a reduced-calorie diet is just one more reason for Americans to get their 3-A-Day of Dairy," said Stephanie Smith of the National Dairy Council. Because dairy products naturally contain calcium, protein and other essential nutrients, getting three servings each day improves the nutritional quality of the diet, whether you are dieting or not.