Good Study Habits
by Lynn Petrak
The latest dairy research brings a wellspring of positive nutrition and weight control news.

“Diet” is one of those words with more than one meaning, connoting either a weight-loss plan or the overall intake of food and beverages.
For many years, research involving dairy products was focused on the latter, as scientists sought to confirm that dairy foods and beverages are rich in nutrients key to health and well-being. Lately, several studies have also covered the former interpretation of the term, determining that the consumption of certain dairy products helps speed weight loss and ensure weight maintenance.
That’s heartening news for those in the industry who have had to adopt a somewhat defensive posture in the past two decades, as various sources have slammed the consumption of animal-based proteins in the “good vs. bad” food debate. Thanks to more sophisticated research methods and tools and a more knowledgeable and open audience, the polar-opposite viewpoints have largely given way to a more moderate philosophy backed by leading-edge science.
The body of scientific work, as it really relates to the human body itself, includes a plethora of studies related to both weight control and the prevention of disease through nutrition. At any given time, research projects are underway at universities and private laboratories around the country, conducted by independent scientists and researchers and sometimes called for or sponsored by industry organizations.
It is, to be sure, a dynamic time for those doing — and using — the research. “A lot of good things are happening in nutrition right now,” says Michael Zemel, Ph.D., professor of nutrition and medical science and director of the Nutrition Institute at the University of Tennessee, and a lead researcher on groundbreaking studies linking dairy intake with weight loss. “One the one hand, we have more molecular tools than we’ve had before, but we don’t have the old reductionist philosophy. Instead, we understand that there is a web of interactions, and we are more attuned to study that web using sophisticated technology to be sure.”
Gregory Miller, Ph.D., executive vice president of science and innovation for the Rosemont, Ill.-based National Dairy Council arm of Dairy Management Inc. (DMI), agrees that there is a certain sense of enlightenment right now. “This is exciting for the field of nutrition,” he says. “It’s a whole new area of nutrition and healthy eating that we are looking at.”
Weighty Issues
Much of the buzz surrounding the latest scientific research has centered on the discovery that the consumption of certain types of dairy products can help aid weight loss or enhance weight control due to an efficient burning of calories and fat, among other factors.
Zemel has spearheaded significant and much-quoted studies tied to dairy consumption and weight loss. One of his most recent projects was designed to support and extend previous studies from the past few years and involved a pair of clinical trials involving obese African-American adults. Published in the journal Obesity Research last fall, the latest study showed that consuming three servings of dairy every day resulted in a marked increase in weight loss on a reduced-calorie eating plan.
Even without dieting, three serving of dairy led to weight loss and an increase in lean body mass among Zemel’s study subjects. “After 24 weeks we found that participants eating three daily servings of dairy preserved lean mass, which includes muscle, while losing about twice as much weight and fat compared to those eating one daily serving,” he reports.
According to Zemel, the findings are that much more important because the goal of the original research study was not tied to weight loss. “Certainly, my own hypothesis was more nutrient based, focused more on calcium research,” he says of his initial studies that determined dairy intake can lead to more efficient weight loss and control. “It’s very encouraging, and it’s really tied into body composition. It takes you to a healthier body.”
Currently, Zemel and his researchers are in the lab working to expand the base findings even further. “We have extended our observations and said, ‘If our previous mechanisms are true, then there ought to be components of dairy, based on molecular signaling, that may have an antioxidant effect,’” he says. “No one talks about antioxidants in proteins, but it turns our there are very important effects on oxidation.”
Meanwhile, another recent weight-control study of note was published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and led by professionals at Purdue University. Researchers there conducted a clinical trial that found women burned more fat and calories after a meal when their diets included three to four servings of dairy a day.
Like Zemel’s work, the objective of the Purdue study was not necessarily to spur weight loss but investigate the mechanism by which dairy and calcium impact body composition through the body’s ability to burn fat and use calories. “From the results of this study, we put together a rough calculation based on the increased fat burned from a meal that suggests a high-dairy diet followed over a year could potentially result in the loss of 10 pounds of fat a year,” says Dorothy Teegarden, Ph.D., lead investigator and professor of nutrition at Purdue.
For its part, the National Dairy Council through DMI is facilitating several studies that explore the ways in which dairy consumption affects body composition. Earlier this spring, for instance, DMI shared results of a scientific review that showed whey protein, derived from dairy and high in essential amino acids, is effective in muscle building and maintenance. “We are focused on a couple of different areas, such as how the consumption of whey protein works to build lean body mass in young active adults,” Miller says. “We are also trying preliminary work related to the elderly, putting a call out for research projects related to the way the elderly lose muscle mass, and how whey could potentially prevent that loss.”
In another project linked to its “3-A-Day” promotional and educational program, DMI has initiated a large clinical trial to demonstrate the benefits of three servings of dairy a day. “It’s in progress right now, and we are trying to show the benefits of 3-A-Day that enhance the ability to reduce weight and lose fat, particularly around the abdomen,” Miller reports.
Beyond studies showing milk’s effectiveness in weight loss, other new research debunks the myth that eating or drinking dairy products leads to weight gain.
Findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently showed that calcium intake was not associated with weight gain in men over a 12-year period. The study included more than 19,000 healthy men aged 40 to 75 who were enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow Up Study, a long-ranging, influential project.
Scientific research doesn’t exist in a vacuum, of course, and to that end, the industry and individual processors take advantage of the recent findings and convey the positive weight loss news to consumers. For its part, the MilkPEP campaign, from the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA), Washington, D.C., recently launched a “Celebrate Success” integrated marketing program that shares inspirational stories from women who have excelled in losing weight by drinking 24 ounces of milk each day, cutting calories and exercising. The campaign includes in-store point-of-sale materials, television advertising, magazine advertising and Spanish-language materials, along with a partnership with Curves fitness centers.
Dairy manufacturers, too, are using information on weight loss and dairy foods in their own materials and marketing efforts, from on-package labeling to website features. Dean Foods, for instance, has included an “Add Dairy, Lose Weight” section to its Web site, as do many other national and regional brands.
To Their Health
In addition to studies focused on weight loss, several recent research projects have reinforced the important nutritional role that dairy products play in the human diet. That dairy foods can be deemed good for you is not new, but the latest scientific projects are newsworthy in their discovery.
“There are many things related to showing the nutrient packaging of dairy, that it’s much more valuable than calcium alone to bone health and other aspects,” Miller says. “That is the next step in research funding.”
For example, Zemel’s study of African-American adults pointed to other health benefits to dairy in addition to weight loss. For one thing, subjects who consumed more dairy than the group without dairy experienced significant decreases in blood pressure and insulin levels. The findings hence suggested that there may be an association between dairy intake and reduced risk for hypertension and symptoms of Type II diabetes.
Several other studies are geared to discovering the specific health effects of dairy products. Just a few weeks ago, IDFA touted results from a new Canadian project showing that women who rarely drank milk during their pregnancy gave birth to smaller babies compared to women who drank more milk. Featured in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the research suggested that drinking the recommended amount of three 8-ounce glasses of milk a day may increase babies’ birth weight and noted that vitamin D such as that found in milk not only affects an infant’s bone formation but also the development of the brain, immune function and susceptibility to chronic disease later in life.
Another recently released scientific study by researchers at Purdue University determined that active women who use oral contraceptives may help stave off bone loss and eventual osteoporosis by consuming dairy foods and beverages. The authors, including Teegarden, note that using oral contraceptives could reduce the risk of osteoporosis by three to 10 percent over a year with the simultaneous intake of dairy foods.
Consumption of certain dairy foods has been shown to prevent other types of health problems as well. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last year indicated that increased intake of lowfat dairy foods as part of an overall recommended Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan may lower blood pressure more effectively than a conventional lowfat diet. (Developed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the DASH plan calls for three daily servings of lowfat dairy foods and eight to 10 daily serving so fruit and vegetables.)
In addition to improving health or preventing certain conditions, research is also ongoing that addresses wellness and fitness among active, fit adults. For example, a study conducted by researchers at Indiana University and published earlier this year in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism reported that athletes who drank chocolate milk after a rigorous exercise routine were able to do so longer and with more stamina during a second workout, compared to athletes who consumed commercial sports beverages.
Fortified Front
Another area of research that has emerged in recent years involves ingredients used to enhance the nutritional profile of foods and beverages. More products today, including dairy items, are fortified with added nutrients.
At times, research on fortification and product development go hand in hand. Stonyfield Farms, New Londonderry, N.H., for instance, uses a new specially enriched form of inulin in its organic yogurt, which has been shown in clinical trials to boost calcium absorption at low use levels. According to spokeswoman Carmelle Druchniak, Stonyfield keeps close tabs on the latest nutrition research through its staff nutritionist. “A lot of times she brings things to our attention, like a new study showing inulin can reduce cholesterol or how the daily intake of el redeuri can reduce gastrointestinal illness,” Druchniak says.
Dairy-derived ingredients are a component of many fortified products. With the research showing the health and weight loss benefits of whey protein, for example, that ingredient is becoming more popular as a source of fortification. “There are yogurt products that use whey protein as an ingredient and it is being used in protein bars and drinks,” Miller says. “Hopefully, it will be used in more non-traditional products as well.”
Zemel, too, says that whey protein and other dairy-based ingredients may become part of more food product formulations. “I think it will cause a second or third look at whey proteins as a food ingredient that adds value to manufactured foods,” he says.
Interestingly enough, the expansion of the body of scientific research is leading not only to the addition of certain dairy-based components in other foods, but to the viewpoint that dairy products are fortified foods of and by themselves. “I think functional foods will be a growing field, and so they should be, but I think we have to reconceptualize what a functional food is,” Zemel says. “Can a glass of milk be moved from being thought of as a commodity to being a functional food? I think so.”  
Lynn Petrak is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area.

CHEESE: TO YOUR HEALTH
Health and wellness opportunities abound for cheese, according to a presentation at the recent International Cheese Technology Exposition.
Four key wellness areas exist for cheese, according to Dean Sommer of the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research: lowfat cheeses, probiotics, fortification and health positioning.
Apart from cheese specifically designed or positioned as lowfat products, cheeses naturally possess varying fat contents, Sommer noted to the audience in Madison, Wis. “We see opportunities to expand that even further,” he said.
Because taste is such a key factor for consumers’ acceptance of foods, the future of lowfat and fat-free cheeses is more promising for ingredients rather than table cheese, Sommer said, describing research in this area for Swiss, romano and cheddar flavor profiles.
Additionally, research is showing that live cultures can survive the manufacturing and aging processes to make cheese a good delivery vehicle for probiotics, Sommer reported. And while up to now, consumer acceptance of probiotics in the United States has paled in comparison to that in Europe, “some of us believe the tide is turning,” he said.
Sommer suggested probiotics could be added to string cheese, which is popular with children, or cottage cheese.
Meanwhile, cheese could be fortified with added vitamin D, as is milk; made with milk containing enhanced levels of the cancer-fighting fatty acid CLA; or spiked with omega 3, with which Sommer acknowledged there could be flavor issues due to its origins in fish.
“I think the opportunities will come to pass,” Sommer said. “We need to reach out and grab them.”