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It's the time of year when many people attempt to lose unwanted pounds - before food-laden holiday parties begin and treats pile up at the office.

Regardless of the type of diet you decide to follow - low fat, low carb and so on - there's something you may want to do to enhance your chances of success.

According to a study published in the current issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, upping your intake of calcium-rich dairy products can help you lose more weight.

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The link between dairy products and weight loss has been controversial. Some studies have found a higher dairy intake is related to a lower body weight but others have not. But well controlled weight loss trials have demonstrated that consuming more dairy results in better weight loss, reduced body fat and smaller waist sizes.

In the current study, 322 overweight and obese adults aged 40 to 65 were assigned to one of three diets: low fat, low carbohydrate or Mediterranean. Dairy intake was not specified in the diet plans; intake was determined by personal preference.

People with the highest dairy calcium intake - 600 mg, equal to about two cups of milk a day - lost 12 pounds at the end of two years. In comparison, low dairy consumers - averaging about 150 mg of calcium or ½ cup of milk - lost only seven pounds.

The researchers estimated that every 240 mg of calcium consumed - the amount in ¾ cup of milk or 2/3 cup of fruit yogurt - was associated with nearly a 50 per cent greater chance of achieving a weight loss above average in the first six months of the study (the weight loss phase).

Previous studies have found that dairy calcium promotes more potent weight loss effects than calcium supplements. It's thought that milk proteins can inhibit enzymes involved in fat storage.

Beyond calcium, blood levels of vitamin D also predicted weight loss success. Vitamin D levels were higher - on average 75 nanomoles a litre, a blood level considered sufficient - among those who lost more weight. Vitamin D increases calcium absorption from foods into the bloodstream. Higher vitamin concentrations may also enhance the breakdown of fat stores.

The findings also confirmed previous research that overweight participants have lower vitamin D blood levels. Subcutaneous fat holds on to vitamin D, reducing its release into the bloodstream.

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Meeting your daily calcium and vitamin D requirements may improve your ability to shed pounds, but let's not forget the tried and true keys to success: planning, portion control and consistency. Incorporate the following tactics into your weight loss plan.

Get calcium and vitamin D

Adults, aged 19 to 50, need 1,000 mg of calcium each day and older adults require 1,200 mg. One cup of milk, ¾ cup plain yogurt and 1.5 ounces of cheese all contain roughly 300 mg. To cut saturated fat and save calories, reach for skim or 1 per cent milk and yogurt and part skim cheese.

To help reduce cancer risk, Canadians adults are advised to take 1,000 IU of vitamin D a day in the fall and winter, and all year-round if you're over 50, have dark coloured skin or don't go outdoors often in the summer months.

If you're concerned your blood level of vitamin D is insufficient, speak to your doctor about a blood test.

Know calories

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For healthy weight loss, women should consume 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day depending on activity level; men 1,800 to 2,200.

Learn the calorie counts of your meals, snack and beverages. Read the nutrition facts box on food packages to find out how many calories are in one serving of the foods you buy.

Plan in advance

If you come home from work, tired, hungry and without a plan for dinner, chances are you'll order in. Or graze your way through the evening.

On the weekend, plan a weekly menu of healthy meals and snacks. To help you stick to your plan, make time for grocery shopping and batch cook on the weekend.

Include snacks

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Eat every three to four hours to keep your blood sugar stable and your appetite in check, and to help you pare down portions at meals.

Include a midmorning and/or midafternoon snack. Healthy choices include fruit and yogurt, fruit and part skim cheese, dried fruit and nuts, raw vegetables and hummus, or a small energy bar.

Track your progress

Keep a food diary to stay focused. Use it to plan meals in advance - write down the foods and portion sizes you plan to eat the next day.

Weigh yourself on a weekly basis. Monitoring your weight provides motivation and impetus to keep on going.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. Her website is

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