Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in the US say their 48-week study shows that adults consuming relatively high amounts of dairy can still lose "a significant amount of weight", if done alongside a reduced-calorie diet and exercise.
The study, set to be published in the Obesity Research journal, compared 72 obese adults following three different reduced-calorie diets: a high-dairy diet including four servings per day; the same diet alongside a high fibre/low glycaemic index diet; and a moderate dairy diet involving two dairy servings per day. All were prescribed the same exercise plan.
The researchers found that those on the high-dairy diets lost the same amount of weight as those on the moderate diet.
Prof Michael Zemel, co-author of the research, said the findings were "important to help us gain further information about the dairy/weight loss connection".
He said previous clinical trials had shown that obese adults consuming three servings of dairy per day lost twice as much weight as those on one dairy serving when put on similar reduced-calorie diets.
However, the dairy/weight loss connection has proved a thorny and deeply contentious issue in the US recently.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) filed charges against three main dairy industry trade groups - the International Dairy Foods Association, National Dairy Council, and Dairy Management.
It claimed the groups were misleading consumers with deceptive advertising that makes scientifically unsubstantiated claims about the effect of dairy products on weight loss.
"To stem declining sales and boost their bottom line, the dairy industry is duping overweight Americans into believing that milk and other dairy are the magic bullet to weight control," said Dan Kinburn, PCRM senior legal counsel.
PCRM said that out of 35 clinical trials on the link between dairy and body weight since 1989, 31 found no connection while two found that weight increased.
But, the food industry-supported Center for Consumer Freedom argued that PCRM itself was deliberately misleading consumers. It said PCRM was a front for an animal rights group that opposed the sale of all food derived from animals.
It is hard to see and end in sight at the moment. A recent study of 155 women aged 18-30, carried out by scientists from Purdue University, concluded that increased consumption of dairy calcium was no more likely to encourage weight gain or loss.
Researchers on another extensive study of more than 12,000 children aged 9-14 revealed in June that dietary calcium and skimmed milk were linked to weight gain, yet dairy fat was not. The study was done by scientists at the US Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
The National Dairy Council pointed out that Americans currently only get half of their three portions per day recommended dairy intake. It called the link between dairy intake and weight loss an "evolving science".