A higher calcium intake from dairy products decreases levels of parathyroid hormone in the body, which in turn appears to increase the body's ability to burn off fat, says new research from Purdue University in the US.
The team spent a year comparing the effects of a low dairy diet (up to two servings daily) and a high dairy diet (three or four servings) on 19 "normal-weight" women aged 18-30.
They found that women who ate three servings of dairy per day over the course of a year burned off more fat and calories from meals.
Lead researcher Dorothy Teegarden said: "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 10lbs (4.5kg) of fat per year."
The findings follow various studies that have indicated a link between dairy products and weight loss.
Recent research published in the Obesity Research journal found that adults on high-dairy diets could still lose "a significant amount of weight".
Lead researcher Prof Michael Zemel added that 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.
Dairy industries in Europe and the US have seized on the results of such studies as they fight a public battle over the health benefits of dairy products, and milk in particular.
The US National Dairy Council said that a new report from National Medical Association advised eating three or four servings of dairy foods to reduce the risk of calcium-related chronic diseases, such as osteoporosis and hypertension.
Some research on dairy and weight loss has been less favourable to industry, however.
A study of 12,000 children aged 9-14 revealed that dietary calcium and skimmed milk were linked to weight gain, yet dairy fat was not. The study was published in June this year and done by scientists at the US Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.
Another study of 155 women aged 18-30 by researchers at Purdue University also concluded that increased consumption of dairy calcium was no more likely to encourage weight gain or loss.