Background Inadequate consumption of dairy products without appropriate dietary substitution may have deleterious health consequences. Social research reveals the factors that may impede compliance with dietary recommendations. This is particularly important given the recent introduction of functional dairy products. One of the challenges for public health professionals is to demonstrate the efficacy of nutrition education in improving attitudes toward nutrient rich foods. The aim of this study was to explore the salient beliefs of adult weight loss trial participants regarding both traditional and functional dairy products and to compare these with a control group not exposed to nutrition education Methods Six focus groups were conducted, three with weight loss trial completers (n=15) that had received nutrition education and three with individuals from the same region (n=14) to act as controls. Transcribed focus groups were coded using the Theory of Planned Behaviour theoretical framework. Results Non-trial participants perceived dairy foods as weight inducing and were sceptical of functional dairy products. A lack of time/ability to decipher dairy food labels was also discussed by these individuals. In contrast trial participants discussed several health benefits related to dairy foods, practised label reading and were confident in their ability to incorporate dairy foods into their diet. Normative beliefs expressed were similar for both groups indicating that these were more static and less amenable to change through nutrition education than control and behavioural beliefs. Conclusions Nutrition education provided as a result of weight loss trial participation influenced behavioural and control beliefs relating to dairy products. This study provides a proof of concept indication that nutrition education may improve attitudes towards dairy products and may thus be an important target for public health campaigns seeking to increase intake of this food group.