Eat Less, Live Longer

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Is this possible? It’s an interesting concept, but if you are a diehard foodie, it might be a tough idea to swallow. It has been suggested the key to a long and healthy life rests in a low-calorie diet. Therefore, if you enjoy eating and are one of those folks who is contemplating your next meal while still savoring what’s currently on your plate, you may want to either skim this article or turn to the next feature.

We may have some news you might not want to digest. But here’s the skinny. Scientific studies have linked diets restricted in calories and reduced portion sizes to longer and healthier lives in many species. We defer to the word “species” in this context, as conducting such a study does present certain logistical challenges in humans. Therefore, the studies were conducted on rhesus monkeys, which share nearly all of human DNA, and the results are noteworthy.

According to these studies, when rhesus monkeys were given a calorie-restricted diet, they began to look much younger than the monkeys that were fed a standard diet. Additionally, the monkeys on the restricted diet were healthier on the inside, with a remarkable decrease in the incidence of cancer and heart disease. As a result of these findings, a team of researchers created a longer-term study known as CALERIE, or Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy, which takes healthy volunteers who, for two years, eat a diet that has been reduced by 25 percent in total calorie intake. As predicted, the participants in this experimental group showed improvements in cholesterol levels, had lowered their blood pressure, and also showed signs they were less likely to develop cancerous tumors or diabetes. As such, it would appear a restricted diet is not just about losing weight. It just might also slow down the aging process, reduce the presence of chronic disease and most likely lead to long-term health benefits. Although these results stand in their initial stages, they are worth reviewing.

Human population studies offer a similar picture. In Japan, for example, individuals residing in Okinawa who followed a traditional lifestyle enjoy some of the longest life expectancy rates in the world. Part of this lifestyle involves eating until one is 80 percent full, but this is just one of the potential factors supporting longevity. Exercise also comes into play, along with their largely plant-based diet and enriching social lives. This suggests a possible link between eating less food and living longer. On the flip side, Okinawans who have turned to a Western lifestyle, which includes increased portion sizes as meals, have not lived as long as their Eastern lifestyle counterparts.

We should also take into consideration how much we exercise; if we smoke or drink; our occupation and hobbies; our personality; and, yes, even our social life. It’s no secret eating copious amounts of food can be harmful to our health and could potentially shave years off our lives. When considering the switch to a healthier diet, it is imperative to consume sufficient vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

While eating less may help people live longer lives, there are drawbacks to consuming too little. For examples, people with eating disorders such as anorexia are at increased risk of heart problems, damaged bones, anemia, liver damage and kidney failure. Just being significantly underweight, which is presumably linked to consuming fewer calories, can limit longevity.

Then there is the topic of intermittent fasting. This involves restricting how much you consume over the course of one or two days. Studies have suggested this type of calorie restriction is more beneficial to slowing down the aging process, as it carries less of the health risks typically associated with long-term chronic caloric restriction.

Clearly, significantly more research is needed on these topics, and the Mayo Clinic agrees there may be certain health benefits associated with a reduced calorie diet, but it also advises against fasting and exercising simultaneously, fasting while taking diabetes medication, and skipping breakfast, as this habit has been known to increase the risk of obesity.

What’s the bottom line? Are you interested in increasing your life span or your health span? How long we live is not the only issue at hand. Staying healthy throughout our lives is just as important. Is it worth it to live several more years when burdened with a chronic illness or disease?

Bear in mind, eating less might help us live longer, but it is important to ensure we consume the proper quality and quantity of food. Therefore, before making any significant changes to your diet, it’s important to first consult with a medical professional. Caloric restriction might work toward increasing one’s lifespan, but the subject remains under the intense scrutiny of continued research and debate. ■

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