Can Dieting Help Us Live Longer?
It’s a new year, which means that millions of us are dieting to try and hit those new year’s resolutions.
One thing that is common among most diets is calorie restriction - the idea that you are eating fewer calories while dieting than you were before. Not all diets restrict calories, but most do.
Scientists are extremely excited about the potential health benefits of calorie restriction, especially long-term calorie restriction. In certain animal studies it has been shown to extend lifespan, reduce complications from aging, and lower rates of cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Are you saying if I eat less or lose weight I will live longer?
First off, for people who are obese or overweight, the question is very clear. Losing weight will help you reduce your mortality risk, decrease inflammation, and lower your risk for a whole host of diseases or negative complications. It will also have a positive impact on your quality of life. That’s great news and powerful motivation as we all push to reach our new year’s resolutions.
But why longevity scientists and researchers are so excited about calorie restriction is that it may be able to help extend life and avoid chronic disease in even people who aren’t overweight or trying to lose weight.
Studies are ongoing in humans, and because many of the studies are very long-term in scope (following groups of people over decades), we haven’t gotten conclusive findings yet. But one major group of studies led by a dedicated team at Duke University has shown promising signs.
The study followed a large group of otherwise healthy people over two years. One half of the participants ate normally, and the other half restricted calorie intake. Initially the researchers hoped to restrict calories by 25% in the sub group, but they soon found out what we all already know: eating less is hard! The calorie restriction group achieved only a 12% reduction in calories on average.
The results were still striking. Metabolic and inflammatory markers all improved in the calorie restricted group, in some cases dramatically. It was only a 2 year study, so longevity couldn’t be assessed, but many of the health markers that improved have been linked to longer, healthier lives.
It’s important to note that study participants were getting all their nutrient needs met, they were just taking in less energy. This isn’t about nutrient deprivation, just calorie intake.
What does calorie restriction look like in the real world?
You might be asking, “this is great for a study, but what does this mean for me? How do I put this into practice in my own life?”
If you are interested in trying out calorie restriction for yourself the answer is to adopt a lifestyle - this isn’t about fad dieting or depriving yourself of nutrients - that you can sustain but that helps you take in fewer calories.
And the good news is that there are many, many different options, from Intermittent Fasting or Alternate Day Fasting all the way to community diets like the SR Diet.
Everybody is different, and our relationship with food and our ability to change our eating habits is different as well. Our advice? Find a plan that works for you, and stick to it. It just might help you live longer.
Let’s get healthier, together,
Your friends at Santo Remedio
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