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Will Eating Less Help You Live Longer?

August 19th, 2015

What you need to know about calorie restriction and longevity.

It’s true that the average American takes in more calories than they need. But will restricting your calorie intake really translate to the amazing benefits for health and longevity that some experts promise?

The answer really depends on what you are eating right now and how you plan to implement the 30 percent (or greater) calorie cut that would qualify as “calorie restriction.”

Untangling Seemingly Contradictory Studies

Calorie restriction as a path to better health and longevity has interested scientists since the 1930s. Early studies in mice showed that calorie restriction postponed the onset of age-related diseases and increased longevity by up to 40 percent.

However, the two studies that have generated the most buzz about the topic were published just a few years ago. Both studies focused on colonies of rhesus monkeys, an animal considered to be a better analogue to humans than mice. One group of monkeys was fed a restricted diet, while the other was fed a “normal” diet.

The first of these studies to be published came from the University of Wisconsin in 2009. Researchers there said that the monkeys on the restricted diet had indeed lived longer and showed reduced instances of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and brain atrophy. However, a few years later in 2012, the National Institute on Aging published findings which seemed to contradict this. Their monkeys had not shown any significant difference in longevity, though the ones on the restricted diet had suffered fewer instances of cancer.

So why did the two studies arrive at such different results? Because there was another variable to consider besides the amount of calories consumed, namely the quality of calories consumed.

In Wisconsin, the control group of monkeys were allowed to eat whatever they wanted, including many options that were not particularly healthy. The goal was to make this diet as similar to the average American’s highly processed, high-sugar diet as possible. In the National Institute on Aging’s lab, on the other hand, the control monkeys were fed fixed portions of whole foods. It is not really surprising, then, that while monkeys that were already eating healthy diets did not benefit as much from calorie restriction, monkeys who were eating junk food did benefit significantly.

Bottom Line

If you want to maintain a healthy weight and help extend your longevity, cutting calories alone may not be enough. You also need to make sure the calories you do consume make up a healthy and balanced diet.

For example, let’s say you cut back to one piece of pizza per meal. Is this going to help you live longer? Perhaps not, since you will still be eating a high-carb, low-nutrient, inflammatory diet that can put you at risk for cancer, heart disease or even dementia.

When you restrict calories, cut out the unhealthy calories that come from high-sugar, processed foods first. Replace them with healthy portions of nutrient-dense foods like lean proteins, fruits, veggies, nuts, and whole grains for better health.

Want Help With Healthy Eating?

The best way to improve your diet and, by extension, your health and longevity, is to get expert advice on what to eat. Our certified nutritionists can help. Please call 800-859-7511 now to request a consultation.

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