Want to live longer and healthier? Eat less. That’s the basic premise of the Caloric Restricted (CR) diet theory. Restricting calories, while maintaining adequate nutrient intake, has been known since the 1930’s to significantly increase the lifespan of mice. Subsequent studies have shown the theory applies to fish, dogs and many other species including primates.
Human studies have not been carried out long enough yet to be conclusive but evidence so far supports the CR theory applying to us. In addition to longer life, a CR diet lowers blood sugar, triglycerides, insulin and leptin blood levels, all of which have been found to be lower in centenarians. (Makes sense – how many fat people do you know over 100?)
Important: CR does not refer to severe calorie restriction such as in anorexia nervosa or other forms of starvation which result in severe malnutrition. Also exercise, which is another factor in health and longevity, requires adequate calorie and amino acid intake.
Several theories attempt to explain how CR increases lifespan. The most promising is that it controls blood insulin levels. High insulin levels are associated with many age-related degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, obesity and diabetes. A 2003 study with mice [www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12543978?dopt=Abstract] found that a reduction of fat mass without caloric restriction increased longevity, likely due to lower insulin levels.
Another recent study [www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2831640/] also supports the insulin theory. Thirty one patients were put on a high fat, adequate protein, low carbohydrate diet and monitored for several age-related blood factors: fasting glucose, insulin, leptin, T3 thyroid hormone, and lipids. All factors were found to improve with the low carb diet. (So it appears that Atkins was onto something.)
How can we control insulin levels? Simple! By limiting simple carbohydrates – sugars and starches. Eating sweets and starchy carbs like bread and potatoes increases insulin levels; eating high fiber vegetables like broccoli lowers them. So it’s not so much eating fewer calories, but eating different calories that’s important. And healthy protein and fat foods can be tasty too!
I know what you are thinking: “If I can’t have my doughnut/bread/potatoes etc, what’s the point of living longer?” Well, let me promise two things: once you get off carbs, you’ll feel so good you won’t want to go back; and in no time nuts and raw veggies will start to taste great. Finally (but no promises this time) some day you just might be dancing at your 100th birthday party!
This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.