Archive for Friday, July 10, 2009

When it comes to calories, study says fewer is better

July 10, 2009


For a country in which roughly 200 million people are overweight or obese, scientists have discouraging news: Even those who maintain a healthy weight probably should be eating less.

Evidence has been mounting that the practice of caloric restriction — essentially, going on a permanent diet — greatly reduces the risk of age-related diseases and even postpones death. It has been shown to extend the lives of yeast, worms, flies, spiders, fish, mice and rats.

Now, in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health and released today, many of the same benefits have been demonstrated in primates, the best evidence yet that caloric restriction would help people.

The findings, published in the journal Science, tracked rhesus monkeys that were on a reduced-calorie regimen for as long as 20 years. The animals’ risk of dying from cancer, heart disease and diabetes fell by more than two-thirds.

The study comes as some validation to the cadre of Americans who profess to practice caloric restriction in their daily lives. It was also welcomed by scientists who study the biological mechanisms of aging and longevity.

“It adds to the evidence piling up that caloric restriction, independent of thinness, is a healthy way to stay alive and healthy longer,” said Susan Roberts of the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, who wasn’t involved in the study. “Less diseases in old age has to be something most everyone wants.”

Dr. Luigi Fontana, a medical professor at Washington University in St. Louis, examined people who have been practicing caloric restriction for an average of 6 1/2 years and found their heart function was equivalent to those of people 16 years younger.

“Mild caloric restriction is beneficial to everybody,” Fontana said.

Although the regimen sounds grueling, it is hardly a starvation diet, experts said.

It typically begins with an assessment to determine how many calories an individual needs to consume to maintain a healthy weight. Then that number is shaved by 10 percent to 30 percent.

People on caloric restriction can eat three meals a day. A typical menu includes cereal with fruit and nuts for breakfast, a big salad for lunch and dinner featuring lean meat and reasonable portion sizes. There’s also room for a couple of snacks and even a small dessert from time to time.

Caloric restriction has produced consistent health benefits for animals.

In the new study, scientists tracked 76 adult rhesus monkeys from the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center starting in 1989. Half the animals were fed a typical diet of lab chow, and the rest got a version with a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals to make up for the 30 percent reduction in chow quantity.

Over the course of the study, the monkeys that ate the regular diet were three times more likely to die of an age-related disease than their counterparts on caloric restriction. Fourteen deaths in the control group were attributable to age-related diseases, compared with five such deaths among the animals that ate 30 percent fewer calories, according to the study.

The rates of cardiovascular disease and pre-cancerous cell growths were twice as high in the control group compared with the reduced-calorie group.

The researchers also noted that while five of the control monkeys became diabetic and 11 were classified as pre-diabetic, all the calorie-restricted animals remained diabetes-free.

In all, the monkeys on caloric restriction “appear to be biologically younger than the normally fed animals,” the researchers wrote in their report.

Scientists aren’t sure why eating less slows the aging process, but theories abound.

There’s evidence from mice that caloric restriction induces the body to activate fewer genes related to inflammation, which many scientists suspect plays a key role in aging.

Another theory holds that starved organisms hunker down in maintenance mode, shutting down activities such as reproduction that wear on the body.

Or perhaps caloric restriction reduces body temperature, thus limiting production of dangerous free radicals that gradually break down the body by damaging tissues and DNA.

“It’s all speculation,” said Dr. Sergei Romashkan of the National Institute on Aging, who is overseeing a clinical trial on caloric restriction in people.


rubberband 8 years, 10 months ago

Good grief, if I have to be on a permanent diet, I don't want to live longer!!

deskboy04 8 years, 10 months ago

I think that I am going to have to hit the buffet at the Peking Taste this afternoon.

dandelion 8 years, 10 months ago

It only seems like you live longer, because your life is so boring. Moderation is a good thing, but why not enjoy life a little. There are different definitions of living. 1. The heart is still beating. 2. You are experiencing the world to the fullest, which includes eating. If you have to lock yourself up in a room and eat only small amounts of food, and wash your hands 100 times a day, and wear a surgical mask, and don't go outside from 10:00-4:00 during the day, etc. why bother living at all?

JSDAD 8 years, 10 months ago

shocking, i wonder who didnt allready have an idea less is likely better

wifemotherslave 8 years, 10 months ago

Is is me or did everyone see the ads for Dillons bakery when you read this? And yeah a no brainer, when it comes to calories the fewer the better..really thanks for the insight.

MissinLawrence 8 years, 10 months ago

yep wifemotherslave...doesn't the cake with the strawberries and chocolate look yummy.

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 10 months ago

And, how much money did this study cost? I have come to the realization that I am going to have to be hungry some of the time to reduce my weight and keep healthy. But I don't see that as a bad thing. You are supposed to be actually hungry before you eat. This three meals a day at certain times is hardly natural.

denak 8 years, 10 months ago

Wow, can this article get any more ambigious. No where in this article does it define what "fewer" is. 50 calories, 100 calories, 300 calories.

Everyone knows that we should all probably eat less but we still need to stay within a healthy range in order for our bodies to function properly. This article, with no definition or example or how many calories is adequate, does nothing but fuel an unsafe idea of what one should be consuming.

Lastly, instead of eating less calories, what individuals need to do is to become more active.

With all things being equal a person who excercises or is active the minimum 30 minutes a day is going to live a lot longer than a person who restricts their caloric intake.


alm77 8 years, 10 months ago

Dande, you cracked me UP!

Irish, let's not forget we were also commanded to fast at times.

Dena, it says to shave 10-30% off of what conventional charts say. So that's different for everyone.

Kirk Larson 8 years, 10 months ago

I read a book, Why Some Like It Hotter, about different eating habits around the world. It made mention of people in central Asia where it is common for people to approach 100 years old, still active. It noted how, with religious practices of fasting a day or two here and there, when added up they were basically fasting about a third of every year.

denak 8 years, 10 months ago


My bad, I didn't see that at all. Does it say anything in the article about improving eyesight when you get old? :0)


BigPrune 8 years, 10 months ago

Eating more food contributes to global warming. I see a multi-million dollar study in the making. hmmmm.

Kirk Larson 8 years, 10 months ago

autie, This is something more than eat-less-don't-get-fat. Research on calorie restricted diets in many other animals shows that if you restrict calories to just enough to meet your need (still have to get vitamins you need) you can live significantly longer.

salad 8 years, 10 months ago

This study = Stating the incredibly obvious.

alm77 8 years, 10 months ago

I've read a few diet books lately and ALL of them say "Don't count calories! Just follow our plan!" So I would say that, yes, this is newsworthy. People need to wake up and understand how providing too much fuel causes your body to store it up.

gccs14r 8 years, 10 months ago

Not necessarily. More frequent voiding of smaller quantities is probably healthier. Why keep it in there?

Leslie Swearingen 8 years, 10 months ago

I just got back from another test at the hospital so I am quite aware of the fasting rule. I am also now really motivated for the first time to follow that advice about diet and exercise. And, yes, it is a lifelong thing. I would rather be a little hungry today than a lot dead tomorrow.

tangential_reasoners_anonymous 8 years, 10 months ago

I only consume negative calories... in part to augment my vitamin deficiency.

jonas_opines 8 years, 10 months ago

This goes onto the list with smoking, drinking, sex, motorcycles and beating up small children: no point to life without those things.

Katara 8 years, 10 months ago

This strategy has always worked wonderfully for anorexics.

BMI 8 years, 10 months ago

Mr_Nancy_Boy_To_You (Tom Shewmon) says… My now dead brother in law had a simple rule he used to preach to me:

If you're going #2 more than once a day, you're eating too much. Makes sense really, doesn't it? -- And going once a day helped him out live you?

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