Humans have long searched for ways to prolong their lives. From the epic tales of ancient Greece to the latest blockbusters and page-turners, the yearning for immortality has been a persistent theme throughout history. However, unlike the fantastical stories of the old, the secret to a long life is not a mystical potion but rather the adoption of healthy habits. According to science, one of the ways to prolong your life is to restrict your calorie intake. In this article, we discuss how eating fewer calories can help you live a longer and happier life and how to practice it safely and sustainably. Let's dive in Caloric Restriction and Longevity!
What is caloric restriction?
Imagine being able to slow down the aging process and potentially live longer by simply eating less! This is the concept behind caloric restriction. It involves reducing food intake below normal body requirements without causing malnutrition.
By doing so, you can gradually lower your resting metabolic rate. This means your body needs less energy for essential functions. Over time, this shifts your metabolism to a lower energy state. It may slow aging and promote longevity.
To understand how caloric restriction and longevity are related, it's first important to learn about the processes of aging. Currently, most of the scientific world agrees on two theories – the rate of living theory and the free radical theory. Which of the two is more accurate remains a question. Still, there's no doubt both of them provide valuable insight into the fascinating process.
The rate of living theory
Have you ever noticed that larger animals tend to outlive their smaller counterparts? Well, this phenomenon has inspired the rate of living theory! The research suggests that an animal's metabolic rate, which determines the speed at which it burns energy to maintain essential bodily functions like breathing and blood circulation, closely ties to its lifespan.
Interestingly, bigger animals actually have lower metabolic rates, indicating that slower "rates of living" might be the secret to a long life.
Figure 1: According to the rate of living theory, larger animals live longer than smaller animals because their metabolic rates are slower. (image from Harvard Edu)
The free radical theory
Another important theory that sheds light on the relationship between caloric restriction and longevity is the free radical theory. You may have noticed – as people get older – they eventually succumb to diseases like heart conditions, neurodegenerative disorders, or cancers. So, why does that happen?
The answer may lie in a group of highly reactive atoms or molecules called free radicals. The free radical theory proposes that our bodies naturally produce these troublemakers, which can damage proteins, DNA, and fatty tissue. This damage accumulates over time and ultimately leads to aging.
However, there's a twist – we could potentially slow down the aging process by reducing free radical production through a slower metabolism.
Figure 2: According to the free radical theory, the body's DNA, fatty tissues, and proteins can all be harmed by highly reactive atoms or molecules known as free radicals. It's possible that this damage builds up over time and causes ageing. (image from Harvard)
You might be wondering – where does calorie restriction come in? It's proven that reducing food intake can reduce metabolic rate. After all – if you eat less, then consequently, there's less for your body to process. Often, this also leads to weight loss, which means less energy is needed to maintain the reduced body mass.
This could then slow down the aging process by decreasing the damage caused by free radicals. But here's the really cool part: some species have already shown a decrease in free radicals under calorie restriction, and there's evidence that it could also reduce protein and DNA damage. So, not only could calorie restriction help you live longer, but it could also keep you looking and feeling younger for longer.
The benefits of reducing your calorie intake
There's ample evidence showing reduced calorie intake benefits aging and metabolic health. More research is needed to fully understand this promising concept. Even now, we can see the positive effects. Here are a couple of examples.
Longevity: By cutting back on calories, researchers have observed significant increases in lifespan ranging from 50% to a whopping 300% in animal studies. While more studies are needed, it's believed humans can benefit too! Those who practice caloric restriction between the ages of 20 to 65 have been found to add an extra 1-5 years onto their lifespan, with early adoption leading to even greater longevity.
Anti-aging: Slowing your metabolic rate can help improve your body's energy efficiency and reduce oxidative damage. Not only that, but it can also delay the accumulation of pesky senescent cells, which can cause all sorts of age-related symptoms. Plus, it even encourages autophagy, a process that helps renew and repair faulty cells.
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Better immune function: In a fascinating two-year experiment exploring the benefits of caloric restriction, researchers discovered a remarkable improvement in the function of the thymus gland. As individuals age, the thymus gland naturally shrinks, leading to a decline in the production of T lymphocytes and a weakened immune system overall. However, when participants in this study restricted their calorie intake by 25%, their thymic gland actually grew throughout the trial
Methods for achieving caloric restriction
As you can see, there are many benefits to caloric restriction. But it's important to understand that simply eating less (or not enough) won't do the trick. In fact, by trying to reduce calorie intake without much thought, you may do more harm than good. Here are the best methods for achieving caloric restriction.
This trendy dietary practice is all about strategically limiting your food intake for certain periods of time, whether that means skipping breakfast, fasting for a whole day, or anything in between. By cutting back on your overall calories, you could potentially reap a ton of health benefits, like improved metabolism, weight loss, and even a longer lifespan.
It's important to note that intermittent fasting will provide more stable and long-lasting benefits only when practiced consistently.
Arguably, the most popular way to reduce calorie intake is through conventional diets. With this method, you must look at your average calorie consumption and then reduce it between 10% and 40%. In this scenario, it's important to plan meals that are high in nutrients.
Another option for reducing calorie intake is time-restricted eating. This trend alights your meals with your body's natural metabolic processes. The idea is simple – consuming most of your food during the day can boost your energy levels, keep your body in balance, and make the most out of your daily activities. In contrast, if you eat heavily in the evening, you might be storing more energy than you actually need.
So how can you know which method is the best? Science has no answer to this. It seems there's not a particular method that offers more benefit than another. That means caloric restriction and longevity don't work with a one-size-fits-all approach. Before you decide to try one of the methods, you should consult with a doctor. Depending on your specific needs, you can then choose between the three options.
Of course, it's much easier to implement intermittent fasting or time-restricted eating in your lifestyle. Counting calories and measuring nutrient intake is a time-consuming task, that's why restrictive caloric diets aren't the best fit for busy individuals.
More longevity hacks can be found here.
How to practice caloric restriction in a safe way
Caloric restriction can only bring good when practiced safely. Regardless of whether you prefer intermittent fasting, time-restricted eating, or calorie counting, you must ensure you are still getting adequate nutrition. Remember – the ultimate goal is to live a longer, healthier, and happier life, and proper food plays a huge role. When starting out:
- See a healthcare professional. If you don't have experience with caloric restriction, it's easy to fall behind in essential nutrition. To avoid this problem, see a professional who can guide you through the process and ensure your body gets all the vitamins and nutrients it needs.
- Try a high-fiber whole-food diet. One of the best ways to reduce your daily calorie intake is to say goodbye to processed foods. Instead, opt for a nutrient-dense diet that includes plenty of plant-based meals. This is important for your overall health
- Check your beverages. You'd be surprised to see how much sugar (and calories) can be found in beverages. Staying hydrated is important – there's no arguing. But try to stick with water as you do. There's also no harm in drinking tea or coffee as long as you don't add sugar or other sweeteners.
Caloric restriction and longevity – conclusion
Getting older is inevitable, but that doesn't mean you can't take steps to ensure your life is longer and healthier. When it comes to our diet, most of us focus on the immediate benefits, like fitting into that old pair of jeans or avoiding a bloated stomach. However, what we put into our bodies today can significantly impact the length and quality of our lives in the future.
To learn more about the best longevity tips and tricks, such as cold therapy, visit our blog.