Eating Less Might Help You Live Longer

Image credit – Unsplash

The key to a longer life might be how much you put on your plate at every meal. According to a small clinical trial, people who reduced their caloric intake by just 15 percent over two years experienced a significant decrease in their metabolism.  These folks also saw improvements in biomarkers associated with slower aging and a longer life span. Researchers reported that these people also developed a lower core body temperature, lower blood sugar and insulin levels, and significant drops in hormones that moderate metabolism.

One of the first physicians to claim diseases were natural and not supernatural was Hippocrates. Also known as the father of modern medicine, Hippocrates observed that many ailments were associated with gluttony; obese Greeks tended to die younger than slim Greeks, that was clear and written down on papyrus. Some of his important aphorisms were “those by nature over weight, die earlier than the slim” “do not eat to saturation” and “walking is man’s best medicine”. Thus, we should try to practice what Hippocrates preached – to eat lesser and walk more. Hippocrates died at a ripe old age of 104.

Proven By The People In Okinawa

If you want to eat your way to a century, eat like healthy people who lived to 100, like the older Okinawans. For every 100,000 inhabitants, Okinawa has 68 centenarians — more than three times the numbers found in U.S. populations of the same size. The secret to the Okinawans’ longevity? Their diet and lower consumption of calories.

Okinawa is one of the world’s Blue Zones, also known as exceptional hot spots where people live extraordinarily long, healthy, and happy lives. Okinawans eat an abundance of green and other brightly coloured vegetables. You’ll be surprised to know that the staple of Okinawans is not rice but sweet potatoes. Although they do eat pork, fish, and other meats, these are typically a small component of their overall consumption, which is mostly plant-based foods.

The traditional Okinawan diet is dense in the essential vitamins and minerals – including anti-oxidants – but also low in calories. Particularly in the past, before fast food made its way into the islands, the average Okinawan ate around 11% fewer calories than the normally recommended consumption for a healthy adult.

For this reason, some scientists believe that Okinawans offer more evidence for the life-enhancing virtues of a “calorie- restricted” diet.   

Hara Hachi bu: Many Okinawans recite this phrase before each meal to remind them to eat to 80 percent full, instead of stuffing themselves.

While many people in Okinawa consume a low-calorie diet, genetic, environmental and lifestyle issues play an important role as well towards longevity.

Okinawa had the longest life expectancy in all prefectures of Japan for almost 30 years prior to 2000. The relative life expectancy of Okinawans has since declined, due to many factors including westernization.

Jiroemon Kimura (Japan, b.19 April 1897) who died aged 116 years 54 days, on 12 June 2013 recommended eating porridge, miso soup, and vegetables.  His personal motto was “eat light to live long” and he believed the key to his longevity is to be a healthy, small eater.

Image credit – Guinness World Records

Backed By Studies

Studies going back to the mid-1930s have shown over and over that reducing calories by 25-50 percent lets yeast, worms, mice, rats, and monkeys live longer, healthier lives, free from age-related disease.

Over a decade ago, researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge began recruiting young, healthy Louisianans to voluntarily go hungry for two years. In addition to cutting their daily calories by 25 percent, the dozens who enrolled also agreed to a weekly battery of tests; blood draws, bone scans, swallowing a pill that measures internal body temperature. The Pennington participants had to also spend 24 sedentary hours inside a sealed room that recorded the contents of their every breath.

The research drew the conclusion that restricting calories can slow your basal metabolic rate by 10 percent —the energy you need to sustain all normal daily functions. When the body uses less oxygen to generate all its required energy, it produces fewer by-products of metabolism, things like free radicals that can damage DNA and other cellular machinery. After the two-year study, the lower rate of metabolism and level of calorie restriction was linked to a reduction in oxidative damage to cells and tissues.

The study lead author contends that this data rejuvenates support for two old but embattled theories of human aging: the slow metabolism ‘rate of living’ theory and the oxidative damage theory:

1) the slower an organism’s metabolism, the longer it will live.

2) organisms age because cells accumulate free radical damage over time.

In another compelling experiment, a group of resus macaques eating 30% fewer calories than the average monkey showed a remarkable 63% reduction in deaths from age-related diseases over a 20-year period. They also looked younger with fewer wrinkles and their fur retained its youthful lustre rather than turning grey.

Due to practical difficulties, long-term clinical trials in humans have yet to be completed to test the effects on longevity, but a two-year experiment, funded by the US National Institute on Aging, was highly suggestive: participants on a calorie-restricted diet showed better cardiovascular health – including lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

Eat Slowly And Eat Less

Research shows that when you eat, it takes roughly 15 to 20 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach has reached capacity. Leisurely eating allows ample time to trigger the signal from your brain that you are full. And feeling full translates into eating less.

Eat mindfully and chew your food slowly. Put your spoon down in between bites and wait 20 minutes before you go back for doubles.

In Conclusion

Your diet and how much you eat set the stage for the rest of your life.  That’s why choosing the right foods and the right amount is so important. 

You don’t necessarily have to eat an overly restrictive diet and make your life a misery but you can cut calories by choosing more fruits, vegetables, and nuts and cutting down on processed foods.  

You can still indulge in your favorite dessert but be mindful of the portion – instead of chowing down the entire slice of cake, share it with someone. And instead of eating 3 pieces of fried chicken for dinner, have 2 pieces instead. Training your tummy to expect less food will definitely pay off.

Choose to eat on smaller plates and use tall, narrow glasses. You’re likely to eat significantly lesser without even thinking about it.  Aim to feel satisfied and not hungry anymore, rather than fully satiated.

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Health Freak Mommy
Author: Health Freak Mommy

A health freak mom to 3 teenage girls. Blogger since April 2007.