This Small Change in Your Diet May Slow the Aging Process

Reducing your caloric intake by 15 percent may lead to a longer, healthier life, according to a recent clinical trial.

Participants in the two-year study not only lost an average of 25 pounds, they had lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, which when high can lead to life-shortening diseases.

They also saw changes in biomarkers associated with slower aging and a longer life span, such as a decrease in core body temperature, lower blood sugar and insulin levels, and a drop in hormones that regulate metabolism.

Calorie reduction resulting in weight loss may not be a surprising result of this study, but calorie reduction slowing the aging process may require explaining. Scientists say a lower calorie intake prompts the body to use energy more efficiently and reduces the byproducts of our metabolism, called oxygen radicals. These free radicals accumulate in the body and damage cells and tissues. Since that damage causes the cells to age faster and increases the risk of chronic diseases, reducing free radicals through diet can slow the aging process.

The take-away message from this study, says Cathy Clark-Reyes, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care, is most people should be eating less to lose weight since nearly 70 percent of Americans are overweight.

“A small, consistent change in your eating habits, like cutting calories by 15 percent, is a better strategy than a fad diet or a plan that severely restricts calories,” she said. “When changing your eating habits to improve your health, you should ask yourself, ‘can I sustain this for the rest of my life?’”

The first step in adopting healthy eating habits, Ms. Clark-Reyes says, is limiting processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, both of which contain added sugars. The average American consumes about 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, which amounts to an extra 350 calories. Many people can achieve a 15 percent decrease in calories simply by making this one change.

To feel fuller and more satisfied on fewer calories, Ms. Clark-Reyes and other experts recommend eating nutrient-dense foods rather than high-energy density foods. Nutrient-dense foods provide valuable nutrients for your body, such as fiber, vitamins and minerals, and enable you to eat a greater volume of food that is lower in calories. On the other hand, high-energy dense foods, like processed foods, have little nutritional value and excessive calories, even in small portions.

The best nutrient-dense foods are fruits and vegetables. Fruits such as blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are high in vitamins and fiber, which helps you feel full. Vegetables like leafy greens, asparagus, green beans, broccoli and zucchini are low in calories but high in volume.

Many fruits and veggies also are high in antioxidants, which fight free radicals produced by our metabolism. Also on the list of antioxidant-rich foods are plant-based proteins such as beans, whole unrefined grains like oatmeal and quinoa and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon.

Ms. Clark-Reyes says studies such as this simply reinforce what we already know: Eating healthy, high-nutrient foods can help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid the kinds of chronic illnesses that can shorten your life.

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