Ounce of Prevention | Eat less – live longer, live better
A major function of food is to provide us with energy. The energy we get from the food we eat is expressed in units called calories, and different foods have different caloric values.
While proteins and carbohydrates supply four calories per gram, fats provide over twice that amount - nine calories per gram. So, the number of calories you consume depends not only on how much, but also on the type of food that you consume. Although not a food, alcohol provides an impressive seven calories per gram.
The common custom of overconsumption of food and calories has dire consequences to health, even among those who seem healthy. Simply eating and drinking too much can damage or even kill you.
Medical research shows that it results in a much greater risk of developing common disorders like diabetes, hypertension, lipid (cholesterol and triglycerides) disorders, heart disease, and strokes.
CALORIE RESTRICTION (CR)
Research has consistently demonstrated that restricting the number of calories an animal eats while ensuring it gets all the nourishment it needs causes the animal to live a longer and healthier life.
This is a process called calorie restriction (CR). It not only extends the lifespan of animals, but also reduces the incidence of virtually all diseases of ageing such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, autoimmune disorders, neurological decline, and conditions like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
In some cases, the lifespan of animals in the experiment doubled. This is the only strategy that has been proven to consistently extend the lifespan of animals.
CR - FROM MICE TO MEN
The big question is, can CR work for us? For many practical reasons, that query has not been answered, but there is compelling evidence that keeping your body weight low (one result of CR) can make you live longer.
In 1997, a study on body weight and mortality in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated: "We conclude that when appropriate adjustments are made for effects of smoking and underlying disease, the optimal weights for longevity are below average in both men and women."
In other words, a healthy person with low body weight lives longer than a healthy person with a high body weight.
A serious calorie-restricted diet aims to cut your intake of calories by 20-40 per cent less than is usual while still providing you with all the necessary nutrients.
The average person finds making such a drastic change in their diet a challenge. Hunger, a lack of discipline and information, and prevailing social norms provide major obstacles.
A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO CR
- Change your mindset: Most people have been programmed to think that more is always better. With respect to food and optimal health, the opposite is usually true; less is often better. Remind yourself that the primary reason for eating is to nourish the body, not for pleasure, and begin to make small adjustments to your diet.
Be conscious of the calorie content of whatever you eat or drink, and read the nutritional labels on all packaged foods you use.
- Use modern food technology: Food science has created meal-replacement drinks called shakes that can provide all the nutrients you would get in a large, balanced meal while greatly restricting your calorie intake. There are lots of shakes on the market, and some people create their own, but they are not all equal. Choose carefully a nutrient-dense and low-calorie shake.
For over 25 years, I have replaced one or more of my meals each day with a shake from Herbalife International. It provides generous levels of all the key nutrients for less than 200 calories.
The shake is an economical, delicious, and convenient way to embark on CR by simply replacing one or two regular meals with shakes.
- Focus on water-rich, high-fibre foods: Since water contains no calories and fibre is the non-digestible part of plant foods, foods high in water and fibre will be lower in caloric content. They also add volume and bulk to the food, creating a greater feeling of fullness and satiety.
Fresh fruits and vegetables should, therefore, be a big part of your meal plan. Remember, however, that very sweet fruits like mangoes and ripe bananas provide lots of sugar and calories and can sabotage your CR programme.
- Cut back on fats and alcohol: As indicated earlier, fats and alcohol have a very high caloric content, and their consumption should be restricted. Healthy fats, like the omega 3 fatty acids, are, however, essential.
- Ease up on sugar and starch: Although these carbohydrates have fewer calories, we easily consume too much of them as they create cravings for more. They can also disturb your metabolism. Cut back significantly on these foods.
- Have enough protein: While proteins are low in calories, they provide the materials for the body to repair and renew itself. Do not skimp on healthy protein foods. One important feature of the shake I referred to is that it is an excellent source of protein.
- Try intermittent fasting: Much research now extol the benefits of regularly fasting for one or two days out of your week. I have provided basic guidelines in a previous article.