By Tereza Hubkova, M.D.
Your calorie intake has a major importance to your health. Unfortunately, many American consume way too many calories, which is why we have so much obesity. The more excess calories you consume, the more oxidative stress you expose your body to. High caloric intake is thus contributing not only to the epidemics of obesity, but also diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s dementia and many cancers.
Calories age you. In fact, the very first scientifically proven method to extend life span (in mice) was calorie restricted diet.
Mice who were fed only about two thirds of their normal caloric intake lived one third of a life span longer. If this translated to humans, we would have the potential to live thirty years longer just by limiting our caloric intake. Nobody knows if this theory would hold true, as all the studies on caloric restriction in humans were short term, but even restricting caloric intake every other day had profoundly beneficial effect on the volunteer’s health. The benefits (better heart contractility, less DNA damage, lower markers of inflammation, etc.) were in no doubt related to decreased oxidative stress. But what if you are not willing to cut back on your calories?
It is very important, however, that if we restrict our calorie intake, we do not restrict our nutrient intake. In most cases that should not be difficult; most of the calories in a typical American diet are ‘empty’ calories anyway—meaning that the caloric value of the meals is not matched by similar nutritional value. When focusing on nutrient-dense foods (foods that have a lot of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants and other nutrients packed in small amount of calories), a calorie-restricted diet will be healthy for just about everybody.
Calorie restriction mimetics are compounds (or foods) that are able to “mimic” the effect of the calorie-restriction diet on our physiology. In other words, these calorie restriction mimetic foods produce a very similar effect in your body that you would see if you were on a calorie restriction diet.
So, what are some of the effects of calorie restriction on our body? Calorie restriction will lower your cholesterol, especially the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, blood pressure and heart rate (cardiac health), thus markedly reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke. It also promotes healthy blood sugar level and insulin sensitivity, thus warding off type II diabetes. It reduces the production of free oxygen radicals and thus limiting associated oxidative stress. Calorie restriction will help you reduce the amount of fat in your body, improve the function of your brain, and will likely result even in a better mood.
Two of the hormones that tend to decrease as we age (DHEA, and growth hormone) seem to be secreted more on a calorie restricted diet, which can help us hold on to the healthy muscle mass, while losing fat, promoting optimal body composition.
They mimic the effect of calorie restriction diet on our physiology – thus promoting longevity – lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, lower LDL cholesterol, lower triglycerides, decrease oxidative stress and body temperature, help restore DHEA and HGH hormones (which normally decline with aging), increase cognitive function and mood, lower inflammation.
By modulating apoptosis (programmed natural cell death), it may reduce the risk of cancer (cancer cells have a lack of apoptosis, thus growing out of control “forever”). Even some cell growth factors, that stimulate growth and regeneration of damaged cells, are promoted by calorie restriction. It reduces inflammation as well.
Remember, antioxidants work as a team. You need a variety of them to get the beneficial effect. Organic berries, parsley (rich in vitamin C), fresh sprouts and seeds (rich in vitamin E), green tea polyphenols, and ellagic acid (pomegranates and pomegranate juice) are some good examples.
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