Less Food for More Longevity

Less Food for More Longevity

October 14, 2010

Today the world is celebrating the rescue of 33 Chilean miners.  Details of the grueling 70 days spent underground are making headline news in a rare, but certainly welcome survival and rescue story. It is difficult to imagine, especially for those of us with any hint of claustrophobia, how the human spirit could handle such an ordeal.  As a nation of overeaters, however, it may be even more difficult to imagine how 48 hours of food was rationed to last 17 days before rescuers were able to provide more food and supplies for the remaining 53 days of entrapment.

While the miners’ sacrificial rations were an obvious attempt to stay alive, their situation is proof that the human body can survive –at least for short periods of time- with far less food than most people think.  I am not suggesting that everyone should attempt  starvation to lose weight or for any other reason, but to simply pause and take an honest look at the amount of food you consume each day.

My clients are often shocked when I explain what a serving size looks like.  A serving is an exact measurement of food.  A portion is the amount of food served on your plate (either by you, someone else or in a restaurant). For example, the two cups of pasta that you are served in a restaurant is actually 4 servings of pasta.  But most diners will assume that is what a serving size of pasta is, and will consume the entire plate full, disregarding their level of hunger and satiety.

Regardless of weight loss efforts, there is another compelling motivation for eating fewer calories throughout the course of a day, and that is to increase longevity.  A relatively new theory called Calorie Restriction (CR) which focuses on eating whole foods: fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein thereby keeping all the important nutrients in your diet, promises to increase the lifespan. “Calorie restriction is not about starvation,” says Chhanda Dutta, chief of the Clinical Gerontology Branch of the National Institute on Aging in Bethesda, Maryland. “It’s about lowering calorie intake, minus malnutrition.”

There is no shortage of information about the health risks of obesity and benefits of weight loss.  In addition to lowering blood pressure, cholesterol levels and risk of diabetes, the addition of added years to your life – a potential fountain of youth? – may now possibly be added to the list.

If the mere thought of counting calories, much less reducing your daily intake by 25-30% seems too arduous a task, simply start by doing the following:

* Eat 1/3 less food at each meal.

* Slow down your eating, converse with others during meals.

* Make time for meals, choosing your foods wisely, with nutrient density in mind.

* Eliminate liquid calories from your diet – eat FOOD, drink water.

If you want to be sure that your new lower calorie meal plan is providing you with all the necessary nutrients, a Registered Dietitian can help you determine not only how many calories your body requires, but also help you map out a healthy, nutritious meal plan. To locate one near you, log on to: www.eatright.org and click on Find a Nutrition Professional.

While it is obvious that the Chilean miners had no choice but to eat painfully small quantities of food to sustain their lives, their drastic story is but a microcosm of our society.  For those who regularly consume far more calories than what their bodies need for optimal health, consider a 25-30% reduction. It just may add years to your life.

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