You read correctly. Judicious calorie restriction, while preserving maximized nutritional intake, might slow down the normal aging process and, in turn, boost cardiovascular, brain and cellular health. That’s why, if you’re like many people who eat more calories per day than they should or think they do, then you may want to consider dropping some calories from your diet. Not all calories are created equal, of course, so you want to be wise about how you manage them.
As you may guess, there are many reasons the effects of a calorie-restricted diet are significant. For starters, nearly one in six people are over the age of 65 in our country, so this has broad-reaching potential effects, since age-related illnesses that the calorie-restricted diet may offset become increasingly common in an aging population. Heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s are among some of the most devastating of these. While many scientists have believed for some time that a low-calorie diet—while still maintaining prudent nutrition—could delay the effects of aging, they’ve only recently found out why.
In short, researchers have identified the role that a chemical compound called β-hydroxybutyrate, or βOHB, brought about by a low-calorie diet plays in aging. It may be the key to preventing age-related diseases. While this same compound can prove toxic when present in high concentrations in people with diseases such as type 1 diabetes, it actually protects cells from oxidative stress—which contribute to the aging process—when found at lower concentrations due to a prudent, calorie-restricted diet.
Senior investigator on the study, Eric Verdin, M.D., says, “Over the years, studies have found that restricting calories slows aging and increases longevity—however, the mechanism of this effect has remained elusive. Here we find that βOHB—the body’s major source of energy during exercise or fasting—blocks a class of enzymes [called histone deacetylases, or HDACs] that would otherwise promote oxidative stress, thus protecting cells from aging.”
"Identifying βOHB as a link between caloric restriction and protection from oxidative stress opens up a variety of new avenues to researchers for combating disease," said Tadahiro Shimazu, a Gladstone postdoctoral fellow and the paper's lead author. "In the future, we will continue to explore the role of βOHB—especially how it affects the body's other organs, such as the heart or brain—to confirm whether the compound's protective effects can be applied throughout the body."
More specifically, it’s been noted that calorie restriction—dropping intake by approximately 20 percent with optimal nutrition—may extend lifespan by up to 20 to 50 percent, while significantly lowering the risk for most diseases associated with aging. While more studies need to be conducted on calorie restriction combined with optimal nutrition and their effects on lifespan, it is known that those following this calorie-restricted or “ketogenic diet” have lower blood pressure, heart rate and glucose levels.
And. . . with the addition of this new scientific find concerning the role of βOHB, we’re one step closer to knowing just why a low-calorie diet featuring optimal nutrition can help support lifespan and associated health perks. So, what foods may fit this category? Fill up on low-calorie, high-nutrient, high-fiber raw veggies as well as eggs, fish, lean meat, nuts, seeds, legumes and other healthy proteins.
And remember, don’t overdo the calorie limitation. If you feel weak or tired, then you could be overzealous in your approach. Also, you need enough energy for regular exercise. Your health should be improving, not declining, as a result of caloric restriction. Be sure to keep your BMI and body fat levels at healthy levels, too.
So, if you’re among those who eat too much daily—and many of us are—then trim back on your intake. A longer life and greater health could await you.