Live better ... eat less
The common habit of overeating has a major impact on health even in people who seem healthy. Eating and drinking too much can make you sick or even kill you. Medical research shows that it results in a much higher risk of developing common disorders like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and triglycerides, heart disease, cancer and strokes.
The energy that we get from the food we eat is counted in units called calories. Different kinds of foods provide different amounts of calories. While proteins and carbohydrates supply four calories per gram, fats provide nine calories per gram, over two times that amount. So, how many calories you consume depends not only on how much food, but also on the type of food you eat. Alcohol, though not a food, provides seven calories per gram.
Research consistently shows that when you restrict the amount of calories an animal eats while making sure it gets all the nutrients it needs, the animal lives a longer and healthier life. This process is called calorie restriction (CR). CR not only significantly extends the lifespan of laboratory animals, but also reduces the incidence of virtually all diseases of ageing and cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, auto-immune disorders and nervous system disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. In some cases, the lifespan of animals has been doubled using CR. This is the only strategy proven to achieve this remarkable feat.
CR in humans
The big question is this: Does CR work for humans? This research is difficult to conduct in people, but we know 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 concluded that on average, a healthy person with low body weight lives longer that a healthy person with high body weight.
Challenges with CR
A serious calorie restriction diet aims to reduce your intake of calories to a level that is 20 to 40 per cent lower than is typical, while still obtaining all the necessary nutrients and vitamins. The average person is challenged to make such a drastic change in their diet. Major obstacles include hunger, a lack of information, lack of discipline, and prevailing social norms.
How to practise CR
- Change your mindset: Most people have been programmed to think that more is always better. With respect to food and optimal health, less is often better. Consider eating not just for pleasure, but also for your health. Begin by making small adjustments to your diet.
- Use modern food technology: Food science has created meal replacement drinks called shakes that provide all the nutrients you would get in a large balanced meal while greatly restricting your calorie intake. There are lots of shakes commercially available and some people create their own, but not all shakes are created equal, so choose carefully. You need a shake high in nutrient content while low in calories. For 21 years, I have replaced one or more of my meals each day with a shake from Herbalife International. It provides lots of all the key nutrients in less than 200 calories. The shake is an economical, delicious and convenient way to embark on CR.
- Focus on water-rich, high-fibre foods: Water contains no calories, and fibre is the non-digestible part of plant foods. Foods high in water and fibre will be low in calories. They also add volume and bulk to a meal, thus creating a greater feeling of fullness and satiety. Fresh fruits and vegetables should therefore be a big part of your meal plan. Remember that very sweet fruit 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 in fish and some seeds are essential. Coconut and olive oils are particularly healthy.
- Ease up on sugar and starch: Although these are carbohydrates and have lower calories than fats, they create cravings for more and we easily consume too much of them. These are also the cheapest calories and abundant in our fast foods. Cut back significantly on rice, flour and sweetened foods.
- Have enough protein: While proteins are lower in calories, they provide the material 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 healthy protein.
- You may email Dr Vendryes at firstname.lastname@example.org or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER 106 FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. His books, 'An Ounce of Prevention' for men and women contain dietary guidelines. Check his website, www.tonyvendryes.com.