Calorie Density, Calorie Restriction and Living Long
This is the last article in the series where we’ll talk about the relation between calorie density, calorie restriction and longevity. The first two articles in this series can be found here and here.
The only proven way to extend life in animals is limit their calories which is called calorie restriction.
It was first done in 1930s by a guy named McCay, and a guy named Ray Walford was involved too. They had many studies done on almost every animal you can imagine (rats, mice, guinea pigs, cats, dogs, etc). And every time they did it, they saw the exact same thing. What they found out is, if you take an animal like a mouse, and you’d see what it would normally eat when food is freely available, and then restrict it 10%, but make sure it gets all its nutrients, it lives 10% longer. If you do it 20%, it lives 20% longer. If you restrict food by 40%, it lives 40% longer. That’s pretty much where the cut off is, because after that you starve them. So you do need a certain amount of calories and nutrients.
They’ve now done these studies in primates. With monkeys it takes longer, because monkeys have longer life span, so they have to wait longer to see the effects. But all the effects on a biomacros (cholesterol, LDL, HDL, heart disease, heart function) are excellent in the monkeys.
And there are trials now going on in humans. The National Institute of Health has been sponsoring several studies around the country on calorie restriction in humans. It is going to take a while for these humans to go through their life span, and by the meantime, guess what’s happening? Excellent results in heart function, cholesterol levels, insulin levels, blood sugar, etc.
So, the only way to really extend your life is to eat a little less, but make sure you get in all your nutrients.
When they looked at long-lived populations and where there is more people over the age of a 100 per capita than anywhere else in the world, they found out it is in Okinawa, Japan. Sardinia, Italy is one of the top as well. Just like Okinawa is a little different from a mainland Japan, Sardinia is a little different from a mainland Italy. And another top one was a Seven Day Adventists community in Loma Linda, California. They live 7-10 years longer than the average Californian.
There are a few things that are similar among these people. Here is the list.
- Plant-based diet
- No smoking
- Constant moderate physical activity (for most of them it doesn’t mean they go to gyms – they walk and they work in their daily lives)
- Social engagement (getting together, having fun, going out, being around people, etc)
Okinawans are the longest lived population, and they do better than Mediterranean countries (they are better than the US, but they are not the best).
It turns out, Okinawans practice a form of calorie restriction, and that’s why they are different from mainland Japan.
There was a study that came out in the Annuals of New York Academy of Science (that’s about as good of a journal as you can get) named Caloric Restriction, The Traditional Okinawan Diet, and Healthy Aging: The Diet of the World’s Longest-Lived People and Its Potential Impact on Morbidity and Life Span (Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1114: 434-455, 2007).
There are a lot of theories about Okinawans and what they do eat and don’t eat. And times have changed, even for them. So, they decided to go back and check their records.
Okinawans practice something called ‘Hara Hachi Bu’, which means eating only until you are 80% full.
So, what they did in a study, they went back to pre- 1950s to find out what they ate. Because if you are a 100 or 110 years old today, when did you really get most of your calories? And what really made a difference in your life? The first 50 years. Plus in 1950, after the war, it changed.
So, in pre- 1950s Okinawans ate 1785 calories on average (in Japan they ate 2068), so they were eating less. I would like to show you the numbers, because this is now the diet of the longest lived people, when it had the biggest influence on them (if you go there today, it might be a little different). Here is a table:
|Caloric density (calories/gram)||1.4|
|Total protein in grams (% total calories)||39 (9)|
|Total carbohydrate in grams (% total calories)||382 (85)|
|Total fat in grams (% total calories)||12 (6)|
|Saturated fatty acid in grams||3.7|
Notes: Look at the calorie density, it relates to the same numbers we were pointing out earlier. Only 1.8 % of calories came from saturated fat, and that’s like a fifth of what we get in the US.
Now, let’s look at the actual foods they ate.
|Sweet potatoes (% total calories)||69|
|Rice (% total calories)||12|
|Other grains (% total calories)||7|
|Legumes (% total calories)||6|
|Fish (% total calories)||1|
|Meat (% total calories)||<1|
|Oil (% total calories)||2|
|Dairy (% total calories)||<1|
Notes: Soy was not the main bean, they ate a lot of other beans. Meat, eggs, dairy almost unheard of – they have 80% less osteoporosis than we here in the US.
Okinawans were NOT fish eaters, they were sweet potato eaters!
They also looked at the Chinese centenarians. And here is a nutrient composition in main diet of Chinese centenarians.
|Dried sweet potato slices||55%|
If you put sweet potato, cereals, beans and vegetables together, you’ll see that carbohydrates (plant foods) make up 90% of their diet. And they only ate 1319 calories a day, also a form of slight calorie restriction (A survey of the dietary nutritional composition of centenarians. Chinese Medical Journal 2001, 114 (10): 1095-1097).
Here is another interesting example. Tarahumara are a Native American people of Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico who are renowned for their long-distance running ability. Because of their diet and their lifestyle Tarahumara population is considered anti-atherogenic (atherogenic diet, which is high in saturated fat promotes coronary heart disease). There is zero heart disease amongst them. Tarahumara people are some of the best endurance athletes in the world – it’s said that it’s virtually impossible to outrun anybody from Tarahumara tribe.
There was a study where they actually went down there, and weighted and measured everything Tarahumara people ate. Here are the numbers:
19% of their calories came from beans
71% came from corn
So, 90% of their calories came from two foods. This proves the point that you don’t need a big variety and you can keep it simple. The longest lived people in the world eat two-three-four foods that make up 70-80-90% of their calories and most of them come from starchy vegetables, fruits and vegetables.
Living Healthy in an Unhealthy World — The Calorie Density Solution
Here is a short recap of what we’ve covered in two previous articles.
1. Focus on foods low in CD and high in satiety
- High in
- Water, Fiber, Bulk (Volume)
- Fruits, Veggies, Starchy Veggies, Unrefined CC, Legumes
- Low in
- Fat, Sugar, Refined Carbs
- Refined & Processed CCs, Junk Food, Fast Food
2. Dilute the Calorie Density of foods
- Mix foods high in CD with foods low in CD
- < 1:1 Ratio
3. Sequence foods
- Eat foods low in CD first
- Start meals with soup &/or salad
- Vegetables vs fat
- Adding vegetables always lowers CD and raises satiety
- Adding fat always raises CD and lowers satiety
Calorie Density in the Real World
There is a famous study called The Hawaiian Diet where they went to Hawaii and took 29 Hawaiians for 21 days. The Hawaiians were eating pretty much the Standard American Diet that supposed to be a little low in fat and high in carbs (it was 32% fat, 51% carbs and 17% protein). And then they put them on ancestral Hawaiian diet, when they used to eat taro and sweet potatoes. They ate “ad libitum” (no portion or calorie restriction) on a very low-fat and very high-carb diet (7% fat, 78% carbs, 15% protein).
Results: The caloric intake dropped 40% (from 2594 to 1569); average weight loss was 22 lbs; average cholesterol decreased 15%; average blood pressure decreased 11.5 systolic, 8.9 diastolic (Am J Clin Nutr. 1991 Jun; 53 (6 Suppl): 1647S-1651S).
The Hawaiian Diet II
They went back a few years later and they did it again.
They took 29 Hawaiians for 21 days and put them on the same diet again (12% fat, 77% carbs, 11% protein) and fed them “ad libitum”.
Here are the results:
Weight loss averaged 11 lbs; diastolic blood pressure decreased an average of 82.7 to 78.9 ; cholesterol levels fell from 205.3 to 156.9; LDL fell from 125.9 to 94.9; triglycerides decreased from 238.7 to 152.2; blood sugar levels fell from 112.2 to 91.5 (Hawaii Med J. 2001 Mar; 60(3): 69-73).
Conclusion: All these studies clearly show us that, if you want to live longer and stay disease-free the best diet to adopt is plant-based, low-fat, high-carb diet. Whether you make it raw/high raw or not, it’s up to you.
Note from Vlada: I would like to warn you about one very important thing which has to do with calorie restriction. If you’re just starting on a low-fat raw vegan diet and mastering your way through the transitioning phase, do NOT attempt to practice calorie restriction yet. Train your body to accept large fruit meals, learn how to eat fruit until you’re fully satiated, and make sure you’re totally happy and satisfied with your eating plan (which means you’ll experience no cravings, no binges, etc). And only then you can start implementing some form of slight calorie restriction, if this is your goal (which might be, for obvious reasons). Another important thing to remember is this: it is NOT recommended to restrict calories if you are under 40 years old.
I truly hope that you’ve learned a lot from this article series (I know I did), and it was helpful. Leave me a comment and share your thoughts or experiences, I would love to hear from you!
Here’s to You, Living Long and Disease-Free,
Image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net