Balance of What You Eat, NOT Total Calories Dictates Health and Longevity

First and foremost let me state that "diets" DO NOT work to control ones weight, least of all "fad diets". We all have a "diet" that constitutes our normal daily food intake. Many individuals have a "diet" that exceeds their daily caloric needs and as a result slowly leads to weight gain. The concept of going on a diet to lose weight is totally unhealthy and more often than not results in the putting on more weight than one started with. Most often this is due to two simple facts.

The first is that persons who find that they are heavier than they want to be believe that changing their "diet" will result in weight loss. Due to lifestyle (work, children, school, etc) most individuals who "go on a diet" do not also change the level of physical activity necessary to increase the number of calories that are consumed by the body's metabolic processes. Early in the changed "diet" an individual may lose some weight (mostly water) but this quickly fails to sustain the loss and ultimately results in the person abandoning the "diet" and re-gaining all the lost weight.

The second simple fact that is associated with "diet" failure is that a person does not gain 10 or 20 or 50 pounds in a short span of time, the weight gain is incipient and one day a person realizes they weigh more than they want to. The time frame of this change can be years and yet a person wants to lose all the extra weight in a few weeks and when that fails they abandon the diet.

Changing ones weight requires a change in lifestyle, a change in the food one eats, and most importantly, a commitment to the time required to observe a sustainable change.

A recent research publication in the prestigious scientific journal, Cell Metabolism, demonstrates that calories alone are NOT the key to metabolic health, healthy aging, and longevity. The results from this study show that it is the ratio of macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates, proteins) in the diet NOT their total caloric contribution that is the key.

The Ratio of Macronutrients, Not Caloric Intake, Dictates Cardiometabolic Health, Aging, and Longevity in Ad Libitum-Fed Mice

The vast majority of nutrition research, as it relates to human health, has focused on the effects of individual macronutrients. For example the Atkins diet which is high fat and low carbohydrate, or diets that are high protein and low fat, or low fat and low carbohydrate diets. However, as demonstrated in laboratory animals in this study, longevity and
health were optimized when protein was replaced with carbohydrate. This change resulted in a limitation of compensatory mechanisms of feeding behavior. Additionally, calorie restriction attained through the use of a high-protein diet or by dietary
dilution had no beneficial effects on lifespan in these animals. Calorie restriction has been touted as the diet of choice for enhancing healthy longevity. This is due to the fact that in lower organisms such as round worms and fruit flies, calorie restriction does indeed extend the organisms life span. However, studies in humans and primates have not shown such a strong correlation. This is most likely due to the fact that humans "diet" in what is referred to as an ad libitum (at ones pleasure) manner and this leads to compensatory feeding behaviors that tend to negate the effects of calorie restriction

The goal of this research was to ascertain what constitutes a balanced diet and how this balance relates and correlates to health and longevity. The study used a variety of diets and the experimental animals were allowed feed ad libitum. The study found that protein-centric diets and carbohydrate-centric diets activated compensatory feeding responses in the animals but that dietary fat had little impact on overall food intake. However, it was stressed that this did not imply that fat exerted no negative feedback onto overall food intake, but rather that any fat mediated feedback appeared to be dominated by competing feedback effects from protein and carbohydrate.

The animals which were fed a low protein high carbohydrate diet experienced the longest life spans, had the lower blood pressures, higher levels of blood HDL, lower levels of blood LDL, and lower serum triglycerides. This data in mice is consistent with the findings in humans where consumption of a high protein low carbohydrate diet is associated  with an increased likelihood for cardiovascular disease. Studies have also linked low protein low carbohydrate diets to poor health outcomes. These findings support the notion that a balance of protein and carbohydrate, rather than overall energy intake (i.e. calories) is the means to attainment of cardiovascular health and thus enhanced life span.

Digging deeper into the effects of protein and carbohydrate ratios in the diet this study found that as the protein to carbohydrate ratio went up (i.e. more protein, less carbohydrate) there were demonstrably important molecular changes. In particular the level of activation of the protein complex identified as mTORC1 (mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1). The mTORC1 is the major mTOR-containing complex that regulates cellular responses to growth factor signaling, nutrient deprivation, and various forms of cellular stress. The higher the level of mTORC1 activation the less capable is a cell of responding to the damaging effects of cellular aging, such as occurs in response to increased generation of free radicals (e.g. reactive oxygen species such as superoxide anion). As the amount of calories increases the level of free radical generation also increases, thus there is a direct correlation between caloric intake and the aging processes.

For more details on the role of mTORC1 in cellular aging go to my Medical Biochemistry website as well as to my Supplement Science website:

The TAKE HOME from this highly significant study is that healthy aging is achieved (at least in laboratory mice) when a diet consists of low protein and where additional caloric requirements are met by carbohydrates rather than fats. High protein and/or diluted diets (calorie restriction) do not result in life extension under the conditions of ad libitum feeding. Of course it will be VERY important to determine if the same results are attainable in humans, especially given that high-protein diets are very often promoted
for weight loss and health. Another key consideration for a macronutrient balanced diet in humans, that can be demonstrated to promote health and longevity, is the makeup of the lipids that are in the diet as well as what type and quality of the carbohydrates that are consumed.


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