(your individual mileage may vary)
Forever? Not just yet. But aging research conducted over the past 15 years indicates how we can, in fact, reliably extend our lives. The solution doesn't come from a new pill, cream, or high-tech genetically engineered food, but from the unsung hero of health: simple common sense. Moderation will save your life.
PORTION CONTROL MATTERS
It turns out that calorie control not only works in the Battle of the Bulge, but also can help to extend your life. As a matter of fact, in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dr. G.S. Roth and colleagues at the National Institute on Ageing in Baltimore make it absolutely clear.
"Dietary energy restriction is the only proven method for extending the lifespan and slowing aging in mammals, while maintaining health and vitality."
The equation - less food equals a longer healthier life - has been known for over 60 years now (in mice), although researchers have just begun translating these findings to primates like us.
This confirmation fits well with the observation that some countries (such as Japan) have exceptional life expectancy rates, and they eat small. Not only are their portions controlled at the meal, they don't eat all through the day (every 3 hours, as we are coached to in our culture). Finally, their dietary habits encourage them to take their time with those smaller portions.
Nutrition science supports this observation, and is unambiguous. Simply eating a smaller quantity will extend your lifespan.
France provides another perfect example. They live longer than us, both men and women, and also eat smaller amounts at the plate. It is interesting, too, that they also suffer fewer heart attacks and stay thinner than Americans as well.
Okay, that's the quantity of the food, but what about the quality of the food?
The French, for example, eat the most wonderful creams and cheeses and butters and breads and chocolates every day, and yet they're still healthier than us, and outlive us to boot. All this happens, despite the fact that they smoke more than we do. They control their fat consumption, but they do it by limiting volume, not by limiting wonderful, delicious foods.
By the way, it's no coincidence that the oldest woman on record, Mme. Jeanne Calmet, was French and lived to be 122 years old.
Why, though? Why would it be that eating less = living more?
JUST DON'T OVER DO IT
Before I answer that question, we have to return to the whole common sense thing. Eating less is good ... to a point. Obviously if you take eating less to an extreme, such that you are not eating at all, you will get sick and NEVER make it into the longevity Hall of Fame.
Food really is an important part of a balanced diet. Duh?
Welcome back to common sense. There is a point at which "eating less" goes from being good for you, to being bad for you. Just like drinking wine is good for you (2 glasses per day), but the very same thing becomes bad for you when it strays into 2 bottles per day. Volume turns it into a bad thing.
What is that optimal level for a longer life? How many calories should you ideally eat to extend your lifespan? How closely should you micromanage your molecules?
The answer is that you don't have to be a research scientist guru to know how much to eat. Healthy people have been eating healthy amounts of food since, well, since we've been eating food. The common sense bottom line is that, if you eat real food, and take your time with it, your body will sense the satiety signals in your brain before you eat so much of it that you hurt yourself.
BUT WHY DOES EATING LESS = LIVING LONGER?
So, back to my previous question: why does eating small lead to a longer life?
Eating smaller portions decreases your weight, but also produces a laundry list of health benefits (these are data): improved glucose tolerance, reduced insulin levels, a decreased rate of cancer, and slowed cognitive decline. Think about it, if there were a pill that could do ALL these things, the pharmaceutical company would make another bazillion dollars. However, you don't have to get this wonder drug from a Pharma giant, you can get it on your very own.
By the way, these amazing benefits are independent of exercise and even the initial starting weight of the person. Bonus.
So, the "bigger is better" mantra may be a wonderful advertising slogan in our media, and it may be the coaching that we receive day in and day out within our misguided Culture of Health, but it also becomes the biggest single contributor to overweight, obesity, and the myriad of sickness issues they cause.
This parade of problems you get from eating large is the most likely reason that something as simple as controlled calorie consumption makes you live a longer, healthier life.
And the coolest part of this elegant solution is that it's within our control. We don't have to wait on a solution from someone else. We can own this. We can finally own our own health. And, if you need a rule to apply, try this one:
Eat food. Eat small. Live long.
Dr. Will Clower is an award winning author, media personality, and CEO of Mediterranean Wellness