New Study: Eating This Daily Could Help You Live Longer

Updated: Oct. 25, 2023

New research spotlights a relationship between calorie consumption and inflammation that seems to play a key role in the onset of lifestyle diseases.

With chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes so prevalent—with 40 million Americans living with diabetes, just as one example—science shows it’s evident that what we eat, and how much of it, can yield significant consequences for our health.

The benefits of eating less are sometimes evident, such as reduced weight and increased energy, especially if you suffer from obesity or are overweight. Now, researchers have also discovered that lowering your calorie intake can influence your genes, resulting in positive changes that may not be immediately visible but can contribute to a longer and healthier life. Additionally, calorie reduction doesn’t necessarily mean deprivation, as even a small decrease in calorie consumption can lead to significant benefits.

So, suggests these findings, if there’s one thing you could eat every day to prevent disease and live longer, that’s to eat a little less.

In October 2023, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) has shared a study via the peer-reviewed journal Aging Cell that aimed to investigate whether calorie restriction, which has demonstrated anti-aging effects in animals, could translate to humans.

To determine this, the study analyzed data from a calorie restriction study known as the Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE). The participants in the study—men and women who were healthy and non-obese—were encouraged to achieve a 25% reduction in calories over two years. While collectively they only averaged about a 12% reduction over the course of the study, they exhibited improved activation of anti-aging pathways overall.

To put this level of restriction into perspective, if you’re following a 2000-calorie diet, a 12% reduction equates to a nominal 240 calories a day—equivalent, perhaps, to a few bites of dinner or a flavored coffee drink. “This kind of small reduction in calorie intake is doable and may make a big difference in your health,” noted NIA Scientific Director Luigi Ferrucci, M.D., Ph.D., the corresponding author of the study.

Calorie restriction resulted in muscle strength increase and anti-aging cell changes

The research in Aging Cell also considered another study that indicated calorie reduction resulting in weight loss led to gains in strength, even if muscle mass was reduced. Researchers hypothesized that changes in muscle cells were responsible for these strength gains.

To determine what else calorie restriction meant for cells, the Aging Cell study examined thigh muscle biopsies from CALERIE study participants collected at the beginning, middle and end of the two-year study. The findings indicated that genes responsible for energy and metabolism increased, while those responsible for inflammation decreased.

This suggests that calorie restriction may lead to reduced inflammation and enhanced cellular energy generation, both of which could slow the aging process. “Since inflammation and aging are strongly coupled, calorie restriction represents a powerful approach to preventing the pro-inflammatory state that is developed by many older people,” explained Ferrucci.

The study emphasized that calorie restriction should still provide the body with essential vitamins and minerals. Reducing empty calories, such as those from excessive sugar and processed foods, and increasing physical activity levels should be the goals of any long-term healthy living plan.

Making better food choices, as seen with the Mediterranean diet, has been shown to be more sustainable than eliminating essential macronutrients or beloved foods from your diet. Keeping a food journal can also be a helpful tool.