Want to live longer ? Eat less!

There’s no point in living longer if you can’t enjoy life ... life is not a rehearsal for the real thing. Get out there and ‘just do it’!
There’s no point in living longer if you can’t enjoy life ... life is not a rehearsal for the real thing. Get out there and ‘just do it’! | Source

Living longer is easy ...

I have this quote going round in my mind ‘If you would prolong your life, eat sparingly’. Now, I believed it was attributable to Dr. Samuel Johnson, the great lexicographer, but I have so far been unable to substantiate that so if anyone can help out I’d be grateful.

Whichever historical figure said it is probably less important than the fact that they hit the nail squarely on the head. Modern science has indeed proven, after many, many years of research on animals such as rats, mice and rhesus monkeys, that cutting down on the intake of food did in fact extend their lives.1 Not only that but they were also healthier ... much healthier than their normally fed counterparts.

Now human volunteers 2 have also proved that eating less makes them feel younger and fitter ... and although it is too soon to say whether or not they will live any longer than their peers, accidents excepted, their present quality of life is certainly much improved.

It is, as they say, one to watch.

Weight loss ... a fortunate side effect of eating less to prolong life.

Whilst this piece is not about dieting to lose weight per se this does come as a beneficial, and somewhat obvious, side-effect of reducing calorific intake.

As we all know maintaining the correct weight for our age and height is vital for overall health but, despite this knowledge, the developed world now has an epidemic of obesity spiralling out of control.

We have a love affair with food, excessive amounts of it, to the detriment of ourselves ... and the peoples of the undeveloped world. It could even be that these ‘meek’ or indeed 'not so meek' will one day inherit the earth when the western world has gorged itself to death on supersize burgers and fries.

How does eating less result in longevity?

Although scientists now know that reducing food intake results in longevity, by as much as 50% again in some experiments with rats, they are still not entirely sure of the mechanism by which this works.

There are three main theories at present:

1) that being slightly underfed acts as a mild stress trigger to the immune system to keep it permanently alert to incursions of age-related illnesses.

2) that the less food eaten the less metabolic processing the body has to do resulting in fewer damaging by-products produced in the form of free radicals (oxidisation), the body’s rust. There is already some evidence hinting that people with a slower metabolic rate already naturally live longer. (It is well known that free radicals are extremely damaging to the cells of the body hence the current popularity with anti-oxidants, either in the form of natural superfoods or as supplements which mop up the free radicals and limit their damaging effects).

3) that eating less encourages the production of the enzyme, peroxiredoxin, which is vital for minimising cellular damage. Eating too much has been proven to inactivate this valuable enzyme.3

However none of this changes the fact that although science does not have all the answers to the puzzle there is solid evidence for a link between eating less and longevity.

Eating less promotes health into old age.

The fact that the lowering of calorific input to the human body reduces the incidence of age-related diseases would seem to result in a win/win/win situation showing a clear translation into a healthier extended life.

Reduction of food intake = beneficial side effect of weight loss = maintenance of better health (i.e lack of age-related illnesses) = extension of life.

A typical English Sunday  lunch ... definitely an overloaded plate.
A typical English Sunday lunch ... definitely an overloaded plate. | Source
Better portion control ... and much less of a stretched stomach.
Better portion control ... and much less of a stretched stomach. | Source

So, just what is a restricted diet?

Scientists class a restricted diet as one with an intake of 25 - 30% fewer calories per day, although it still needs to be a properly balanced mix of all food groups to ensure access to essential nutrition.

In the UK a 25% reduction means reducing the average recommended intake of 2550 calories a day to 1912.50 cal. for men and from 1940 cal. to 1455 cal. for women. This is a rough guideline as the amount could vary according to what work you do. If you do heavy manual work you may need all the calories you can get and then some.

It is interesting here to note that experiments done with the average eating pattern and an increase in exercise did not appear to result in any extension of life.

Don’t try this at home!

Whilst a great many of us would most definitely benefit from eating less it is important to approach such research with common sense. It would not be wise for us all to reduce our food intake to starvation levels on guesswork.

The volunteers in the restricted eating experiment were scientifically assessed as to what amount of reduction they needed to make a difference, the reduction was achieved over an reasonable period of time and they were constantly monitored.

It is more than likely that as soon as the research has the answers we will all be able to access the relevant help to monitor our own 'eating less' regimen.

Guidelines for sensible eating.

In the meantime we should all help ourselves by eating more sensibly. As a starting point eating fewer calories could be as simple as drinking less alcohol and reducing the size of the portion we put on our plates.

Avoiding processed and convenience foods which are usually laden with salt, sugar and incomprehensible additives that are there merely to extend shelf life or make the food look more attractive, must also go a long way to helping with reducing the intake of ‘empty’ calories.

Cooking from scratch is something that many of us have forgotten how to do but it is the only way to be sure that you know exactly what is in your food.

Simply grilling a small piece of meat or fish, brushed in olive oil and scattered with herbs, and putting it on a plate with plenty of fresh salad takes up only a little more time than dealing with convenience food anyway if you keep it simple. Mop up the meat juices and salad dressing with a small hunk of fresh artisan wholemeal bread if you need the carbs and that’s it, a filling and healthy meal.

The alternative?

It seems sensible to limit our food intake if we can do it in a balanced way and without damaging ourselves, simply for the benefits it brings, both in the short term (weight loss) and the long term (better health in old age).

We should look at it as not just a case of trying to extend our lives because we are afraid of death but more because we are afraid of decrepitude and illness in old age. Old age becomes little more that an unendurable burden when we are severely limited by pain and illness.

And who knows, limiting our own self-centred grabbing of the world’s resources might just free up a little more for the people in the third world who might love to just have the problem of obesity.

Sources:

1. Cornell University, 1935.

2.Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE) study at Tufts University, Boston, 2010.

3) University of Gothenburg, Sweden, 2011.

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Comments 40 comments

Alex Longsword profile image

Alex Longsword 4 years ago from Nicaragua

Interesting and difficult to imagine that it is better to eat less food to be healthy. At least we should decrease our amount of junk food in our diet.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi Alex ... yes, strange isn’t it? Sort of counter-intuitive ... but it does make sense that the less you eat the less damaging free radicals you produce to wreak havoc in your body.

The healthiest 86 year old woman I have ever known (still doing volunteer work/lived up a very steep hill/walked everywhere and had a mind like a laser) ate like a bird so she would seem to embody this 'eat less' principle.

Many thanks for your comment.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Many thanks, internetsavvy!


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Excellent Hub. Well written and very clearly explained. I always appreciate it when someone indicates their resources, so thank you. :)


Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 4 years ago from Illinois

I'd heard of this theory several times and it makes sense to me. Because you'd lose some weight if you eat less, wouldn't that just be healthier in the long run? Well, as long as you eat healthy food and not junk. Voted up and will have to look into this more for myself. Thanks for sharing the info!


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

@phdast - Thanks for you kind comment ... I agree sources should be cited. I have usually forgotten up until now but it seems only fair that if you are pulling together information the origins of it should both be credited with a mention and offered in substantiation.

@Danette Watt - again thanks for the kind comment and frankly you just wouldn’t believe how long this theory has been around! I definitely think that being lighter in weight always helps one feel better. A few years ago I was a lot fitter than I am now and I even though I was in my 50’s I recognised that being lighter made me feel better ... somehow more clear-headed too. It wasn’t because I looked better in my clothes ... it wasn’t a vanity thing ... it was just a lightness of body that was somehow invigorating.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Addendum: further to my reply to Alex Longsword’s first comment on this hub I have been able to catch up with my old friend who is still working as a volunteer in an art gallery. She is still petite with a shiny bob of silver hair, her mind is still quick and vital and she still has a lovely warm smile and walks everywhere.

I also found out that far from being in her 80’s she is in fact now in her 92nd year. I didn’t ask her age of course, that would have been rude, but one of the other volunteers let slip that 2 years ago they had had a celebration for her 90th. Remarkable!


Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Thanks Angie for citing your source. This was a strong hub anyway, but an authority always helps. By the way, I love brussel sprouts. The ones in your pix set my mouth to watering - not the reaction I'm sure you were going for! Like salmon too. Good info.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia

Well researched and well written. Scientists are indeed finding that "less is more" in this case a longer, better quality of life as we age. Personally, I always feel better if my stomach is a little on the empty side and I feel horrible when I'm full. That alone is reason for me not to overeat, even though I love the taste of so many different foods. Voted up and sharing.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

@Kathleen Cochran - hi, many thanks for your comment - I always appreciate your input, Kathleen. I love sprouts too and although I love both of the meals shown above the top picture actually appeals less because of the quantity, which is why I used it. Too much food is, I think, probably the major problem with our society today.

My stepsons were watching some gross TV programme one day called 'Man v Food'. Have you ever seen it? I was appalled but the boys just laughed at it. I just felt sick watching the man eat huge amounts of really ‘ugly’ looking food. And believe me I am a foodie ...

@Cyndi10 - thanks for the compliment, Cyndi. Like you I like to feel slightly empty ... I like to be comfortable. Many years ago I overdosed on Italian food and felt so ill that I have never forgotten that feeling. I love food but it has to have taste ... far too much food today tastes of nothing, sadly.


Chris Dane profile image

Chris Dane 4 years ago from Maryland, USA

Very informative. Thank you! And I'm with Kathleen, brussel sprouts are awesome.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Thanks, Chris ...

they can also be sliced in a food processor and lightly fried in butter with bacon, sage, Worcestershire sauce, sea salt and black pepper a là Jamie Oliver. Not for everyday but absolutely delish for a treat at Christmas.

Some people think sprouts are boring ... how wrong they are!


Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK

Angie, what an interesting hub! It is fascinating that eating less helps you to live longer but I suppose as long as you're getting all of the nutrients you need you can do it.

Very interesting, voted up and shared.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi Jools - A balanced diet is obviously necessary ...

I think maybe most of us think we need lots of food to provide all the nutrients we need whereas it may be that all we need is a good cross-section of foods but not large amounts to give us the relevant nutrition.

It’s no coincidence that the levels of obesity are growing ...

Thanks for leaving a comment - always appreciated :)


Sherry Hewins profile image

Sherry Hewins 4 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

It seems to me that I saw a piece about this on TV once, there was a couple who had been eating 25% less than the recommended calories for their size for years. They were considerably thinner than most people would want to be, and very committed, which obviously you would have to be to stick to that regimen. Up and interesting.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

The people I have seen who eat fewer calories seem to look wiry but not thin in an unhealthy way.

As I said to Jools above I’m not convinced that it has to be a choice between eating well and not eating. Surely it is only a case of smaller portions? As the stomach shrinks to accommodate that change there would be no feelings of hunger.

If I was going to do this I would still eat everything I enjoy just not so much of it ... so it wouldn’t feel like any sort of deprivation. My contention is that we all overeat, I suppose.

Many thanks for adding your comment, Sherry ... it added useful information about this subject.


Scribenet profile image

Scribenet 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Angie, great Hub! I have a love affair with food, but I also realize there may be health benefits to not indulging so much... so I have moderated my love...lol

I know of one Swedish woman who is 80, thin and swims like a fish...I marvel at her and would like to see her food portions.

I wonder if health concerning weight is age related because being too thin as a young person risks anemia and a host of afflictions.

I wonder at what age it becomes healthy to be thin? I do think it will take awhile to get it right, meanwhile I am happy to be slimmer though far from thin. I do miss the yummier foods though!


kallini2010 profile image

kallini2010 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

I agree that eating less is healthier in different respects and let's say it would prolong one's life.

But I could not shake off the thought (being depressed more often than not), that I don't want to live all that long. The last sentiment was (regarding a certain development that has to be checked) - I said "The sooner, the better".

And, there is another aspect of longevity - Alzheimer's. Really, I don't want to prolong my life only to smoothly slide into that "happiness".

As much as we want to simplify eating and nutrition, it is never too simple. There is a reason for our overeating - we, people living in the countries of the first world, are generally unhappy and eating is one of the compensation mechanisms.

There is another aspect to healthy eating

1. Do not eat different categories of food together - no meat and bread, no meat and vegetables together. They are processed in the different parts of the body.

2. Don't drink when you eat, drink an hour later.

These guidelines "kill" our habits, our esthetics, our traditions of cooking, where cooking is art. Desserts must be eaten separately as well, certainly not after dinner.

Can we follow all of it?

And, probably, those subjects of the study are more likely those people who are healthier to begin with, who exercise, or meditate or do something else, who are emotionally stable...

That sort of thing.

Eating less is a must, but just living longer is a challenge, if not an ART.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

@Scribenet - many thanks for taking the time to comment, I love getting feedback.

Like you I too am ‘too heavy’ though reasonably fit and very active (as in always finding a job to do in house or garden, not as in working out!)

Another of the healthiest women I know is 85 or more and has only recently stopped going for a swim in the sea early every morning. Not sure about her food portions but she drinks alcohol like it’s going out of fashion. She can be a little forgetful in her cups ... but other than that, she loves life.

Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

@kallini2010 - again, many thanks for such a long and thoughtful comment.

I agree that it may well not be a good idea to live a long time for some of us but lapsing into Alzheimer’s in old age is not a pre-determined destination for all of us. And as science discovers more about how it works it may be that a cure is found or that it is at least held at bay.

Of all the many old people that I know, and have known, only one person had dementia.

I think one just has to travel hopefully through life and I, for one, would still like to try eating less to try to ensure that if I do live to be very old I might still be relatively healthy.


Ruchi Urvashi profile image

Ruchi Urvashi 4 years ago from Singapore

Great information. I read about it before that when we eat less food, we live longer. Here, I can review and understand it in more detail.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi Ruchi ... thanks for your input on this hub.

It would appear that more and more studies are being done on this and the evidence for it is mounting. If we could all - or most of us anyway - adopt this way maybe we would tread more lightly on the planet too?

PS. Thanks for the 'follow' ...


jainismus profile image

jainismus 4 years ago from Pune, India

It is fact that those who eat less, live longer. Another fact is that meat eaters die earlier when compared to vegetarians and vegans.

Your hub is interesting, thank you for sharing the information. I am sharing it with my followers.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi jainismus ... thank you for sharing this hub with you friends.

I have been trying to eat smaller portions and I have to admit that I do feel better for it.


healthylife2 profile image

healthylife2 4 years ago from Connecticut, USA

I have heard this theory but you did a great job explaining why eating less increases lifespan. I try to follow this theory but don' always succeed. Voted up!


editorsupremo profile image

editorsupremo 4 years ago from London, England

Interesting hub Angie. You don't even need the science to prove that eating less means living longer, just look at people in Africa, the Caribbean and the far East where you will find hundreds, possibly thousands of centenarians who are, as Janismus states, vegetarians/vegans rather than meat eaters.

Exercise also contributes to living longer, and I'm not talking about hours in gym, but rather everyday housework, walking, gardening etc. In the Caribbean you will see men and women in the 80s and 90s working the land and planting veggies to sustain them throughout the year. They certainly put me to shame who gets worn out just mowing the lawn!

Voted up and shared


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

@healthylife2: me neither :) but I do like to try. I'm glad I was able to make the theory sound intelligible ... I reckon science will soon be able to prove this. It will be interesting to see what the dedicated over-consumers do then ...

Many thanks for taking time out to comment.

@editorsupremo: I get worn out just thinking about mowing the lawn, ed!

Many thanks for your comment which I feel adds greatly to the tone of this hub. Bless you!


travmaj profile image

travmaj 4 years ago from australia

Very interesting theory - and the years are whipping by. And I know it's the right thing to do - I'll definitely start this - on Monday!


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi travmaj ... yes, it's always mañana with me too :)

Thanks for hauling your jumbuk to a halt and leaving a comment ... much appreciated!


midget38 profile image

midget38 4 years ago from Singapore

Angie, I have a hard time getting my father-in-law to eat right. He lives on duck and fatty meat, and now has diabetes. My husband is a bit fed up. Will forward this to him. It'll be useful. Shared!


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi midget … good idea, though he’ll probably say ‘we’ve all got to die of something’!

What I never understand is why people are often in denial of weight and health problems. They seem to prefer popping a pill to help the symptoms rather than just altering the way they eat (which is very true for diabetes 2).

In fact, I’ve written a hub about just that ….

Thanks for calling round to comment and share. Bless you!


Cathy Fidelibus profile image

Cathy Fidelibus 4 years ago from NJ

Great information! I like the idea of intermittent fasting, I have a friend that has had great results with this. I think I may try it as well.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi Cathy …

I must admit that when I used to do a weekend fast I used to feel amazing afterwards. I felt lighter, clearer minded and totally energised, somehow more alive.

Unfortunately I have lost the instructions on exactly what to do (these things need to be undertaken properly).

Many thanks for taking time out of your busy day to comment.


TToombs08 profile image

TToombs08 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

Fantastic information and advice, Angie! Nicely done!


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Cheers, TT … thanks for dropping by to comment so kindly.


TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

TIMETRAVELER2 3 years ago

Here's the problem...living longer by itself isn't always the greatest thing to do. My mother lived a long life, but the last 8 years of it she had Alzheimer's. What good would eating less have done her? Interesting article, Angie.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 3 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Good point, TT2 - what we now need to see is if eating less, and thus producing fewer dangerous free radicals, limits the damaging plaques and tangles that cause Alzheimers.


thost profile image

thost 3 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

Great Hub Angie and it makes so much sense. However, reading it made me hungry! lol. I will vote this Hub up.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 3 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Ah, thost … that’s not the way it was supposed to go! :)

Bless you for commenting and giving me a vote up.


Escobana profile image

Escobana 3 years ago from Valencia

Very interesting Hub! I had never heard of the relationship between food and longevity this way. Loved your detailed information on it and I will definitely share:-)


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 3 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi Escobana

Thanks for taking the time to comment and share. Much appreciated.

I think there have been many studies on this subject and this appears to be the present thinking. It seems eminently sensible to me to eat less anyway.

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