Eating too much bad food kills us off early. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the annual obesity-related death count in the United States is around 325,000. That means you're nearly eight times more likely to die at the hand of a doughnut than in a car accident.
So what if the converse were true? What if eating less than a "normal" number of nutrient-rich calories could dramatically increase your expected lifespan?
Turns out this is more than a supposition.
Experiments conducted since the 1930s involving rhesus monkeys, rodents, cows, dogs, spiders, and worms, have shown that calorie restriction leads to longer life spans; drastically decreased cancer, diabetes, brain and heart disease risks, and higher general immunity.
While large-scale, long-term research on humans is still under way, a 2004 study showed that individuals practicing the CR lifestyle for an average of six years had dramatically reduced body mass, "bad" cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose and insulin levels, reducing the likelihood that they would develop atherosclerotic arterial disease, the leading cause of death and disability in Western societies.
So what does the CR lifestyle look like? Champions of the diet and Living the CR Way authors Paul McGlothin and Meredith Averill, a married couple who've been practicing CR for 18 years, advocate eating nutrient dense foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and salmon (although some research ;shows that eliminating animal proteins can further enhance CR-associated health benefits).
The average daily caloric intake is between 1,600 and 1,800 (a typical American consumes around 2,400). Every morsel of food is chosen for its nutritional efficacy. Exercise is moderate, not explosive. And many CR dieters opt to eat their last meals in the early afternoon, or even skip eating on alternate days (a practice called Intermittent Fasting, or IF), taking in the same reduced number of calories overall. This allows the dieter to eat a more satisfying bundle of calories at once, and also to reap the benefits of fasting.
So who wants to live forever? Not these Miami teens I caught dining at Burger King on 5th Street in SoBe.
"From noon on, I eat. Even at two in the morning, I wake up and I eat out of the fridge," said 18-year-old Daniel Alvarez. "I don't think I'd be able to put up with it. What if you die anyway? What if you get shot, and you're like, 'My life sucks, I wasted all that time I could have been eating McDonald's," he laughed.
"I get hungry really fast and I wouldn't be able to do that," said 16-year-old Celine Alvarez. "I really don't like vegetables."
Not surprisingly, the reaction from Whole Foods customers was different. In fact, most everyone I talked to was practicing CR principles without ever having heard of the plan.
"A plant-rich diet, where you might stop eating at 3 p.m., and your next meal isn't until you wake up the next day?" said Parns Cartwright, a personal trainer. "Well, I usually don't eat until I've been up six or seven hours. I eat maybe one or two meals a day. I'm vegan, so that's plant-rich. So that's covered. It sounds like a very good plan. I would love to see the study on the people that are living past a hundred and all that. I would be interested in trying it."
"It's not really very difficult," said David Samuels, an Englishman and a vegetarian on his way out of the store. "My life wouldn't change radically."
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Twenty-eight-year-old Natasha Lopez de Victoria seemed ready to start out on the CR path this very evening.
"I personally like the challenge of the nutrition stuff," she said. "I've been eating raw for two months, and I feel alive when I do that. I would recommend [a diet like CR] to everybody. I already recommend going raw to everybody. People can tell; they say, 'You're glowing!' I would do it and stay committed for a half a year and see what happens. And if it feels right, I would continue with it," she said.
So you might wonder, if CR diets are so effective in preventing aging, disease, and mental decline, why isn't everyone talking about and practicing them? Well, we all know that eating French fries, cheesecake, and Krispy Kremes will quickly impair the quality and length of our lives. If we can't make the concession not to overindulge, even at the cost of impaired health and reduced lifespan, why even bother talking about under-indulging for the sake of reaching ripe old age?