Calorie Restriction (CR) Diet

CR Basics: What it is. Why people are interested. Why academia, companies, gov't pour millions into it.

September 16, 2008

What It Is

A Calorie Restriction (CR) diet has two simple rules:

  1. Cut calories significantly (as much as 20% to 30%)
  2. Get 100% of your nutritional needs

That's it. The diet does not specify how much fat, protein, carbohydrate, or alchohol to consume. So it is compatible with most other diets - Atkins, Mediterranean, Ornish, vegan, etc.

I personally add 2 other rules: Get as much of those nutrients from your food as possible, avoiding supplements when feasible; and avoid artificial sweeteners. I also keep to a very low fat (about 15% of calories) diet. However, others on CR believe just the opposite. Instead of eating the 2,600 calories or more a day I used to eat, I now eat 2,000 calories a day. I exercise often and, after having lost and kept off over 20 lbs in the last 5 years, now at the age of 60 even compete in 5K races and backpack in the Sierras.

Why People Are Interested

In species after species that have been placed on this diet in controlled experiments beginning back in 1934 there have been 2 main results:

  • The CR animals live healthier lives (e.g., cancer, cardiovascular, neurodegenerative, diabetic diseases are significantly reduced).

  • The CR animals live longer lives - their maximum lifespan is significantly increased, sometimes as much as 30% or more. This benefit is in addition to the extension of their average lifespan from being healthier.

Why Millions of Dollars Are Being Poured Into Studying This Diet

[Update 2007: The US government has initiated a 5 year, mult-million dollar study called CALERIE to investigate the effects of CR on humans. This indicates how convincing the evidence for the benefits of CR is.]

[Update, June, 2008: The start-up company Sirtris was founded in 2004 to pursue aging related research tied to results demonstrated by CR. The hope was to discover ways to mimic the effects of CR on age-related diseases through the development of drugs based on the changes in molecular pathways caused by CR. In June, 2008, the giant pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline acquired Sirtris for $720 million. There could hardly be a clearer indication that industry recognizes the powerful results that CR produces.]

Unlike every single other diet, this one is known beyond a doubt to extend the maximum life span of many species and to keep them healthier while doing so. What is not known is this: Does it have the same effect on humans and, if so, how does it do it?

If a researcher is the first to show how aging and age related diseases can be controlled, that researcher will have contributed to one of the greatest discoveries of the human race. What more fascinating pursuit could there be? And he or she may go down in history.

If a company can figure out how to mimic the effects of this diet without subjecting people to the 2 rules of the diet, that company stands to make a fortune.

That's why so much time, money and effort are now being spent on studying this diet.

It is why more and more people are adopting the diet.

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