For Weight Loss and Longevity, What You Eat is Probably More Important Than How Much

New research examines quality vs. quantity of food intake

Science has shown that cutting excess calories from our diets can lead to health benefits such as improved insulin resistance, healthier cholesterol levels and even a longer lifespan.

But what science has also shown—and what many people know simply from a firsthand experience—is that calorie-restricting diets aren’t all that easy to maintain.

The good news, though: more research is continuing to reveal that the types of foods we eat, as opposed to the amount, may play a more significant role in our health and longevity.

In a recent study published in the journal Cell Reports, scientists compared the effects of a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet and a 40 percent caloric restriction diet in mice.

The researchers compared three different low-protein, high-carb diets that consisted of different macronutrient ratios over the course of six weeks. For some of the mice food was always available, and for others it was restricted to a certain amount.

The results: the mice who followed the low-protein, high carb diet obtained similar health benefits, like improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels, compared to the mice who followed the calorie-restricted diet.

Even though food was always available to them and they ate more, the low-protein, high-carb diet mice demonstrated an increase in metabolism and did not gain more weight.

What this means for humans who want to lose weight or improve their general health is, compared to simply eating less, paying closer attention to the nutrient profiles of the foods we eat may be better strategy, especially in the long-term.

"Except for the fanatical few, no one can maintain a 40 percent caloric reduction in the long- term, and doing so can risk loss of bone mass, libido and fertility," explained the study’s senior author, Stephen Simpson, academic director of the University of Sydney's Charles Perkins Centre.

Further research is still needed to identify whether or not these results apply to humans, how a low-protein, high carbohydrate diet might affect longevity and long-term metabolic health, and also what role the type and quality of protein and carbohydrate sources play in the equation.

“It still holds true that reducing food intake and body weight improves metabolic health and reduces the risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity and fatty liver disease," Simpson said. "However, according to these mouse data and emerging human research, it appears that including modest intakes of high-quality protein and plenty of healthy carbohydrates in the diet will be beneficial for health as we age."

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