What happens when 117 healthy men and women, between the ages of 21 and 50, cut back on their food intake for two years?
Weight loss would be the quick answer, but researchers found more to the story. The answers are in the recently published findings from the CALERIE Trial.
This was a randomized controlled trial, which is often referred to as the gold standard of research. The initial study design wanted the subjects to reduce their calorie intake by 25%. A final analysis, after the two years, showed their calorie reduction was closer to 12%.
Subjects lost on average 16.5 pounds. The calorie restriction caused a persistent and significant reduction of all measured cardiometabolic risk factors including LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, C reactive protein and insulin sensitivity.
The researchers suggest the cardiometabolic benefit is not completely accounted for by weight loss. It is possible that calorie restriction impacts the aging process.
For someone eating about 1,800 calories a day, a 12% reduction is 216 calories. After 30-plus years of nutrition counseling, my experience tells me that many people mindlessly eat that many calories a day.
At a break room, you pick up an extra cookie. Looking for an afternoon caffeine fix? You choose the whipped cream coffee drink instead of a latte with fat-free milk. Or dinner is over and you feel bored so a trip to the refrigerator is the fix.
Paying attention to what is eaten, eating only when you are hungry and not bored, not drinking too many calories and choosing lean protein, vegetables and whole grains are easy ways to achieve a small calorie reduction.
Many people find time-restricted eating (TRE) to be another technique for becoming more mindful and reducing extra calories. This means limiting eating to between eight and 12 hours a day. Calorie reduction for improved health requires foods that are eaten be nutrient rich.
If you find this research intriguing, I suggest you consider a consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist to ensure nutritional adequacy and taste and flavor enjoyment of any diet changes.