It doesn’t come as any surprise that cutting calories can lead to weight loss, but what if we told you that it could also lower your blood pressure, reduce inflammation, improve cholesterol levels, and help with blood sugar control?
A new NIH-funded study published in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology this month looked at how chronically restricting calorie intake can impact the body. Researchers followed 218 healthy adults, ages 21 to 50, and randomly assigned them to either cut 25% of their calories or maintain their usual diet for two years. Keep in mind, these were adults who were generally fairly fit to begin with or just slightly overweight.
But cutting 25% of your calorie intake is no small feat (someone on a 2,000 calorie diet would have to eliminate 500), and in the end, most participants only managed to slash about 12%, or 300 calories (about the amount in a slice of cheese pizza or large bagel). Still, the participants reaped significant benefits.
They had lower blood pressure and reduced inflammation, as well as improved cholesterol levels and blood sugar control. They also lost about 10% of their body weight, most of it fat.
Some of those benefits can be attributed to the participants’ weight loss, which was about 16 pounds on average. But the benefits were so significant that they can’t be due to weight loss alone, William Kraus, the lead author of the study and a professor of medicine and cardiology at Duke University, told the New York Times in an interview.
The study suggests that restricting calories may have unique biological effects on disease pathways in the body, but more research would need to be done to fully understand how.
“We weren’t surprised that there were changes,” Kraus told the Times. “But the magnitude was rather astounding. In a disease population, there aren’t five drugs in combination that would cause this aggregate of an improvement.”
Although, the study also showed just how difficult it can be for people to reduce the amount of food they eat for an extended period of time. Participants went through intensive training on how to cook low-calorie meals and had regular check-ins with nutritionists, yet they still weren’t able to meet even half of their goal of 25% caloric reduction.
Cutting calorie intake has long been known as a way to extend the lives of rodents and other lab animals, and studies like these are getting us closer to answering whether the same could apply to humans. This study did show, however, that restricting calories can have a beneficial impact on various risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, two conditions that cause the death of millions of Americans.
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