Eat Less To Live More – A New Prescription

Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri and Dr B C Roy National Awardee
President, Heart Care Foundation of India

Eating less calories can delay primary aging. “The less you live the more you live” has been a Vedic saying. Calorie restriction has previously been shown to slow aging and increase lifespan in small mammals.

Adhering to a calorie-restricted diet over the long term ameliorates the normal age-related decline in diastolic (relaxation) function of the heart in healthy, non-obese adults. The cardiac beneficial effects of caloric restriction are mediated by reductions in blood pressure, systemic inflammation, and myocardial (heart muscle) fibrosis as per a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Dr. Fontana, fromWashingtonUniversityinSt. Louis, performed Doppler Echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart) and measured inflammatory markers in 25 healthy adults who followed a severely calorie-restricted, nutritionally balanced diet for an average of 6.5 years. Results were compared with those from 25 matched control subjects consuming a typical Western diet.

The calorie-restricted diet consisted of roughly 1,671 kcal per day derived approximately 23% protein, 49% complex carbohydrates, and 28% fat (including 6% saturated fat). The Western diet consisted of roughly 2,445 kcal per day made up of about 17% protein, 52% carbohydrates, and 31% fat (11% saturated fat). The calorie-restricted diet included at least 100% of the recommended daily intake for all nutrients, and it was lower in salt than the Western diet.

People who followed a calorie-restricted diet but with optimal nutrition had a younger heart in terms of diastolic functions, a marker of primary aging. Mean systolic (upper) and diastolic (lower) blood pressures were significantly lower in the calorie-restricted group (102/61 vs. 131/83 mm Hg), as were levels of the inflammatory markers C-reactive protein, TNF-α, and TGF-β1.

‘Eat less to live more’ has its origin in Vedas. The Ayurvedic text from Atharvaveda defines the limit of food intake in a particular meal. It says one should not eat more than what can be accommodated in an outstretched palm.

According to the Jain philosophy there are 12 types of penance. Two of them are Unodari and Anshan(fast). Unodari is for those people who cannot fast and it is eating less than what is needed to satisfy one’s hunger. Deepak Chopra in his book perfect health says that one should eat to a scale of 7 from a hunger scale of 10.

Yogashastra says that one who eats one meal in a day is yogi; one who eats two meals is bhogi and one who eats three meals a day is a rogi. The common Sanskrit saying is “ekabhattam cha bhoyanam” which means if one takes only one meal a day then there will be no illnesses.

In Bhagavad Gita also the law of moderation is defined. Lord Krishna says to Arjuna (6.17) “Yukaharaviharasya yuktachestasya karmasu; Yuktasvapnavabodhasya yoga bhavati duhkhaha”. The shloka states that “for the one, whose diet and movements are balanced, who does his actions in a proper manner, whose hour of sleeping and waking up are regular, and who follows the path of meditation is the destroyer of pain or unhappiness.”

Controlled diet conserves one’s energy. Samana vayu, the vital energy produced around the naval, remains in balance if one eats less. Over eating reduces this energy.

A recent study published in June 2011 Edition of the Journal of Diabotologia also has shown that type-2 diabetes can be reversed by reducing the dietary intake. Up till now, type-2 diabetes was being regarded as inevitably progressive with irreversible beta cell ( cells in the pancreas responsible for controlling sugar) failure. The authors from UK studied 11 patients with type-2 diabetes with a mean age of 50 years and a mean body mass index of 34 and evaluated them for 8 weeks on 600 calorie per day diet. Within a week of restricted diet, fasting sugar normalized in the diabetic group. All available tests to check for beta cell dysfunction normalized within eight weeks. There was a normalization of insulin resistance and other biochemical abnormalities like insulin suppression, hepatic glucose and hepatic triglyceride content and the first phase insulin resistance.

Both bariatric surgery (surgery done for obesity) diet and “non-scalpel bariatric surgery” diets can cure diabetes and reverse obesity related ageing. The diet includes consuming less than 80 gm or 80 ml of caloric food at one go with an average diet of less than 1200 k. cal per day. The diet includes zero trans fat, zero refined carbohydrates and only one complex carbohydrate meal a day.

Another way of eating less is “vritti samkshepa”. It involves limited number of items eaten and not to eat same particular items on particular days. Traditional Indians “vrata” (fast) also are based on this type of penance. Many “vrata” restricts eating particular items on that day. Rice is not eaten on ekadashi day.

Another way of eating less is penance of “raso parityaga”, which means avoiding of certain tastes of food. One should not eat items with all taste on all days. The Friday fast of Santoshi Maa involves not eating sour food on that particular day.

Many religions insist on not eating after the sunset. One of the phrases in Yoga Shastra is “astangate divanathe” which means that the digestive system becomes inactive after the sunset. It is also the philosophy of Ayurveda. As sun is the greatest source of energy, body’s vital, physical and digestion remains active in presence of sun. While Jainism talks about not eating at all after sun set, Ayurveda says one should have dinner lighter than lunch and to avoid artificial food as well as semi digestive foods in the night. Eating curd has been prohibited in Ayurveda after sunset. People living in South also do not eat fermented food items like idli, dosa, etc. after sunset.

According to Ayurvedic philosophy any food that is eaten after sunset does not get properly transformed into juices. Such food, therefore, are not helpful for health as they are not converted into energy.

In modern medicine over eating now is classified as a type of malnutrition. Obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, cancer, gall stones, etc. are as a result of over eating.