Calories That Count

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Read Part 1

Mediterranean Diet

Anti-Aging and your dietThe famous Mediterranean diet is a cuisine that is rich in fruits, vegetables, grains, omega-3 fatty acids and low in saturated fat. It is a very good model for an anti-aging diet. This diet has been clinically proven to reduce the risk of heart disease, and is definitely beneficial for cancer prevention. The Mediterranean diet is long meals, not fast food. It is fresh, not frozen. It is a diet high in fiber, antioxidants and other important nutrients. It is about sharing meals with family and friends, taking time, taking pleasure, and making every meal a healthy celebration.

Let’s look at the characteristics and principles of the Mediterranean Diet:

  • The core of the diet consists of an abundance of food from plant sources, including fruits, vegetables, potatoes, bread, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Food from animal sources is more peripheral. A diet based on this pattern is likely to be sufficient in all essential nutrients necessary to maintain health. Place food from plant sources, rather than animal sources, in the center of your plate.In the traditional Mediterranean diet, fruits and vegetables were mostly locally grown or gathered, seasonally fresh, and often consumed raw or minimally processed. This kind of lifestyle is also important to incorporate into the Anti-Aging diet, for health promoting benefits. Therefore, use minimally processed and unrefined foods only. That means lots of salads as well as lightly cooked vegetables; fruit as fruit rather than juices; grains as whole grains – like oats, or whole wheat bread or brown rice – rather than white refined flour and puffy processed sugar coated cereals, or white rice. These whole foods will provide plenty of dietary fiber, antioxidants and other micronutrients that are destroyed by heat and removed by the refining processes.Keep sugar to a minimum. Special care should be taken to minimize the intake of sugar hidden in processed foods under names such as glucose, sucrose, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, as well as sugar. Sugar provides calories, and calories only. There are no nutrients to speak of at all, which is why sugar (and alcohol for that matter) is called an “empty-calorie” food – empty, that is of any vitamins or minerals, or phytonutrients.Sugar is a negative fountain of youth. Reduction of sugar in the diet will reduce cortisol (the “bad” hormone) levels in your body. Cortisol is a hormone that accelerates the aging process. If you eat desserts, try to consume them at lunch as you should allow at least 2 to 3 hours after taking sugar before sleeping. Sugar increases cortisol release, which in turn reduces growth hormone release, which is most prominent during the early stages of sleep. Sugar has also been shown to promote free radical formation. Reduction of sugar intake will reduce the amount of free radicals in the body. Triglyceride and LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) have been shown to decrease with reduced sugar intake. Lastly, note that cancer cells prefer an environment rich in sugar, as glucose is the preferred energy source for cancer cells. Soaking your cells in a high sugar environment promotes cancer growth.Finally, sugar attaches itself to proteins in the body, becoming cross-linked into yellow-brown compounds and forming a new sugar-protein substance called advanced glycation end-product (AGE). The higher the AGE levels, the faster you age. This has been well documented among diabetics, who have higher levels of AGE and incidences of artery, nerve, and multiple organ dysfunction compared to the general population.
  • Dairy products are consumed in low to moderate amounts. They are usually in the form of cheese and yogurt, principally coming from a variety of animals such as goats, sheep, water buffalo, cows and camels.
  • Fish and poultry should be kept to a low to moderate weekly consumption. Recent research suggests that fish is more favored than poultry.
  • Red meat should only be taken a few times per month (consumption should be limited to a total maximum of 12 to 16 ounces per month, with lean versions preferable).
  • Fresh fruit is the typical daily dessert. Sweets and saturated fat desserts should not be consumed more than a few times a week, if even that often. Total fats should represent less than 25 to 30 percent of energy with saturated fat comprising no more than 7 to 8 percent of energy (calories).
  • Olive oil, the major source of fat in the Mediterranean diet, is high in mono-unsaturated fat, which is a good source of anti-oxidants.

Anti-Aging Diet Pyramid

Based on the Mediterranean Diet model, we have created the Anti-Aging Diet Pyramid. This Diet consists of 50 to 55 percent complex carbohydrates of the paleocarb type (seeds, legumes, above ground green leafy vegetables) 20 to 25 percent protein (preferably from plant, fish, and egg), 25 to 30 percent fat, and 5 percent sweets, candies and dessert. This is in sharp contrast to the typical North American diet in which 46 percent of the calories are from carbohydrates, 11 percent from protein and 43 percent from fat. Noticeably absent from complex carbohydrate are vegetables that grown below the ground such as potato, yam , or cannot and grains such as bread and rice.

Imagine a pyramid with 4 layers, each layer getting much narrower as it gets closer to the tip. The broad base layer of the pyramid, that holds the complex carbohydrates, supplies up to 55 percent of the calories and consists of a combination of cereals, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. A limited amount of nuts, which is a fatty food, is also included in this base layer as well as grains. The second, much smaller layer contains protein from cheese, egg, fish, poultry or meat. The third layer, which is very tiny, contains fat from fish, poultry or cooking oil. The final layer, at the tip, consists of sweets.

Do You Need Calorie Restriction?

Do you need to be on a calorie restriction program? The answer depends largely on your current body weight and composition. Let us take a closer look at how you can determine if you would benefit from this program. First, some basic understanding of terminology is required.

There are two methods of determining if you are overweight or underweight:
1. Ideal Body Weight
2. Target Anti-Aging Weight

The ideal body weight is a statistical average that assumes that you are an average American in your mid-twenties. The average American is an imaginary person that does not exist. Whether you are average or not is unimportant.

The important thing to remember is that you are unique and that the ideal body weight is merely a statistical tool to give you some general guidance on how much you should weigh. If you have a special build or medical condition, then you should go by other criteria, including your feelings, instead of blindly following a statistical number.

Target Anti-Aging Weight

The Target Anti-Aging Weight is the weight you want to achieve to obtain maximum longevity benefits. There is no hard and fast rule on what this should be at this time. From many studies, where calorie restrictions of 30 to 40 percent were carried out in laboratory animals, longevity commonly increased by up to 100 percent. Most researchers, in the anti-aging field, find a 5 to 10 percent reduction, from the ideal body weight, a prudent and conservative approach to longevity.

How To Calculate Your Ideal Body Weight and Target Anti-Aging Weight

If you are a female, your ideal body weight is equal to 100 pounds plus 5 pounds for each inch over five feet. If you are five feet five inches tall, for example, your ideal body weight is 125 lbs. Add a couple of pounds if you have a large frame (if your thumb and middle finger encircled around the opposite wrist do not touch) and subtract a couple of pounds if you have a small frame (the thumb and middle finger overlap your opposite wrist).

To calculate your target anti-aging weight, subtract 5 to 10 percent from this ideal weight. Continuing with the above example, your target anti-aging weight is 104 to 110 pounds.

If you are a male, your ideal body weight is equal to 106 pounds plus 6 pounds for each inch you are over five feet. If you are five feet 10 inches tall, for example, your ideal body weight is 166 lbs. Add three to five pounds if you are large frame and subtract a couple of pounds if you have a small frame.

To calculate your target anti-aging weight, subtract 5 to 10 percent from the ideal weight. Continuing with the above example, your target anti-aging weight is 157 to 149 pounds.

How Many Calories Do I Need To Lose?

If you don’t make any changes to your current diet, you are going to slowly increase your weight, assuming that your lifestyle does not change and your current caloric input and output are balanced. This is because your base metabolic rate slows down with age. You need less fuel, so the extra energy gets stored as fat.

If you want to lose weight, you will need to get rid of 3300 calories for every pound of excess weight you are now carrying. If you are like most people, you are at least 15 pounds above your ideal body weight. Losing one pound per week (the recommended, safe, and effective rate) would take you 15 weeks to lose your excess. Allow yourself a few extra weeks, just in case, to allow for down times when weight loss plateaus.

Anti-Aging Approach To Weight Reduction

There are only two ways that can help you lose weight and keep it off. They are exercise (2,000 calorie expenditure per week) and calorie restriction.

If you are consuming about 2,000 to 2,500 calories a day, going on a 20 percent calorie restriction program 5 days a week would save you about 500 calories a day (2,500 calories a week). Add to this an exercise program to burn 1,000 calories a week (3 workouts at 300 calories per workout). In total, you would lose about 3500 calories a week, which is equivalent to 1 pound per week. To put it simply, all you have to do, to lose 1 pound a week (which is the maximum rate of loss recommended), is eat 20 percent less 5 days a week and do aerobic exercises about 30 minutes 3 times a week.

If you are 12 pounds away from your target; budget 12 weeks to get there. Add 3 weeks in case your schedule is disrupted. Total time budgeted is, therefore, 15 weeks. Don’t forget that it has taken you many years to gradually put on the weight. Be patient. Losing weight slowly, over a 1 to 2 year period, is not uncommon. Most quick-fix diets do not work and result in a rebound effect.

Once you reach your target weight, you will need around 1,500 to 2,500 calories to maintain your weight, depending on your level of activity.

Designing An Anti-Aging Diet Plan

Planning an effective anti-aging diet is not difficult. For each meal, do the following:

  • Pick one serving (2 oz) from any one of the following protein sources:
    • Chicken breast, turkey breast, swordfish, RED roughy, salmon, tuna, crab, lobster, egg white or substitute, low-fat cottage cheese, legumes, nuts and /or tofu.

    Add a small amount of chopped nuts to salads, pasta and other grain dishes for an added crunchy texture.

  • Pick one serving (1 cup) from any one of the following suggested carbohydrate sources:
    • Baked potato, sweet potato, yam, squash, steamed brown rice, pasta, oatmeal, beans, corn, and whole grain bread or pita.

    Learn to use exotic grains such as couscous, bulgur, and barley.

  • Pick two servings (2 cups) from any of the following vegetables (or any others of your choice):
    • Broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, green beans, green peppers, mushrooms, spinach, tomato, peas, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, zucchini, cucumber, onion.

    Ways of cooking: raw, steam, or stir-fry. Top pasta, rice and even pizza with varieties of steamed or stir-fried vegetables and add a sprinkle of cheese.

  • For desserts, pick one to two servings from any of the following fruits (or any others of your choice):
    • Apple, pear, apricot, strawberries, cantaloupe, peach, watermelon, banana, mango, RED, grapefruit, grapes, cherries, and many more.

This will give you a general idea of what an anti-aging meal should look like. You should have plenty of greens on your plate. At the end of the meal, you will probably only be 70 percent full, but you should feel light and ready for a leisurely walk.

Calorie Restriction Precautions

Now that you know calorie restriction is an important component of an anti-aging program, it is equally important to address the pitfalls of such a program.

With CR, the quality of the diet must be increased so that essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are not reduced. The reason the semi-starved populations in parts of Africa or the Orient don’t live longer is that they are not just calorie restricted, they are also malnourished. The “adequate nutrition” side of CR is essential; (given that, there is a proportional relationship between fewer calories, longer life, and benefits down to about a 50 percent restriction in rodents). In other words, CR is not an all or none phenomenon. Even a 10 percent reduction in calories has a measurable beneficial effect. Of course, there is a lower limit. Anything below a 50 percent reduction takes you into actual calorie starvation, and the death rate increases. A fifty percent restriction is not recommended for humans.

That’s far too close to not having enough calories!

To avoid malnutrition (which shortens life span), it is critical that anyone who is on CR consider supplementing with optimal level of nutritional factors to ensure adequate nutrition at the same time boosting the level of antioxidants in the body.

Key nutrients like 400 IU of vitamin E and 50 mcg of chromium are needed for optimum functions. To get these amounts however, would require a 5,000-calorie diet. It’s a catch twenty-two. 5,000 calories a day leads to excess weight, but anything less provides nutrients that do not meet anti-aging levels. That’s where nutritional supplementation comes in. Taking nutritional supplements allows you to participate in a calorie restriction program and still get an optimum level of nutrients including the much-needed antioxidants.

Scientists have now been able to demonstrate that high intakes of antioxidants significantly increase life span. Researchers have found that drugs that mimic some natural antioxidants are able to extend the life span of worms (Caenorhabditis elegans) by nearly 50%. They hope that the synthetic antioxidants will someday be able to boost or enhance the human body’s responses to oxidative stresses as well, and could possibly prolong human life and help to slow or reverse age-related degenerative conditions.

In laboratory tests, antioxidants also restored normal life spans to a subgroup of nematodes that would otherwise have aged and died prematurely due to a genetic defect linked to oxidative stress. “These results suggest that endogenous oxidative stress is a major determinant of the rate of aging,” wrote Simon Melov, PhD, and colleagues from the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, California, the United Kingdom’s University of Manchester, and Atlanta’s Emory University.

Common and more well known antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, work by interrupting chain reactions, that would otherwise result in the oxidation of cells, caused by a release of substances from cell membranes. “Antioxidants like vitamin E are called chain-breaking antioxidants, because they react with one of the species that’s going to propagate and stop the chain reaction. So instead of a process that might involve a hundred molecules, if you have vitamin E around, it might stop after only five; so it inhibits oxidation by breaking the chain, preventing the propagation of chain reactions,” noted Dr. Irwin Fridovich, PhD, professor of biochemistry at Duke University.

Optimal anti-aging supplementation should include:

  • Vitamin A (in the form of beta carotene): 20,000 – 25,000 I.U.
  • Vitamin C: 1,000 mg – 3,000 mg
  • Vitamin E: 400 I.U
  • Selenium: 200 mcg
  • Chromium: 100 – 200 mcg
  • Magnesium: 500 mg
  • Calcium: 500 – 1,500 mg
  • Ascorbyl Palmitate (fat-soluble form of Vitamin C): 100 – 200 mg
  • L-Proline: 100 – 200 mg
  • L-Lysine: 100 – 200 mg
  • L-Glutamine: 500 – 2,000 mg

Take Your Time

Dietary habits are formed over a lifetime. Give yourself 1 to 2 years to be completely comfortable with the Anti-Aging Diet. Change your overall habits a little at a time. Be happy with the progress and be proud of making the change. Start by following the anti-aging diet plan for 1 meal a day, especially if you are not used to eating lots of vegetables. Gradually, move to 3 anti-aging meals a day for 1 day a week, increasing the number of meals as tolerated. Reward yourself with a slight indulgence once a week or so, at which time; you should not feel guilty for eating whatever you like.

What You Need To Know

Calorie restriction extends life span and is a proven anti-aging tool. There is no doubt about it. Follow the Mediterranean diet in terms of what you should eat. A simple rule to remember is the 30/90 rule: reduce your calories by 30%, increase vegetable intake to 60%, and reduce your sugar intake by 90%. To avoid malnutrition, take your optimal dosages of your food-based supplements.

Read Part 1


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© Copyright 2012 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Anti-Aging and your diet