An unexpected research finding with great practical significance is that experimental animals live longer with much lower rates of disease when they consume less than the recommended daily allowance of calories. The finding is unexpected because we associate less-than-optimal nutrition with poor growth and health, and common sense tells us that we do better if we are well nourished. In fact, most of us may be overnourished, and too much of a good thing may be doing us harm.
An adequate diet is one that provides not only enough calories but also all of the nutrients necessary for efficient metabolism without any excesses that promote disease. What constitutes a good diet is a matter of controversy, and much of the controversy is based on emotion rather than reason.
An average person needs less than 2,000 calories daily, with 300 to 400 of the calories coming from fat. Present labeling laws are helpful in determining your caloric intake, but maintaining your weight or losing weight is much more complicated. The FDA supports two ways to diet: increase exercise and decrease the intake of food.
Dieting Can Make You Fat
Dieting Can Make You Fat
That's it? The secret to a long and healthy life is diet and exercise? Not really! Metabolism slows down during a diet, and the body burns fewer calories, causing more fat to be stored as a protection against extended "famine." When the food supply is restored, the metabolism is slow to respond, and the body stores even more fat. In humans, this yo-yo phenomenon is harmful - starvation diets simply fool the body into starting a famine cycle. Once the diet is over, we are back to where we started, or worse.
Granted, exercise programs help keep the metabolism active, but most of us are about as committed to our exercise programs as we are to our diets. We fall off the exercise program at the same time we end the diet, increasing the yo-yo effect. Then how should we combine dieting and exercise into a healthy life?
First we need to modify our diets, lowering caloric content without greatly reducing the amount or the appeal of food we consume. The best way of lowering caloric content is by cutting the fat content in our diets. Fat has almost twice as many calories per gram as protein and carbohydrate.
Second we need to restrict caloric intake either by fasting or by eating a limited diet one day a week. Our body's metabolism will not react quick enough to begin a "famine" cycle during a one-day diet. Fasting should include plenty of liquids, with enough fruit juices to maintain a minimum caloric intake. When fasting, reduce the intake of supplemental vitamins and minerals, as some supplements may become toxic if not consumed with adequate amounts of food.
Our bodies don't benefit from the food we eat, but rather by what is digested, assimilated and eliminated. The food is taken in, broken into smaller and smaller parts until it can be absorbed and the by-products discarded. Enzymes digest all of our food and make it small enough to pass through the intestines into the blood. Enzymes are a part of every metabolic process in the body, from the working of our glands to the proper functioning of our immune system. Enzymes require vitamins and minerals to do their work.
Many manufactured vitamin and mineral supplements, because they are fractionated (broken down into basic elements), are treated as toxic waste in the body. Some minerals in an unnatural form can accumulate and cause harmful effects. Fortunately, many commercial vitamin and mineral supplements are so badly formulated that they pass right through our digestive systems without breaking down and being absorbed. Unfortunately, we haven't received the benefit that we paid for.
Many people are now using all-natural herbal forms of vitamin and mineral supplements. Because these are in a natural form, they are more easily absorbed than manufactured supplements. They are also much less concentrated than manufactured supplements, and so are often safer. However, it is always best to consult with your personal physician before taking any nutritional supplement.
The proper supplements, combined with proper diet and exercise, can help you live a longer and healthier life.
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Herlan Westra is the editor of Rhode Island Foghorn Online Magazine, which provides information and entertainment for a rapidly-growing audience nationwide. Herlan welcomes suggestions for future articles.