The next issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology will include research comparing 25 members of the Calorie Restriction Society (aged 41 to 64)--who consume 1,400 to 2,000 nutrient-rich calories per day--with the same number of people who eat a typical Western diet of 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.
They found that those on the restricted diet had significantly healthier hearts. Jim Salter describes it this way in an Associated Press article about the study:
"This is the first study to demonstrate that long-term calorie restriction with optimal nutrition has cardiac-specific effects that (delay or reverse) age-associated declines in heart function," said Luigi Fontana, lead author and assistant professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis.
The study will be published Tuesday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Fontana said simply consuming less food is not the answer. Members of the study group eat food resembling a traditional Mediterranean diet, focusing on vegetables, olive oil, beans, whole grains, fish and fruit. They avoid refined and processed foods, soft drinks, desserts, white bread and other sources of "empty" calories.
For the general public, the researchers recommend a moderate reduction in calories, combined with moderate, regular exercise.
Research on mice and rats indicated that life span can be stretched by about 30 percent with stringent and consistent caloric restriction. That research also suggested that restricting calories can help prevent cancer.
Heart attacks and strokes cause about 40 percent of deaths in Western countries, researchers said. Cancer causes another 30 percent. Fontana said those deaths are attributable to "secondary aging" from high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure and other often-preventable conditions.
While it has long been known that a healthy diet and exercise can reduce risks, the study suggests that caloric restriction combined with optimal nutrition can do even more.