What is the most sustainable diet? The one with the least calories.

What is the most sustainable diet? The one with the least calories.

July 24, 2020

What is the most sustainable diet? The one with the least calories.

The most innovative studies show that to live a longer and healthier life you have to drastically reduce your calorie intake. Improvised fasts can be dangerous. That’s why people like Italian scientist Valter Longo have developed an imitation fast diet that has also proven useful in the treatment of tumors
A dietary approach which, by reducing calorie intake (provided that all the nutrients the body qualitatively and quantitatively requires are included), helps one to live a longer and healthier life.” This is the conclusion reached by the Barilla Foundation experts in the book “Eating Planet”, after carefully analyzing the scientific literature available “In light of the various studies conducted – many of which are still under way today – on the influence which food has on health, we can affirm that calorie restrictions without malnutrition (intended as a reduction in calorie intake of up to 50%, but with an adequate consumption of vitamins and minerals) is one of the most powerful ways to slow down the aging process and extend lifespan in many animal models.”

Simulating fasting

After the studies conducted on animal models, the effectiveness of this strategy was demonstrated on people as well. Valter Longo, a researcher at the FIRC Institute of Molecular Oncology (IFOM) in Milan, has experimentally proven the efficacy of an imitation fast diet (DMD), to follow periodically in order to contrast ageing, strengthen various systems including the immune and nervous systems, and reduce the risk factor of various pathologies including cancer, particularly breast cancer.

The news comes from an international study coordinated by Longo's team at IFOM and the San Martino University Hospital of Genoa, recently published in the journal Nature, in which a low-calorie plant-based diet was tested to determine its effect on tumor growth in combination with hormone therapy in mice and patients. Around 400,000 women receive hormone treatment in Italy: three in four of those diagnosed with breast cancer.

The data collected in two clinical studies show that protracted diet cycles lasting an average of about six months reduce some growth factors that contribute to promoting cell proliferation and can influence tumor growth. An encouraging result, because it shows that even in humans, as in the experiments conducted in cultured cells and in mice with breast cancer, this effect could be associated with a lower progression of the cancer, an improvement in the efficacy of the therapies and a recovery of sensitivity to treatment in cases where drug resistance has developed. 
"The diet we tested, evaluating its clinical effects for the first time in women with metastatic cancer in hormone therapy, is a low-calorie vegan diet that induces the metabolic effects of fasting in the body, which for this reason has been called "imitation fasting” - explains Alessio Nencioni of the San Martino University Hospital of Genoa.

General benefits

Periodically adopting a low-protein diet for 5 days, under medical supervision, triggers positive and lasting effects on the body’s state of health, with changes to risk factors associated with aging, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, and cancer,explains Longo. ““It’s about reprogramming the body in such a way that it slows the ageing process, but also rejuvenating it through a regeneration based on the stimulation of stem cells".”

According to experimental data, three cycles of a DMD administered once a month for five days reduce the risk factors and biomarkers of aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer without major side effects.
A total fast is difficult to stick to,” says Longo, “and can even be dangerous.  We have therefore developed a complex diet that provokes the same effects on the body.  I have personally tried both the true fast and the brief caloric restriction, and I have to say that the former is much simpler and much safer.

The researcher warns against adopting radical forms of abstention from food, such as fasting with water only, and tackling the imitation fasting diet without first consulting a doctor and without remaining under their supervision throughout the course: “Not everyone is in sufficiently good physical condition to fast for five days, and the repercussions on one’s health can be quite serious for those who do so improperly” he says.

Furthermore, Longo recommends extreme caution for those with diabetes, who must not restrict their calorie intake when taking their insulin or oral anti-diabetic medication, while those with a body mass index of less than 18 should absolutely avoid the DMD.

Fewer calories, more balance

Why does calorie restriction work like a balanced diet? According to Barilla Foundation experts: “"An increasing number of scientific studies emphasize the link between different chronic diseases and the state of silent inflammation generated by the adoption of incorrect dietary models. These studies highlight how the type of dietary model adopted can positively or negatively influence the body's inflammatory responses. This level of inflammation is low, i.e. lower than the threshold necessary to cause pain and therefore “silent”. The prolonged presence of this silent level of inflammation, which leads to a faster consumption of the body's repair processes, has an impact on the onset of chronic diseases and, therefore, on the longevity and quality of life of the population."

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