Secrets of good nutrition for a long and healthy life

Elena Casiraghi – Equipe Enervit

Health and fitness cannot be separated from our daily nutrition. Everybody dreams to prolong youth and curb aging. The good news is that this dream will soon come true. Balancing foods in every meal and snack is the first secret. But there is much more, a secret that we cannot give up and that nature offers us. Let's find out.

Calories: can we still trust them?

The method commonly used to guide our diet choices is that of caloric measurement. However, almost nine years have passed since the 2nd International Congress Science in Nutrition (Rome, March 2010), when it was stated, that caloric measurement is ancient and obsolete. In fact, the term calory comes from laboratory experiences and equipment called calorimeters, meaning that this does not have a physiological response nor it provides a response to the effect of a particular food intake.

Indeed, calorie is the amount of heat needed to increase the temperature by 1 gram of water of 1⁰ C. Such amount of heat depends on the initial temperature, and is thus difficult to measure accurately.

1 g of carbohydrate and 1 g of protein both provide about 4 calories. Yet their effect in the body is quite different.

It is not by chance that the International System of Units provides for the use of joules instead of calories. Regardless of the unit of measure, the fact that the human organism does not behave like a machine that burns calories stands.

In fact, it is a complex system of cells that, to regulate the thermal energy and consequently the body temperature, uses sophisticated metabolic mechanisms, activated through the intervention of hormones, the real messengers, and other body activities that do not depend only on the calories of food. For this reason, about 60% of the daily calorie intake is not used for metabolism.

Fish is a food rich in Omega 3

How to choose foods

Foods should be identified by their glycemic index and glycemic load - and not only calories, which are, instead, physiological parameters that pertain to the quality and quantity of foods. In practice, these two parameters provide a real indication of the effect of a certain food and its quantity in the body once consumed.
For example, a meal composed of food with a high glycemic index and consumed in large quantities, or even with a high glycemic load, means that it contains a lot of carbohydrates. These will pass quickly into the bloodstream and will be assimilated just as quickly. The process causes the body to store a lot of energy which, when taken in excess in a single meal, will be accumulated as fat, thus increasing the fat mass.

For example, 1 g of carbohydrate and 1 g of protein both provide about 4 calories. However, their effect in the body is very different, as each stimulates the synthesis of hormones with different actions: carbohydrates, when ingested, stimulate insulin, the hormone of storage; very different is the result of proteins intake, which instead stimulates glucagon, the hormone of mobilization, which in turn has an opposite effect to insulin.

Healthy eating also depends on the choice of raw materials to be cooked
Precisely for this reason, nutrients cannot be classified according to the calories they contain, as this would limit their analysis to a mere quantification of the energy they store, without considering the real effect that a certain food would have on metabolism. Rather, it is more accurate to use the glycemic index of foods and thus choose a daily diet with a medium-low glycemic index.

In practice, the latter can be considered positive, while those with a high glycemic index are negative as such is their impact on health, mental clarity and fat mass.

Calories and longevity: the boundary for ageing well

However, it is also true that calories should not be completely disregarded. In fact, it is a useful parameter to provide a reference of the amount of energy that you are introducing into your body. Even if it lacks the qualitative effect of food ingestion or the real impact of the latter on one’s metabolism.

Calorie is useful when it comes to longevity. It is now official, in fact, that a low-calorie diet can promote a longer life. But beware, it is not a question of adding years to life, but of adding life to years.

It is more accurate to use the glycemic index of foods: we choose foods with a medium-low index.
The desire of each human being, in fact, is to prolong youth and thus slow down the physiological aging of the body, to live longer and in good health with a body and a mind that show an age much younger than the effective one. The secret is all here: to reduce the calorie intake of the daily diet and to take a sufficient quantity of polyphenols.
Rallentare il fisiologico invecchiamento dell'organismo è possibile grazie agli alimenti verdi, come il cardo e l'insalata
Since 1930, in fact, calorie restriction has been studied as a precious tool to promote longevity and reduce the onset of certain diseases. Several studies have shown that calories restriction can reduce the incidence and slow down the development of age-related diseases (such as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases), improve resistance to stress, halt brain decline and even increase the quality of life.

The Japanese Blue Zone for Nutrition

Among the inhabitants of the Japanese island of Okinawa it has been observed that there is a high number of centenarians. What is striking, in fact, is the limited percentage of heart disease and cancer. And overweight there is pretty much unknown. A 1978 study of Okinawa residents showed that energy intake among adults was about 80% of the Japanese average, or about 20% less in calories. The result led to a deep down of their daily habits, including nutritional ones.

The result led to a deep down of their daily habits, including nutritional ones. Therefore, It was discovered that their diet, in addition to a reduced caloric intake, was very rich in some foods and nutrients:

  • lean proteins such as soy and fish
  • long-chain omega-3
  • polyphenols from green leaves vegetables
  • island-native sweet potato, poor in starch and rich in antioxidants.

But that was not just it. It was also found that dinner was consumed much sooner than sleep time, meaning that the nocturnal fast was longer.

Why does calorie restriction have positive physiological effects?

The reduction of the daily intake of calories involves numerous hormonal changes:

  • There is a decrease in insulin levels in the blood
  • A significant reduction in fat mass
  • A significant reduction in body temperature
  • A significant reduction systolic and diastolic pressure.

All this happens because caloric restriction activates the expression of certain genes, not by chance called thrifty genes, as they increase the energy production of cells despite the reduction in food intake. In practice, more vitality with less food.

It is not a question of adding years to life, but of adding life to years.

The decrease in fat mass is an important factor in longevity: a high fat mass causes greater morbidity and mortality, attributable to several pathological factors, including insulin resistance. Fat cells, when in excess, secrete by their nature tumor factors that seem to promote aging and related diseases. It is good to keep them at bay.
Bread, rice, pasta: carbohydrates are highly energetic foods that cannot be totally excluded from a low-calorie diet.

Calorie restriction and polyphenols: the winning combination

What is generally called aging can be considered the combined effect of cellular inflammation and a decrease in metabolic efficiency. Therefore, reducing the former and increasing the latter should increase longevity. While calorie restriction is the starter process, the intake and supplementation of polyphenols is the factor that effectively complements and reinforces longevity and the reduction of aging.
It is essential to have a diet rich in these substances, free of those calories that cannot be synthesized by the body. They can be found in vegetables, fruit, cocoa beans, roots from which the spices used to season dishes are extracted. To date, we know that there are about eight thousand types of polyphenols.

And very little was known about their potential before 1955, when they were first discovered. Today it is known that they are powerful activators of human genes as they are involved in the synthesis of antioxidant enzymes, in the modulation of anti-inflammatory pathways and in the ignition of anti-aging genes. What's more, they are valuable key factors in maintaining a healthy intestine. In practice, these are real switches of health and longevity.

Noble proteins such as meat, peppers and more are essential in the everyday diet
It's not enough just to reduce calories. It goes without saying that to live we must eat. But to live well, we need to eat less and colour our dishes with foods rich in polyphenols. If every cell in the body is activated, our whole body will be at its most effective levels and it will provide the maximum physical and mental condition. You will feel physically fit, toned, energetic and vital, while mentally lucid and active.

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