We are constantly told that we need to rev up our metabolism in order to burn calories, stay lean, and maintain health. Yet this is completely misleading. Throughout history, scientific lab experiments have confirmed that animals live longer when put on a calorie-restricted diet. We have also seen in the literature that slimmer people tend to be healthier overall. What we can extrapolate from this data is the fact that the slower the metabolism, the slower we age. There are several factors that come into play in this process.
One of these factors is logical…the more food you eat, the harder and more frequently the body has to digest and assimilate these nutrients. Digestion and absorption requires approximately 10% of total body energy requirements. This is energy that gets pulled from basic metabolic functions. In other words, the less time your body has to work on digestion, the more time it can focus energy on repair, healing, and other metabolic processes necessary to sustain health.
Another concept that is critical in understanding metabolism is that of free radicals. These are highly reactive compounds that are created by normal processes of living as well as from environmental stressors such as radiation, pollution, exercise, etc. The free radical theory of aging, proposed by Dr. Denman Harman in the 1950s, states that age occurs from the damage due to free radicals over time. Ironically, the same molecule that keeps us alive is the same one that ages us. Oxygen is what we require to breathe and function and yet it also causes the body to deteriorate. This can be likened to the difference between an apple when it is initially cut in half and what it looks like an hour later after its has been exposed to the air…brown and mushy. This is the process of oxidation. During exercise, we consume more oxygen because of increased respirations. This increases the effect of oxidation and the body’s exposure to free radicals which are formed due to the excess oxygen coming in. Of course, we know that exercise has limitless benefits and is critical to optimum health. This is just one side effect that happens to occur.
There are two tremendously powerful reasons in which a whole food, plant-based diet can counter-act and slow the process of free radicalization in the blood. First of all is the fact that plant foods are full of antioxidants and phytochemicals that specifically target these free radicals and neutralize them. Secondly, one of the most potent findings in slowing the process of aging and disease is the use of calorie restriction. Reducing the amount of food that is consumed suppresses the development of many diseases and increases lifespan by decreasing the damage and stress caused by oxygen. Whole, plant foods are naturally low in calories and are satiating due to their high fiber and nutrient content.
The message here is contradictory to what we are taught and to how society functions. Ultimately, to decrease your risk of most diseases and to increase lifespan, you must eat a diet that is based in whole, plant foods. To take this to the next level, it is critical to eat only as much as is truly necessary, eating only when hungry and stopping before the feeling of over-fullness sets in. Some experts recommend stopping the consumption of food at an early hour each night so that you may complete digestion before sleep and then have the whole night to heal, recover and fight disease processes. Also, instead of forcing yourself to eat just because it is breakfast time or because others are eating, wait until your body truly feels hunger to provide nutritious whole, plant foods to your prepared digestive system.
To learn more about this topic and about enhancing health and longevity, visit my website at www.PlantBasedDietitian.com and Dr. Joel Fuhrman, M.D., the leading medical expert in this topic, at http://www.drfuhrman.com/ .
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