The death-defying diet

Calorie restriction claims to help you live longer and avoid old-age - But does it work?

My last supper as a mortal took place on Hallowe’en at Florent, a French diner in New York’s meat-packing district. The parade was in full swing and waiters in drag served tables of clowns. Olivia Newton-John (emphasis on John) circa Physical in leggings and an off-the-shoulder T-shirt recommended the steak frites with green beans followed by cheesecake and ice cream. It all sounded good to me.

I love food and have never really taken much interest in the calories it contains. I vaguely remember that Tic Tacs have two calories (Tic Tac two) but I could be wrong and, until recently, I haven’t given a monkey’s. For the past 10 years, I have weighed 12 stone 5lb, give or take a few pounds. I’m 41, 5ft 11in and neither thin nor fat. I’m a small large. I eat an average amount for my size – about 2,500 calories a day.

My body mass index (BMI), the calculation many doctors use to assess weight, is 24.4, the high end of normal. Add a few pounds and I would be overweight but I’d have to slap on well over a stone to be “obese”. Most importantly, I weigh less than most of my male friends. Now, this laissez-faire attitude to food is going to stop. From the stroke of midnight I am going to retrain my body to live on 1,800 calories a day on a diet that, a growing body of evidence is showing, will increase my life span, reduce my chances of serious diseases like cancer and may even give me a shot at cheating death.

In 1991, Dr Roy Walford, an expert on ageing and a Korean-war veteran, was sealed inside Biosphere 2 with seven other “crew” members. Among other delights, the 3.14-acre site contained a rainforest, an 850-square-metre ocean with a coral reef, and mangrove wetlands.

For two years, they were supposed to support themselves on food they would grow themselves, to test the feasibility of setting up such sites on distant planets. The crew found they could not grow enough food and the experiment almost had to be cancelled. Solving the food dilemma led to an experiment that convinced Walford he had found a way to extend human life.

Walford convinced the crew to follow a nutrient-rich diet of between 1,400 and 2,000 calories a day. Within six months the crew’s weight had, unsurprisingly, fallen 14% – but they also showed dramatic falls in blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and insulin. Did the Biosphere contain the fountain of youth? diseases.

Source - Times