Nowadays, we live in times of food abundance in many countries. However, it appears that excessive food consumption can adversely impact human health. In contrast, eating less can prolong life.
A caloric restriction is a nutritional approach that reduces calorie consumption without causing malnutrition. This dietary regimen is recommended for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes and as a weight-loss tool for overweight and obese individuals. In addition, caloric restriction has been shown to slow the aging process and extend lifespan.
The caloric restriction approach involves reducing the number of calories consumed while maintaining adequate nutrition. The last means eating enough essential macro and micronutrients, including proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. To accomplish this goal, you should focus on nutrient-dense foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, legumes, etc. In addition, it is better to limit the consumption of foods that contain a lot of calories but are low in nutrients, such as processed food, refined carbohydrates, sodas, etc.
Calorie requirements vary for different people. The amount of calories you need depends on age, weight, sex, height, and physical activity. To determine how many calories you should consume to maintain a calorie deficit, you can use online calculators. They help calculate:
- Basic metabolic rate (BMR) is the minimum daily calorie requirement your body needs. It is recommended to avoid eating less than this.
- Daily calorie requirement is the amount of calories you need to consume to maintain your current weight.
- Calorie needs for weight loss is a daily caloric intake that falls between BMR and daily calorie requirement for maintaining current body weight.
It is essential to not over restrict your caloric intake to prevent adverse health effects.
Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and children under the age of 5 should consult a registered dietitian. Notably, some studies suggest that a mild calorie restriction during pregnancy, especially in overweight women, can be beneficial for both the mother and the child. Again, however, it is important to speak with your doctor before trying this approach.
It is worth mentioning that caloric restriction decreases testosterone levels to some extent. Therefore, this nutritional approach is not recommended for young people and those who have fertility-related concerns. In addition, individuals with a history of disordered eating should not try caloric restriction.
How to avoid possible nutritional deficiencies
It is essential to keep an eye on the macro and micronutrients you eat to avoid nutritional deficiencies. For example, people practicing caloric restriction may face iron, thiamin (vitamin B-1), biotin (vitamin B-7), folate (vitamin -9), vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin A, and magnesium deficiencies. You can prevent these deficits by eating whole, minimally processed foods and avoiding excessively restricting your caloric intake. Here are some examples of food sources of mentioned nutrients.
- Iron: beans, peas, red meat, seafood, poultry, dark green leafy vegetables, etc.
- Vitamin A: leafy greens, yellow and orange vegetables, tomatoes, eggs, fish oil, etc.
- Vitamin B-1: fish, pork, fortified breakfast cereals, beans, lentils, green peas, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Vitamin B-7: legumes, egg yolk, liver, sunflower seeds, almonds, bananas, sweet potatoes, etc.
- Vitamin B-9: sunflower seeds, peanuts, beans, whole grains, dark leafy greens, eggs, seafood, etc.
- Vitamin B-12: clams, liver, tuna, sardines, salmon, fortified cereals, milk and dairy products, eggs, etc.
- Calcium: milk and dairy products, dark leafy greens, soybeans, fortified orange juice or cereals, canned salmon, etc.
- Magnesium: dark chocolate, avocado, cashews, tofu, legumes, bananas, whole grains, etc.
Alternatively, you can take supplements to ensure that you get all the essential vitamins and minerals. Consult the doctor or nutritionist about the exact supplements you may need.
Tips on improving your dieting experience
- Use dedicated apps for counting calories. It will make it easier to control your calorie budget.
- Avoid using store-bought sauces and dressings as they are often high in sugar and calories.
- Use smaller plates/bowls. It is a simple trick to keep your portion sizes under control.
- Drink water before having a meal. This will help you feel more satisfied with less amount of food.
- Eat slowly. It will help you feel satiety while eating less and avoid overeating.
- Limit distractions while you are eating. Using your phone or computer, scrolling social media, watching TV, and reading a book as you eat can significantly increase the risk of overeating.
- Eat mindfully. It means paying attention to how your feelings and actions during the meal. Allow yourself to stop when you feel full without trying to eat everything that you put on the plate.
- Limit the consumption of drinks high in sugar and calories like sodas, alcohol, sugar-sweetened smoothies and juices, and some coffee beverages. In addition, avoid adding sugar to your tea or coffee.
- Add more vegetables to your diet. It will help you get more fiber and vitamins while reducing the consumption of high-calorie foods.
- Use your non-dominant hand to eat. This trick will help you slow down while eating.
- Give preference to low-calorie starters like salad or soup. Studies show that doing so can prevent you from overeating.
- Prepare meals by yourself. Commercially produced meals may seem healthy and low in calories but contain hidden additional sugars and fats.
- Add protein to every meal. This macronutrient will help you feel satiated for longer and prevent overeating.
- Eat fruits instead of drinking fruit juices. Fruits fill you up and are more nutrient-dense while containing fewer calories than juices.
- Sleep well. Insufficient sleep makes people hungrier and more likely to eat more.
Overall, a caloric restriction is a helpful weight-loss method. However, many people may find it hard to stick to this diet. In addition, without proper balancing of the nutrients, there is a risk of developing some essential nutrient deficiencies. You may consider trying Mediterranean or Nordic diets, focusing on food quality instead of calories.