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27 Jun 2022

Healthy Living: Calories do count – but not the way we were told…

Healthy Living:  Calories do count – but not the way we were told…

New evidence in the favour of eating much less calories and more nutrient dense foods

EATING too much of the bad things - even if it never reaches gluttony levels, is bad for us. We pile on weight, have a higher risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and even cancer as a result. Periodic bouts of well-designed fasting have already demonstrated a number of possible benefits in maintaining human physiology and many traditional medical practices favour fasting.
Now there is new evidence in the favour of eating much less calories and more nutrient dense foods.
We often forget what marvelous machines our bodies are. Each of your organs is constructed from diverse cell types arranged in a complex, stereotyped pattern, allowing them to carry out their assigned tasks — propelling blood, or absorbing nutrients. Perhaps more remarkably, these organs operate continuously for decades, requiring constant remodelling to replace cells lost to attrition.

Beside the skin, the intestine is our main interface with the outside world, serving to protect the body, programme the immune system and absorb nutrients and eliminate toxins. During development, this organ must produce an array of cell types with different roles and must position each cell properly — a task that is complicated by the challenging environment inside the intestine. As a result, these cells survive only three to five days, so throughout life the intestine must constantly recreate its complex architecture, with new cells taking the place of their deceased predecessors. This is a difficult and hazard-filled process.
Deep in the base of the delicate folds of the intestine that make up part of your 10-meter gastrointestinal tract lie specialised progenitor cells called Paneth cells. They produce antibacterial products such as lysozyme and defensin, acting as specialised epithelia that protect intestinal stem cells from pathogens (the bad microbes), and stimulating stem cell differentiation, shaping the intestinal microbiota, assisting in repairing the gut, as well as contributing to the health of your immune system.
Like most of the cells in the gut they are covered with sensors, some of which are designed to respond to nutrient density and availability and they use this caloric based data to augment stem-cell function. Caloric restriction or modest food consumption of high quality appears to be a primary driver of these cells, suggesting that overall food intake reduction may have a local impact on cell function in the gut as well as mediating energy utilisation elsewhere.
A paper published in the journal Nature revealed that these cells respond to nutrient rich but ‘calorically’ compressed food, such as vegetables, by reshaping the intestine, generating more vigorous production of replacement cells, in effect restoring youthfulness to the gastrointestinal tract. Preserving and enhancing stem-cell function in multiple tissues is one of the ways in which calorie restriction may slow the ravages of aging.

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