A Low-Carb Diet Is an Anti-Aging Diet

anti-aging diet

anti-aging diet


Americans eat carbs by the truckload

If you want to look like the average overweight schlub, and age and get illnesses like him, one of the best ways to do so is to eat like him. Make sure to get lots of processed foods, loaded with sugar and vegetable oil and chemical ingredients; be sure that your macros are loaded heavily in favor of carbohydrates, preferably highly refined ones.

According to an article in American Family Physician, the typical American eats 275 grams, or 50%, of his calories a day as carbohydrate. And we know what the average American looks like.

One of the august bodies of American institutional health, the Institute of Medicine, recommends that adults “should get 45 percent to 65 percent of their calories from carbohydrates”. I guess they want everyone to be sick enough to give the doctors plenty of business.

More insulin means faster aging

One thing all those carbohydrates do, part and parcel of making you fat, is to increase insulin levels. Insulin is the hormone necessary for the body to process and store glucose, of which carbohydrates are composed, so more carbs means more insulin.

We also know that a greater amount of insulin is associated with a shorter lifespan. (See also my post, Carbohydrate restriction may increase lifespan.) Conversely, people and animals that have lower insulin levels or disrupted insulin signaling have longer lives.

Is it that simple, lower your carbohydrate intake and live longer? In my view, that’s very likely.

A trio of doctors decided to put their patients on a low-carbohydrate, high-fat, adequate protein diet and then measure what happened to various markers of aging: Clinical Experience of a Diet Designed to Reduce Aging. Two of them are well known in the low carb world, Ron Rosedale and Eric Westman. The patients were about equally divided between men and women and were “highly motivated”.

They were told to reduce the amount of carbohydrates in their diet. “Only non-starchy, fibrous vegetables were acceptable: lettuce, greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, mushrooms, onions, peppers, sprouts, asparagus, and seaweed.” So, no bread, pasta, rice, sugar, cereal, potatoes, or anything else starchy. The vegetables listed are, for all intents and purposes, close to zero carb. (A post hoc analysis revealed an intake of about 20% carbohydrate, so it looks like some cheating was involved.)

Protein intake was about 20% of calories, the recommendation being “limited to approximately 1.0 grams/kg lean body mass per day (increased for exercise to 1.25 grams/day)”. Note that this is for lean, not total, body mass. However, at the upper end at 1.25 g/kg, this still might be suitable for weightlifters.

The remaining 60% of calories was fat. Importantly, this diet was not designed for the patients to lose weight; they were not told to restrict calories and could eat all they wanted.

The low-carb diet means lots of weight loss in a short time

But the patients did lose weight on their all-you-can-eat diet, losing an average of about 7 kgs, or 8% of their body weight, and they did this in 2 to 3 months. (The time varied for each patient.) See table below.

Parameter Baseline Follow-up % Change
Body weight (kg) 86.3 ± 3.2 79.2 ± 3.0* −8.1 ± 0.8*
Insulin (mg/dl) 22.2 ±2.9 11.1 ± 0.9* −40.1 ± 4.7*
Glucose (mg/dl) 108.3 ± 5.0 99.3 ± 4.5* −7.6 ± 2.1*
Leptin (mg/dl) 16.5 ± 2.5 8.2 ± 1.4* −48.2 ± 3.7*
Triglyceride (mg/dl) 229.3 ± 75.1 110.7 ± 14.2* −28.3 ± 5.7*
High density lipoprotein, HDL
55.4 ± 3.5 53.5 ± 3.0 −0.3 ± 3.9
Creatinine (mg/dl) 1.02 ± 0.03 1.01± 0.03 0.5± 1.7
Free T3 (pg/ml) 2.97 ± 0.05 2.64 ± 0.06* −10.8 ± 1.8*
Thyroid Stimulating Hormone
2.53 ± 0.25 2.57 ± 0.22 8.9 ± 8.1
Systolic blood pressure (mmHg) 136.6 ± 3.7 121.7 ± 2.3* −10.2 ± 2.1*
Diastolic blood pressure (mmHg) 86.5 ± 1.7 76.4 ± 1.7* −11.4 ± 1.8*
The diet lowered biomarkers of aging

Their insulin levels dropped dramatically, by over 40%, as well as their glucose, trigylceride, and leptin levels, and their blood pressure.

Keep in mind here that not only were calories not limited, but no exercise component was part of the study.

The investigators note that calorie restriction, the most robust life extension intervention known, correlates with a lowering of all of these parameters. So this appears to be a true anti-aging diet.

Of course, most people will be more interested in it for the weight loss.

Now, if you’re already in good shape and merely looking to shed those last few pounds so you can be ripped and have a sixpack, you may need to do more than this to lose weight. The patients in this study were fat and before the diet probably gobbling up that full 50% or more of their calories as carbs. A guy or gal who’s already lean and looking to get leaner is going to have to be stricter, I would say, and watch the alcohol intake, do some intermittent fasting, maybe count calories. But if you’re not already cutting carbs, and even if you don’t need to lose weight, this study gives good reasons to start.

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  1. eah says:

    ; they were not told to restrict calories and could eat all they wanted.

    That is pretty amazing, mostly because it is so absolutely contrary to not only the conventional advice for losing weight, but also the conventional advice about diet in general that has been ‘dished out’ for several generations now.

  2. Dan says:

    This diet was perfect for a person like me, I tried it last year for 4months and went from 85kg to 73kg. I’m at it again now from spring to summer but will probably eat normally during winter for bulking. But I might consider this diet permanently with rare cheat days just because I feel so much better with this diet. Cutting out sugar makes me have no headaches or migraines anymore and I feel overall less tired.

  3. sabril says:

    People have been eating starchy foods like bread, rice, and potatoes for millennia, at least in the West. So I think the human body is probably reasonable well adapted to these foods. I suspect you need to make a distinction between these sorts of basic carbohydrates and the more modern, highly processed, high-carbohydrate foods like soda and potato chips.

  4. Dan says:

    What is your opinion on the diet of the Okinawan people? Their carbohydrate intake is above 50% but they are famous for their longevity

    • P. D. Mangan says:

      The Okinawans live long because their calorie intake is low, they’re physically active, and have strong family ties. In my opinion. Whether they eat >50% calories as carbs I doubt; they’re famous for eating a lot of pork.

      • Dan says:

        Regarding the carbohydrate intake, I found this paper:

        “Despite the large increase in fat intake in Okinawa in recent decades, fat intake in the modern Okinawan diet is comparable to that of the DASH diet (at approximately 27% of total daily energy intake) and lower in fat than the traditional Mediterranean diet (42%). Saturated fat still only totals about 7% of total energy intake (versus 6% in DASH and 9% in Mediterranean). Carbohydrate intake (58%) of total calories remains highest (versus 55% for DASH and 42% for Mediterranean) and protein intake falls between the lower Mediterranean (13%) intake and the higher DASH (18%) intake.”

        As to why the okinawan diet is healthy even with 58% carbs:

        “Features such as the low levels of saturated fat, high antioxidant intake, and low glycemic load in these diets are likely contributing to a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and other chronic diseases through multiple mechanisms, including reduced oxidative stress”

        “Deeper analyses of the individual components of the Okinawan diet reveal that many of the traditional foods, herbs, or spices consumed on a regular basis could be labeled ‘‘functional foods’’ and, indeed, are currently being explored for their potential health-enhancing properties”


        • P. D. Mangan says:

          Spreadbury makes a case that it’s “acellular” carbs that cause obesity: Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity. In other words, lots of flour and sugar as the cause. This if true would explain traditional diets with lots of carbs not causing obesity. Another aspect of Okinawans and other people that don’t get fat on traditional diets is that they don’t eat all the time: no snacking and so forth. Dr. Jason Fung of Intensive Dietary Management even blames the obesity epidemic almost entirely on 24/7 food availability. He says Americans obviously were not eating healthy food prior to 1970; they ate plenty of refined carbs, etc. But did an intermittent fast daily, between dinner and breakfast.

          • Dan says:

            Thanks for the link. The original Okinawan diet is indeed low in acellular carb, low in calorie, and rich in nutrients. They also eat functional foods (hormesis?) like bitter melon, shiitake mushroom, seaweed, turmeric and okinawan pepper

  5. curioussoul says:

    ” they’re famous for eating a lot of pork.” not quite true apparently they eat average amount of pork…Furthermore, american’s diet is already very high in fat (and carbs) and low in protein.

    The problem is processed food: sugar, refined carbs, transfats, processed oils and cured meats.

    Most people on earth eat a complexe and fibruous starch based diet. Look at all the Indians and Asians and middle eastern people.
    From rice, to couscous to cassava.

    • P. D. Mangan says:

      Middle Easterners, eating all that couscous and rice (and bread) are some of the fattest people on earth. Diabetes and obesity are an increasing problem in India. Furthermore, Americans’ consumption of fat has dropped over the past several decades.

      • Mike says:

        “Furthermore, Americans’ consumption of fat has dropped over the past several decades.”

        That’s not what the data from the USDA says.

        “Middle Easterners” diets has become more Americanized (more processed meat, oils, sugars) — India’s love for rice predates their diabetes epidemic by millennia.

  6. curioussoul says:

    “Middle Easterners, eating all that couscous and rice (and bread) are some of the fattest people on earth.” wtf where did you get that?

    not true, moroccan, algerians and tunisians are not some of the fattest people on earth. same for lebanese and syrians. sure they are not athletic models, but they’re quite average. I think you are mistaking them for Rich saudis who are being invaded by Mcdonalds and fast food outlets.

    check out this study

    lots of carbs, especially processed is bad, very bad but if you want to believe deep down that human beings are born to eat a keto diet (i.e. under 100 grams of carbs a day), am sorry , I love your blog but I do not agree with you on that point.


  7. I had been on a low fat diet for about two years, and this January I switched to low carb. So after a recent trip to the doctor, my status at 3 months into the low carb diet has me with a lower fasting glucose level, but oddly a higher A1C.

    Blood pressure is better than it’s ever been, but cholesterol is up. So at least so far, it seems to be a mixed bag.

  8. I loose weight if I don’t do it. I’m a hard gainer and I just don’t have to discipline to force feed myself more fat. I’m going to give it a go or keep doing the fasting thing to reset insulin sensitivity.

    I eat a serious amount of fats and meat for protein but then I stack a ton of rice on top of it. I have hardly any body fat. But I don’t want to be lulled into complacency by my physique. If I’m messed up under the hood I’m messed up.

    Do you think ‘stacking’ all those carbs on my base is ok? I do have a physical job and I’m very active. But I do not want to destroy my insulin sensitivity.

    • P. D. Mangan says:

      If you’re lean and very physically active, I doubt you have much if any degree of insulin resistance, so the carbs are probably fine. One can eat a lot of carbs and still have good insulin sensitivity provided calorie intake closely matches expenditure, and it certainly seems that’s the case with you.

  9. Chris says:

    I’m curious. I noticed the triglycerides and hdl’s were in there, but what were the figures for the ldls? I was a bit disturbed that the High Density Lipoproteins (hdl) went down a touch. Don’t want that. I’m sure they studied ldls as well. By the exclusion, I don’t think it’s good news.

  10. Belovar says:

    In my fat loss endeavors I have now stumbled upon the leptin issue, and I find it all very confusing.


    “Leptin is a major determinant of metabolic rate and energy expenditure. Since it’s secreted by body fat and responds to a lesser degree to your carb intake, using a low-carb diet to lose body fat may eventually, paradoxically, work against your metabolism. You can fix this by incorporating carb refeeds once or twice a week where you keep the fat low and carbs high to give lagging leptin levels a boost. Other potential fixes include avoiding grains, whose lectins may interfere with leptin receptors.”

    Whats your take on it, PD?

    • P. D. Mangan says:

      I’d agree with the above but add that in overweight people, leptin resistance seems a major factor. When leptin was discovered, everyone thought they’d found a cure for obesity, but it turned out that most obese people have normal leptin levels. As for carb refeeds, I’m not a huge fan, but I’m not saying that wouldn’t work either. When dieting for fat loss using a ketogenic diet, the drop in metabolism is much less than when using a conventional moderate carb, low calorie diet. The latter is what they used on The Biggest Loser, and a whole lot of them regained their weight.

      For my money, when dieting for fat loss, to keep metabolism high, 1) eat a ketogenic diet, and 2) lift weights.

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