You expect to lose weight when you eat less. But what if eating a little less also lowered your blood pressure, improved your cholesterol, reduced inflammation in your body, and helped with blood sugar control?
Looks like it does. That was the surprising finding of a recent study in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. It followed 218 people ages 21 to 50 who were normal weight or somewhat overweight. Half of the group was asked to reduce the amount of calories they ate everyday by about 25%, while the other half ate like they normally did.
After about six months, the first group had allowed their calorie count to creep up. At that point they were cutting only 12% of the calories in their usual diet. That amounts to about 300 fewer calories a day. Even so, they got great results.
After two years, those in the group who cut calories had lost an average of 16.5 lbs. They also had lower cholesterol and blood pressure, better blood sugar control, and reduced levels of C-reactive protein—a marker of harmful inflammation in the body.
The researchers found that weight loss wasn’t the only reason for these improvements in participants’ health. Something about cutting calories helped to improve these heart risk factors and boost overall heart health, even if it was just a few hundred a day.
Even better, another look at the same data found that people eating fewer calories had more energy, got better sleep, and enjoyed a better mood. That study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2016.
More research is needed to figure it all out. In the meantime, for a better heart, eat fewer calories—and you don’t have to feel deprived doing it. Try these easy ways to cut calories and get healthier:
- Get to know how much 300 calories is. Over the course of a day, it’s really not that much. Think of it as the amount in a slice of cheese pizza, a large bagel, or 6 Oreos.
- Avoid second helpings. Chances are that you are full after a normal serving of food. Try waiting 20 minutes to see if you really are still hungry. It takes that long for your brain to get the signal from your stomach.
- Streamline your sandwich. Instead of using three or four slices of deli cheese (100 calories each), just use one.
- Split dessert. Most pies and cakes are super-sized. Share a serving with someone else to avoid the extra calories.
- Skip the high-calorie coffee treats. A large, frozen coffee beverage with whole milk can have as many as 400 calories—and it’s gone in a few sips. Order a small latte made with nonfat milk instead (100 calories).
- Make a smart snack switch. Instead of potato chips (around 400 calories in a bag), eat air-popped popcorn.
- Cut out the soda or switch to unsweetened coffee or tea. You can cut 300 calories just by avoiding two sugary beverages a day.
With a few small changes in your daily diet, you can slash enough calories to give your heart a boost, along with other health benefits. And your stomach will probably never notice the difference!