Just 300 Fewer Calories Daily Brings Big Benefits

A modest 12% cut in daily calories brings weight loss, lowers cholesterol, decreases inflammation, and improves blood sugar levels. The Bariatric Clinic is here to help!

The results of a new Duke Health clinical trial lasting 2 years and involving 218 healthy participants (143 active and 75 acting as controls) suggest that dropping just 300 calories a day reduces cholesterol and inflammation levels and the consequent risk for both diabetes and heart disease. The Duke Health trial was part of an ongoing collaborative project with the National Institutes of Health, called CALERIE (Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy).

The goal of the study was for the active participants to cut their caloric intake by 25%, however, even with instruction in low calorie food preparation and food choices, the average participant’s reduction was about 12%, amounting to about 300 calories per day and it was this modest reduction that brought big benefits. Its findings support the Duke researchers’ hypothesis that the metabolic changes triggered by eating fewer calories than we burn — which predictably produces weight loss — also significantly improves blood cholesterol, inflammation, and sugar (glucose) levels.

Dr. Kraus, the study’s lead author told The New York Times, “We weren’t surprised that there were [beneficial] changes. But the magnitude was rather astounding. In a disease population, there aren’t five drugs in combination that would cause this aggregate [total] of an improvement.”

Perhaps in response to low-calorie cooking training, the calorie-cutting group didn’t end up reducing their protein intake, but they ate significantly less fat and fewer carbohydrates. The fact that the members of the calorie-cutting group also consumed more vitamins and minerals — as revealed by regular blood tests — suggested that they had raised their intakes of fruits and vegetables, probably due to the training in low-calorie meal preparation, which emphasized fresh, filling, whole foods.

In this healthy group of active participants, with BMIs of 22-28, there was, on average a 10% initial weight loss (71% of which was fat loss) and this weight loss was maintained over the course of the 2-year study and few of the active participants dropped out of the study.

After two years, the 143 members of the calorie-cutting group also enjoyed significant improvements in these health markers:
Insulin-sensitivity index
Metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) score
LDL-cholesterol, total cholesterol to HDL-cholesterol ratio, and blood pressure (systolic and diastolic).
Blood levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammation marker linked to heart disease, cancer, and cognitive decline.
In addition, the calorie-cutting group reported enjoying better sleep, more energy and improved overall mood.

This shows that even a moderate modification in diet could reduce the burden of diabetes and cardiovascular disease that we have in this country. By watching what seem to be “just little indiscretions”, here and there or even just reducing such habits as not snacking after dinner, people can reduce their risk of the diseases that currently contribute most to ill health. 300 is about the number of calories you’d get from eating six Oreo cookies, or 2.5 oz of tortilla chips; a small sacrifice to make in the name of improved health and wellbeing!

(For a sense of which combinations and portions of foods constitute 300 calories, visit the BBC blog post titled "300 calorie meal recipes", which also serves as a good guide to how to build a daily diet with fewer calories. you can also take a look at "10 ways to cut 500 calories a day" from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. It is a 500 calorie/per day deficit in calories in vs calories out that predictably leads to losing 1 pound of weight/week, a safe approach to weight loss, which can lead, over time, to adopting a new way of eating allowing maintenance of that loss.

Dr. Kraus and his colleagues plan to continue their studies into the benefits of caloric restriction in humans and hope to eventually find the root cause behind its metabolic benefits. So maybe someday, there will be a “magic weight loss pill” replacing the need to limit calories but this isn’t likely to be anytime soon. In the meantime, significant improvements in disease risk and wellbeing can be achieved with even moderate lifestyle changes.


Martin CK, Bhapkar M, Pittas AG, et al. Effect of Calorie Restriction on Mood, Quality of Life, Sleep, and Sexual Function in Healthy Nonobese Adults: The CALERIE 2 Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. Published online May 02, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.1189.
Ravussin, E., et al. A 2-Year Randomized Controlled Trial of Human Caloric Restriction: Feasibility and Effects on Predictors of Health Span and Longevity. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci (2015) 70 (9): 1097-1104. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glv057
Kraus WE, Bhapkar M, Huffman KM, Pieper CF, Krupa Das S, Redman LM, Villareal DT, Rochon J, Roberts SB, Ravussin E, Holloszy JO, Fontana L; CALERIE Investigators. 2 years of calorie restriction and cardiometabolic risk (CALERIE): exploratory outcomes of a multicentre, phase 2, randomised controlled trial. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2019 Jul 11.

Posted on 8/26/2019 by The Bariatric Clinic