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Researchers say even a minor reduction in daily calories can improve blood pressure, cholesterol, and other metabolic measurements. Getty Images
  • Researchers say you can improve your metabolic health by cutting just 300 calories a day from your diet.
  • They say the small calorie reduction can improve biomarkers for blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
  • Participants in a study lost an average of 16 pounds over two years by reducing their daily caloric intake by 300.
  • Nutrition experts point out that it’s more important to focus on what kind of foods you’re eating as opposed to overall calories.

You don’t have to go on a crash diet to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Cutting the caloric equivalent of a bagel or a slice of cheese pizza from your daily diet may be enough to improve biomarkers for metabolic syndrome such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

That’s according to researchers at Duke University in North Carolina.

Their CALERIE study led by Dr. William Kraus, director of clinical translation at the Duke Molecular Physiology Institute, compared the biomarkers for metabolic syndrome between a group with a controlled normal calorie diet and a group of 143 study participants who agreed to reduce their daily caloric intake.

Over the course of the two-year study, the reduced-calorie group cut their intake by an average of about 12 percent, roughly 300 calories. They lost an average of 16 pounds (mostly fat) in the process.

“Two years of moderate calorie restriction significantly reduced multiple cardiometabolic risk factors in young, non-obese adults,” the study concluded. “These findings suggest the potential for a substantial advantage for cardiovascular health of practicing moderate calorie restriction in young and middle-aged healthy individuals, and they offer promise for pronounced long-term population health benefits.”

The study was published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

In an interview with The Lancet, Kraus said that while there is a half-century’s worth of animal studies linking caloric reduction to improvements in health, this is the first long-term study conducted with people.

“The question is does caloric reduction extend life span or health span — the period between birth and when people develop diseases,” said Kraus. “In all organisms, caloric restriction seems to affect both, while exercise affects health span but not life span.”

The study by Kraus and his colleagues focused on general caloric restrictions rather than reducing the intake of specific micronutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, or fat.

The researchers looked specifically at biomarkers for health span, specifically those for metabolic syndrome.

“Caloric restriction in this study improved [the biomarkers] dramatically early, and maintained improvements in all five of these parameters rather remarkably,” Kraus said.

The fact that the study group was comprised of young people of normal or slightly above normal weight with normal biomarkers for metabolic syndrome made the results even more significant, added Kraus.

Modestly cutting calories “improved even normal biomarkers to be supernormal,” he said. “Clearly caloric restriction is going to reduce risk of obesity and diabetes among those at greater risk, but it also may actually impact individuals who have minimal risk, so it has a broad application over a wide population potentially.”

Current U.S. federal dietary guidelines state that the average adult woman should consume between 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day while adult men should consume 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day.

Ideal caloric intake varies by age, sex, height, weight, and level of physical activity.

The average daily caloric intake for Americans rose 23 percent from 1970 to 2010, according to an analysis by the Pew Research Center.

In 2010, the average American consumed 2,481 calories a day, according to the research.

“It’s important to note that in our diet-obsessed culture, ‘calorie restricted diets’ are often seen as anything lower than 1,600 calories, sometimes as low as 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day,” Rachel Fine, a registered dietitian and owner of To The Pointe Nutrition, a nutrition counseling firm in New York City, told Healthline. “To suggest health benefits from reducing one’s caloric intake by 300 calories, all factors of the person’s lifestyle must be taken into account.”

Fine counsels patients against “dieting” on the grounds that self-denial sets people up for failure.

She said a more effective strategy is making healthier food choices by adding more minimally processed, nutrient-dense, plant-based foods such as fresh produce, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

“If the caloric reduction is applied to a diet that is specifically exceeding one’s predetermined metabolic need as determined by a medical professional, then health benefits relating to specific reductions in cardiovascular risk factors… may occur,” said Fine.

If you’re wondering what foods you could avoid to cut 300 calories, here are some possibilities.

A ham and cheese croissant at Starbucks is listed at 320 calories.

A regular cheeseburger at McDonald’s hits the scales at 300 calories.

There’s close to 200 calories in one small whole-wheat muffin.

One slice of cheese pizza can vary from 150 to 650 calories, depending on where you buy it.

A baked potato is listed at 161 calories. Of course, that’s without butter, sour cream, or other toppings.

A grab-size bag of potato chips clocks in at about 274 calories.

A small order of French fries at McDonald’s weighs in at about 230 calories.

A chocolate chip cookie that’s 4 inches in diameter provides about 221 calories.

And a Snickers candy bar contains about 280 calories.