Why One Anti-Aging Researcher Stopped Eating Sugar

Noted anti-aging guru Cynthia Kenyon changed her diet after she saw what glucose did to her lab animals’ lifespans.

by Shari Miller Sims
Photograph: iStock

Cynthia Kenyon spends her days in the lab at the University of California, San Francisco studying C. elegans, which may sound elegant but is actually a basic species of worm. About eight years ago, she and her colleagues made a stark discovery: Adding just a small amount of glucose to the worms’ diets cut their lifespans roughly 20 percent. Conversely, those worms with a gene mutation that “turned down” insulin release lived twice as long as expected—and stayed healthier longer.  Shortly thereafter, Kenyon made a diet change of her own, slashing her sugar and carbohydrate intake in an effort to improve her own long and short-term health. “While worms may seem to have nothing in common with people,” she says, “our insulin signaling pathways are surprisingly similar.”

So how has this affected her own menus? “I basically eat a cross between the Atkins, Zone and Mediterranean diets,” she explains. At each meal, she has  “fist-size” helpings of protein and vegetables, plus fruit (apples and berries happen to be her favorites). “A typical breakfast is bacon, eggs, avocado, and tomato; for lunch I might have a Caeser  salad with chicken or shrimp, using olive oil and cheese for dressing; dinners are often fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel or tuna, along with vegetables,” she explains. “I’m not a purist; in a restaurant when they have amazing bread, I will eat some. And I am a chocolate fiend, so I couldn’t give that up. I just buy chocolate that is more like the real thing, with 85 percent chocolate and just 15 percent sugar. I don’t count calories and I am never hungry, but since I started eating this way I have actually lost weight.”

Asked if her fellow researchers have followed her lead, Kenyon laughs. “Virtually everyone in my life, my family, my colleagues, my friends have asked about my diet but maybe a few of the technicians in the lab have actually tried it. They all seem to think it would be so hard, but there’s really nothing I can’t eat. For example, when we order in pizza, I just eat the toppings and skip most of the bread.” 

First Published Mon, 2010-05-10 09:57

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