When a calorie is not just a calorie: Diet quality and timing as mediators of metabolism and healthy aging

An epidemic of obesity has affected large portions of the world, increasing the risk of developing many different age-associated diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. In contrast with the prevailing notion that “a calorie is just a calorie,” there are clear differences, within and between individuals, in the metabolic response to different macronutrient sources. Recent findings challenge this oversimplification; calories from different macronutrient sources or consumed at different times of day have metabolic effects beyond their value as fuel. Here, we summarize discussions conducted at a recent NIH workshop that brought together experts in calorie restriction, macronutrient composition, and time-restricted feeding to discuss how dietary composition and feeding schedule impact whole-body metabolism, longevity, and healthspan. These discussions may provide insights into the long-sought molecular mechanisms engaged by calorie restriction to extend lifespan, lead to novel therapies, and potentially inform the development of a personalized food-as-medicine approach to healthy aging.