Scientists have moved one step closer to understanding the impact of food on animal’s cells, and in turn, their lifespan. Researchers found that mice who consumed a diet with fewer calories lived longer and healthier lives than those who consumed an unrestricted diet, according to a new study.

A team at Brigham Young University in Utah split mice into two groups. One received 35 percent fewer calories while still consuming all necessary nutrients. The results, published in the journal Molecular and Cellular Proteomics Monday, found that when fewer calories were consumed, ribosomes, the part of the cell responsible for making protein, slowed down. The slow down enabled ribosomes to have extra time to repair and maintain themselves, leading to longer and healthier lives.

“The calorie-restricted mice are more energetic and suffered fewer diseases,” said John Price, a biochemistry professor at Brigham Young University and the study’s lead author. “And it’s not just that they’re living longer, but because they’re better at maintaining their bodies, they’re younger for longer as well.”

This is by no means the first time scientists have investigated calorie restriction’s effect on longevity. In fact, researchers have been investigating the matter since the 1930s, according to the National Institute on Aging. The study was, however, the first time scientists were able to pinpoint a key part of the cell responsible for the process.

“The ribosome is a very complex machine, sort of like your car, and it periodically needs maintenance to replace the parts that wear out the fastest,” said Price. "When tires wear out, you don’t throw the whole car away and buy new ones. It’s cheaper to replace the tires.”

Still, debate persists about the application of such studies in humans, and Price cautioned that people shouldn’t go ahead and cut calories in an attempt to live longer.

Other research teams have worked to study calorie restriction in animals far more similar to humans than mice are, in an attempt to see if the results translate to humans. A 2014 study conducted by the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center found that primates on a reduced calorie diet lived longer than those on an unrestricted diet. A different study, published a few years earlier, showed conflicting results when it found that monkeys who consumed 30 percent fewer calories did not live any longer than other monkeys, further complicating the debate among scientists.

While the jury is still out on the effects of calorie restriction on humans, Price’s study brings a deeper understanding of food’s direct effect on biochemistry.

“Food isn’t just material to be burned – it’s a signal that tells our body and cells how to respond,” he said. “We’re getting down to the mechanisms of aging, which may help us make more educated decisions about what we eat.”