A nutritious diet low in calories improves the health and extends the life span of rodents. Recent studies identified a gene, SIR2, which encodes an NAD-dependent deacetylase and may mediate the effects of calorie restriction. In this review, we discuss SIR2 genes and calorie restriction in the lower organisms yeast and Drosophila. We then describe the physiological changes in mammals during calorie restriction and how they may lead to the observed health benefits. We summarize the roles of mammalian Sirt1 in mediating these changes in tissues and endocrine systems and propose that Sirt1 regulates calorie restriction by sensing low calories and triggering physiological changes linked to health and longevity.