What foods are allowed on the longevity diet?

In around 440 BC, the Greek physician Hippocrates reputably said, “Let food be thy medicine and let thy medicine be food.”

Although food as medicine is a highly deliberated concept, much current research has shown the wisdom in this statement and how managing food quantity, timing and type is crucial for good health.

Yet, what exactly makes up the optimal diet stays controversial. Increasing evidence indicates optimal diets may rely on various health factors (age, sex and genetics).

Is longevity diet legitimate?

The longevity diet, developed by Dr. Valter Longo, director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, focuses on a lifestyle that combines daily eating habits and periodic fasting mimicking diets to improve health and promote lifespan [1]. 

This diet is not just a list of foods to eat but a holistic approach to eating, influenced by scientific research on nutrition, aging, and disease prevention.

Core principles and their scientific basis

Plant-based foods and longevity

This diet emphasizes a plant-based diet rich in vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Research consistently shows that these foods reduce the risk of major chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes

A study published in the “Journal of Gerontology” highlights that diets high in fruits and vegetables are associated with lower oxidative stress and inflammation, which are markers of longevity.

Fish consumption

Moderate consumption of fish, a recommendation of the longevity diet, is linked to reduced heart disease risks and improved brain health. 

Omega-3 fatty acids, prevalent in fish like salmon and sardines, are known to enhance cognitive function and decrease inflammation.

Low protein intake

Dr. Longo’s research advocates for low protein intake from animal sources, especially for people under 65. Studies indicate that lower animal protein intake may decrease the risk factors for cancer and overall mortality. 

Plant-based proteins are encouraged, aligning with findings that they contribute to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Periodic fasting

Perhaps one of the most distinctive features of the longevity diet is the inclusion of periodic fasting or fasting-mimicking diets. These practices are about calorie restriction and reprogramming the body’s metabolic pathways. 

Research published in “Cell Metabolism” shows that periodic fasting can trigger cellular regeneration, promote stem cell-based rejuvenation, and decrease risk factors linked to aging and diseases.

What foods do you eat on the longevity diet?

This diet aims to extend lifespan and bolster overall health by reducing the risk of chronic diseases. Below, we break down the key components of this dietary pattern.

Beans, pulses, legumes

They are incredibly versatile and offer a wealth of nutritional benefits that cater to various dietary needs. They are excellent sources of plant-based protein, making them a great option for vegetarians and vegans.

Consuming these foods can enhance digestive health, help control blood sugar levels, and aid in weight management. They provide key vitamins and minerals such as iron, potassium, and folate, vital for overall health.

Regular intake has been linked to reduced cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, contributing to heart health.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are the cornerstones of a nutritious diet, celebrated for their vast health benefits and essential roles in disease prevention [2]. Here’s why fruits and vegetables are essential:

  • Diverse nutrients – They provide a range of nutrients, including vitamin C, potassium, and fiber, crucial for optimal body functions.
  • Low in calories – Most are low in calories but high in volume, helping you feel full without overeating.
  • Disease prevention – The antioxidants and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Nuts and seeds

They are essential for anyone looking to enrich their diet with nutrients that support overall health and well-being.

Most nuts and seeds contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are good for heart health. They provide essential proteins, making them a fantastic snack for vegetarians and vegans.

Loaded with important vitamins like E and B-complex groups, as well as minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and selenium, nuts and seeds support numerous body functions.

The fiber in nuts and seeds helps maintain digestive health and keeps you feeling full longer, aiding in weight management.

Whole grains

These grains retain all parts of the seed—bran, germ, and endosperm—contributing to their high nutrient content. Whole grains are a great source of fiber, which aids in digestion and helps maintain stable blood sugar levels.

Regular consumption of whole grains is linked to a lower risk of heart disease thanks to their ability to lower cholesterol and blood pressure [3]. They are packed with essential nutrients, including B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium, which support various body functions.

The fiber content not only helps with digestion but also contributes to feeling full, which can help manage weight.

What is the diet plan for longevity?

The longevity diet plan, often associated with Dr. Valter Longo’s research, combines a nutritious eating pattern with periodic fasting to promote health and extend lifespan. Here’s a breakdown of what this diet typically includes:

  • A large part of the diet consists of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. These foods are loaded with nutrients essential for health and well-being.
  • Incorporate healthy fats from sources like nuts, seeds, and olive oil. These fats are crucial for heart health and overall cellular function.
  • Including fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines a few times per week provides omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart and brain health.
  • The diet recommends minimizing the intake of red meat and processed meats, favoring plant proteins instead. Dairy should be consumed sparingly, if at all.
  • Implementing fasting-mimicking diets for a few days a month can help reset the body’s systems, promoting cellular repair and rejuvenation.

This diet is not just about what you eat but also when and how you eat, focusing on moderation and balance. Regularly integrating these elements can lead to significant health improvements and increased longevity.

Is it ever too late to start a healthy lifestyle?

Several studies have shown that adopting a diet high in whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and nuts and low in red or processed meats can extend life expectancy by approximately 11 years for women and 13 years for men if started at age 20 and by approximately 8 years if started at age 60.

That does not imply that everyone would follow the same longevity diet. Furthermore, it doesn’t imply that eating is the only thing you should consider in order to live as long as feasible. According to Longo, consistent exercise and other lifestyle choices also have a significant impact [4].

The longevity diet, according to Longo, is not a food limitation designed to help people lose weight. However, a slow-aging lifestyle can be an adjunct to conventional medicine and, when adopted prophylactically, can help avoid morbidity and maintain health well into old age.

How do you start a longevity diet?

Here’s a sample meal plan based on the longevity diet’s principle of eating high unrefined carbohydrates, low protein and enough fats. All meals should be consumed within the recommended 12-13 hour window, so know to stop eating at least 12 hours after your first meal. 

Interestingly, the study does not investigate the effects of alcohol on longevity, but you could end your day with a congratulatory glass of red wine Mediterranean style [5].

BreakfastStart with oatmeal topped with a mix of berries and nuts, or try a smoothie made with spinach, banana, flaxseeds, and almond milk.
LunchOpt for a quinoa salad with chopped vegetables, chickpeas, and a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice.
DinnerPrepare a grilled salmon with a side of steamed broccoli and sweet potato. Alternatively, a lentil soup with various mixed vegetables can be satisfying.
SnacksKeep it simple with raw nuts, seeds, or sliced fruits and vegetables.

These meal ideas ensure a balanced intake of nutrients, aligning with Dr. Longo’s recommendations for promoting longevity and preventing age-related diseases. Regularly plan your meals around these concepts to maintain a healthy, nutrient-rich diet.

What are the key points of the longevity diet?

The researchers noted that diets concerning protein and calorie restriction were regularly favorable, whether in short-lived species or large clinical trials and in epidemiological studies. 

They further indicated that low but adequate protein, or an endorsed protein intake with elevated levels of legume consumption, could raise health span by lowering the intake of amino acids, including methionine. Methionine has been associated with increased activity in various pro-aging cellular pathways.

Regarding how the longevity diet may benefit health from a clinical perspective, Kristin Kirkpatrick [6], a registered dietitian nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic and advisor to Dr Longo’s firm, Prolon, shared something with MNT. 

The diet is basically plant-based, which, based on similar studies, may contribute to a lower risk of chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Plant-based diets have also been associated with lower inflammation levels in multiple studies. As inflammation is the base of many health concerns, Kirkpatrick added that it may contribute to longevity factors as well. 

The researchers establish that their findings provide solid foundations for future research into nutritional recommendations for healthy longevity. When asked about the study’s limitations, the researchers agreed and highlighted that there is no “one-size-fits-all” method. 

The optimal diet, they say, may differ due to factors including age, genetic makeup, sex and other sensitivities and intolerances, like intolerance to gluten.

Dr Longo, therefore, recommends individuals consult a dietician before embarking on a new diet. Kirkpatrick added that several of her patients visit her when making dietary changes to ensure they are sustainable in the long term.

In closing

Adopting the longevity diet is more than just changing what’s on your plate; it’s about enhancing your quality of life and adding years to your lifespan.

This approach integrates nutrient-rich foods, mindful eating habits, and balanced lifestyle practices that forge a powerful defense against aging and disease.

Remember that transitioning to a new diet takes time and adjustment. Be patient and make changes at a pace that feels comfortable for you. If you have health concerns, consult a healthcare provider to tailor the diet to your specific needs.

FAQs

What exactly is the longevity diet?

The longevity diet is a nutrition plan developed by Dr. Valter Longo that emphasizes plant-based foods, minimal meat and dairy, and incorporates periodic fasting. It aims to extend life expectancy and improve overall health.

Can I eat meat on the longevity diet?

Yes, but in very limited amounts. The diet recommends prioritizing plant-based proteins and consuming meat sparingly, mainly focusing on fish and poultry when animal proteins are included.

Is it necessary to fast on the longevity diet?

Periodic fasting is a key component, helping to reset the body’s systems and promote cellular repair. However, the frequency and method of fasting should be adapted to individual health needs and lifestyles.

How can I start following the longevity diet?

Begin by gradually increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes while decreasing processed foods and animal proteins. Also, consider consulting with a healthcare provider or nutritionist to tailor the diet to your specific needs.

[1] https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/longevity-diet/
[2] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vegetables-and-fruits/
[3] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains/
[4] https://www.bluezones.com/2018/01/what-exercise-best-happy-healthy-life/
[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25207479/
[6] https://www.kristinkirkpatrick.com/meet-kristin/

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