New research conducted by Dr Valter Longo, USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology Professor and founder of the fasting mimicking diet, has identified the best diet for a longer, healthier life. Known as the ‘longevity diet’, it uses data from hundreds of studies investigating the link between nutrition and longevity. So what exactly is the longevity diet and how can you easily incorporate it into your lifestyle?
From keto to paleo, fasting to the raw food diet, there is a plethora of different diets to satisfy peoples’ desire to lose weight and improve health. But which is the best for longevity? This is the question that Dr Longo, along with Professor Rozalyn M Anderson of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, sought to answer in their new study. Published in Cell, the research defines the ultimate diet for improving health and lifespan.
The researchers reviewed hundreds of papers investigating various aspects of nutrition, from calorie intake, food composition and fasting in multiple animal and human models. They also reviewed several popular diet types including keto, vegetarian and vegan, fasting and Mediterranean. Based on their review, the team identified common dietary denominators and condensed their findings into one ultimate longevity diet.
Eating for longevity
Our health and lifespan are determined by different ever-changing factors including genetics, lifestyle and a combination of the two known as epigenetics. Altering the amount, type and timing of what we eat is one of the easiest and most effective lifestyle changes we can make to lose weight, improve health and extend longevity .
The optimal longevity diet includes a balance of the following:
- A moderate to high intake of unrefined carbohydrates, including vegetables, legumes and whole grains
- Low protein intake from mostly plant-based sources
- Enough plant-based fats to provide around 30% of your energy needs
Longo described what this would look like in real life: “Lots of legumes, whole grains, and vegetables; some fish; no red meat or processed meat and very low white meat; low sugar and refined grains; good levels of nuts and olive oil, and some dark chocolate” .
The research recommends a pesco-vegetarian diet, with protein and fat intake being mostly plant-based.
Ideally, the diet should be eaten within an 12-13 hour window, to allow for daily fasting. Longo, a superstar in the fasting world and the creator of the popular fasting mimicking diet (FMD), also recommends doing a 5-day fast or FMD every few months to sustain weight loss as well as longevity. The study found that fasting could reduce insulin resistance, blood pressure, inflammation and other risk factors for metabolic disease .
Longo is keen to stress that the longevity diet should be adapted to suit each person based on their sex, age, health status and genetics. For example, while the diet can be used to prolong longevity, it must also be adapted to avoid malnourishment in older people. This is especially important for over 65s, who are more at risk of frailty, sarcopenia and other diseases that can result from reduced bone and muscle mass. Longo recommends a higher protein intake for those over 65 to help counteract frailty with age .
He also recommends making small, sustainable changes to your diet, rather than making big changes that you can’t stick to that could cause fluctuating weight gain and havoc to your metabolism.
The longevity diet’s effect on health and lifespan
The longevity diet is comparable to the Mediterranean-style diets of the world’s Blue Zones, where it is common to see centenarians leading healthy, active lives. Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan and Loma Linda in California are some of the diverse Blue Zone regions that are united by a largely plant-based or pescatarian diet that has relatively low protein. For example, animal products represent only 1% of the traditional diet of Okinawans .
Indeed, the next step for Longo is testing the longevity diet with a 500-person study in southern Italy.
The longevity diet is the next stage in the evolution of these Blue Zone diets, combining them with daily fasting and occasional longer fasts throughout the year. The longevity diet is not only a diet for weight loss, but a lifestyle intended to slow aging. It can be used to complement standard healthcare to prevent morbidity and prolong health into advancing age .
Diet is key to moving towards more preventative healthcare from the current ‘disease-care’ system. Indeed, a recent study revealed that changing from a typical Western diet to an optimal diet of legumes, whole grains and nuts with limited meat is associated with an increase in life expectancy of over 8 years, even when started at age 60! .
How do you start a longevity diet?
The following daily meal plan is based on the longevity diet’s principle of eating high unrefined carbohydrates, low protein, and enough fats. All meals should be eaten 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.
Breakfast: Wholegrain cereal topped with yogurt, berries, nuts and grated dark chocolate.
Lunch: Skinny Caesar salad made with green salad leaves, quinoa, tomatoes, avocado and wholemeal croutons, topped with parmesan shavings and drizzled with olive oil.
Dinner: A portion of oily fish, such as salmon or mackerel, accompanied by a cornucopia of vegetables cooked to your preference.