You may have heard of the Longevity Diet and its promise of an extended lifespan – but what exactly is it and is it different from other diets promoting good health?
The Longevity Diet is a set of dietary recommendations compiled by a biochemist called Valter Longo, director of the University of Southern California’s Longevity Institute. He is known for his research on the role of fasting, the effects of nutrients on your genes, and their impact on aging and disease risk.
Although the Longevity Diet has been targeted at older people, it is also recommended for younger people. Longo said he plans to live to be 120 on this diet.
So what does the diet look like?
Foods on this diet are vegetables, including leafy greens, fruits, nuts, beans, olive oil, and low-mercury seafood.
Thus, most foods in the Longevity Diet are plant-based. Plant-based diets are generally higher in vitamins and minerals, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and lower in saturated fat and salt, all of which have health benefits.
Foods not recommended are excess meat and dairy products, as well as those high in processed sugar and saturated fat.
For people who don’t want to go dairy-free, the Longevity Diet recommends switching from cow’s milk to goat’s or sheep’s milk, which have a slightly different nutrient profile. But there’s little evidence that sheep’s and goat’s milk offer more health benefits.
Including fermented dairy products (like cheese and yogurt) in your diet, as recommended in the Longevity Diet, is beneficial because it provides a more extensive microbiome (good bacteria) than any milk.
Have you seen this diet before?
Many of you may recognize this as a familiar diet. It is similar to the Mediterranean diet, especially since both contain olive oil as the oil of choice. The Mediterranean diet is promoted and supported by a considerable body of evidence to promote health, reduce the risk of disease and promote longevity.
The Longevity Diet is also similar to many evidence-based national dietary guidelines, including Australia’s.
Two-thirds of the foods recommended in the Australian Dietary Guidelines come from foods of plant origin (cereals, cereals, pulses, beans, fruits, vegetables). The guidelines also offer plant-based alternatives for proteins (such as dried beans, lentils and tofu) and dairy products (such as soy milks, yogurts and cheeses, as long as they are supplemented with calcium).
Another aspect of the Longevity Diet is specified fasting periods, known as intermittent fasting. The diet advocates eating within 12 hours and not eating for three to four hours before bedtime.
Typically, with intermittent fasting, people fast for 16 to 20 hours with a four to eight hour eating window. Another intermittent fasting option is the 5:2 diet, in which eating is limited to around 2,000 to 3,000 kilojoules for two days of the week and the other five days, while eating normally.
Evidence indicates that intermittent fasting can lead to improvements in insulin resistance, which leads to better blood sugar control. It can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and obesity.
Maintain a healthy weight
The Longevity Diet recommends overweight people eat just two meals a day — breakfast and a midday or evening meal — plus just two low-sugar snacks. It’s about trying to reduce kilojoule intake to lose weight.
Another important aspect of this recommendation is to reduce snacking, especially of foods high in saturated fat, salt or sugar. These are the foods that we usually refer to as discretionary foods/sometimes ultra-processed foods or foods. These offer little nutritional value and, in some cases, are linked to poorer health outcomes.
Eat a rainbow of colors
The Longevity Diet recommends eating nutrient-dense foods, which most national dietary guidelines also advocate. This means having a diet rich in plant foods and a variety of foods within each food group.
Each colored fruit and vegetable contains different nutrients, so eating a range of colored fruits and vegetables is recommended. The recommendation to select a range of whole grains over refined cereals, breads, pastas and rice also reflects the best nutritional evidence.
Restrict protein intake
This diet recommends limiting protein intake to 0.68-0.80 g per kilogram of body weight per day. This represents 47 to 56 g of protein per day for a 70 kg person. For reference, each of these foods contains about 10 g of protein: two small eggs, 30 g of cheese, 40 g of lean chicken, 250 mL of cow’s milk, 3/4 cup of lentils, 120 g of tofu , 60 g nuts or 300 mL soy milk. This is in line with government recommendations.
Most Australians easily consume this level of protein in their diet. However, it is the elderly population, for whom the longevity diet is intended, which is the least likely to meet its protein needs.
In the Longevity Diet, it is recommended that most protein comes from plant or fish sources. This may require special planning to ensure a full range of all necessary nutrients if the diet is lacking in red meat.
Are there any problems with this diet?
This diet recommends taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement every three to four days. Longo says it prevents malnutrition and won’t cause any nutritional problems.
However, many health organizations, including the World Cancer Research Fund, the British Heart Foundation, and the American Heart Association, do not recommend taking supplements to prevent cancer or heart disease.
Supplements should only be taken on the advice of your doctor, after a blood test showing a deficiency of a specific nutrient. This is because some vitamins and minerals can be harmful in large amounts.
If you eat a variety of foods from all food groups, you’ll meet all of your nutrient needs and shouldn’t need supplements.
This longevity diet is a compilation of many aspects of evidence-based healthy eating habits. We already promote them because they improve our health and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. All of these aspects of a healthy diet could lead to increased longevity.
What is not mentioned in the longevity diet is the importance of exercise for good health and a long life.
Evangeline Mantzioris is Director of the Nutrition and Food Science Program and Registered Dietitian at the University of South Australia. This piece first appeared on The Conversation.
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