Other than our genes, it is hard to think of something more powerful than our diet when it comes to determining our life expectancy.
This is the philosophy of Professor Valter Longo, biochemist and director of the USC Longevity Institute, and creator of The Longevity Diet.
In his book of the same name, Professor Longo has boiled it down to eight simple dietary changes that he claims will helps us live longer and healthier lives, after devoting decades to discovering the connections between nutrition and ageing.
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What is the Longevity Diet?
The Longevity Diet combines an everyday diet, based in part of studies of centenarians and in part on science and clinical data, and a periodic fasting-mimicking diet, which is also shown to be beneficial on ageing and disease risk factors.
What can I eat on the Longevity Diet?
In The Longevity Diet, Professor Longo explains we should be following a mostly pescatarian diet that is close to 100 per cent plant-based, limiting fish to two or three portions a week, and avoiding fish with high mercury content, such as tuna or swordfish.
He also says we should limit protein to between 0.68 to 0.79 grams per kilo of bodyweight, most of which should be consumed in a single meal to maximise muscle synthesis. Most of this should come from vegetable proteins – such as legumes and nuts – and some fish protein, but is completely free of animal proteins, including white and red meat and cheese.
Rather than over-simplifying food into “low carb or high carb” and “low fat or high fat”, Professor Longo says we should be focusing on which type and how much. For example, he recommends minimising bad fats and sugars, and maximising good fats and complex carbs.
It is also helpful to look to your grandparents for guidance, he says, as the human body is the result of billions of years of evolution. For example, lactose intolerance is more common in souther European and Asian countries, where milk was not historically part of the traditional diets for adults. He recommends considering whether any given food was common at the table when you, your parents or your grandparents were growing up. If not, best to avoid or consume sparingly.
Professor Longo also recommends taking a a multivitamin and mineral pill, plus an omega-3 soft get every two or three days.
When should I eat on the Longevity Diet?
It is best to eat two to three nutritious meals and a nourishing low-calorie snack each day, depending on your current bodyweight, Professor Longo says, adding there is no evidence to eat more often in terms of a long and healthy lifespan. It is also difficult for many people to regulate their food intake when they eat so often, he says. However, he does not recommend skipping breakfast, as he says it has been associated with increased risk for age-related diseases.
He also recommends eating within a 12-hour window, which is another common practice by many centenarian groups. You should not eat within three to four hours of going to sleep.
Professor Longo also advocates a “fasting-mimicking diet” at least twice a year for those who are under 65 and neither frail nor malnourished. This involves eating 800 to 1100 calories per day for five days. Doing this produces the benefits of fasting without going to the extremes of going without food. This is enough to make the body think it is in a fasted state when it is not, producing the same benefits, such as breaking down and regenerating the inside of cells and killing off and replacing damaged cells.
While Professor Longo’s dietary guidelines are backed by science and might be worth trying, remember everyone is different – what works for one person might not work for another.