Would you like to live a long and healthy life? That’s exactly what biochemist Valter Longo, Ph.D. set out to achieve. How did he go about doing such a thing? Through what he calls “the longevity diet.”
The longevity diet is essentially a dietary guideline or structure to help all people achieve a longer and healthier life (realistically speaking of course). Valter is also the director of the USC Longevity Institute at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
Valter Longo, who is the director of the USC Longevity Institute at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, originally designed the diet to help older people improve their longevity and help treat chronic diseases.
But it turns out, the diet may be beneficial for people of all ages and health levels.
For the most part, the longevity diet follows a modified whole foods plant-based diet approach and includes little-to-no meat or dairy products. There is also periodic fasting recommended, but that should be done with caution and within reason regarding your current health conditions.
While we often talk about diet and health, the diet described by Valter Longo breaks down how, what, and when to eat for better health and longevity.
How the longevity diet works
What is longevity?
It’s simply the idea of living a long and healthy life. Valter believes that we can achieve longevity through the facets of diet and other healthy habits.
Effectively following a longevity diet requires getting away from the idea that entire food groups are good or bad. There are several dietary trends that demonize all of one nutrient group, and can make consumers believe that all carbs or all fats are bad when that is not the case.
Something stressed by the diet is that it is the quality and quantity of that food type that matters in the long run. Cutting entire nutrient groups from a diet doesn’t often yield long-term results, and may cause health issues down the line.
While you can find more detailed information as to how exactly to follow the diet in Valter Longo’s book, The Longevity Diet, here are the seven general guidelines for adults to follow:
1. Limit your meat intake
The meat in your diet should consist primarily of fish, at a maximum of 2-3 times per week. The rest of the time, it’s important to follow a mostly plant-based diet.
When choosing the fish you eat, closely evaluate the quality and choose ones with low levels of mercury. Try to find fish with high levels of omega fatty acids and vitamin B12 (anchovies, cod, sea bream, clams, shrimp, trout, and salmon are a few examples).
2. Keep your protein intake low
Valter believes you should aim for a low protein intake if you are below the age of 65. This means consuming 0.31-0.36 grams of protein per pound body weight per day.
For example, if you weigh 200 lbs, this would be around 60 grams per day, whereas someone weighing 130 lbs would only consume about 40 grams. Adults older than 65 are recommended to increase their protein intake slightly in order to help maintain lean muscle mass.
For all ages, it is recommended that legumes (i.e chickpeas, beans, lentils, etc.) be the main source of protein, but older adults may consider eating more fish, eggs, and products from goats and sheep.
3. Minimize sugar and saturated fats
Focus on maximizing the good fats and complex carbohydrates in your diet while minimizing saturated fats found in animal products (meats and cheese) as well as refined sugar intake.
Eating a diet higher in whole grains, vegetables, and oils from olive and avocado as well as incorporating nuts and seeds will help.
4. Get lots of vitamins and minerals
Your diet should include a high level of vitamins and minerals, and while you can get a lot of this from the food you eat, there are some daily supplements you should take for best effect.
5. Consult your elders
The book recommends that when choosing foods to include in your diet, you should look for the foods that your ancestors would have eaten. These may be the best for your body.
6. Consider when to eat
How and when you eat should be decided according to your weight, age, and abdominal circumference.
According to the Longevity Diet book, if you are overweight or tend to gain weight easily, eating two meals a day may be beneficial. When eating two meals a day it is recommended that you eat breakfast and then either lunch or dinner while also including two snacks low in sugar.
However, if you are at an average weight, lose weight easily, or are over 65, it recommends that you eat three meals a day and have only one low-sugar snack.
7. Eat during a 12 hour window
Try to eat all of your meals and snacks during a 12-hour period throughout the day. For some people, this can look like eating after 8 am and ending before 8 pm. Keep in mind that you do not want to eat 3-4 hours before you go to sleep, so factor that in as well.
The diet as outlined in Valter Longo’s book also includes a five day fasting program based on natural products, but this part of the diet isn’t recommended for everyone.
What to eat and avoid in the longevity diet
As you may have noticed looking through this list, there is plenty of variation to fit your current life circumstances and age. The longevity diet is not meant to be restrictive but to give you more control over how food is impacting your health.
Working within the constraints of the diet may benefit people in many ways and is something that can easily be adapted into your life along with other health habits.
Types of food to include
When looking at a longevity diet, foods are considered either compliant or non compliant with the diet itself. Foods that you’d want to include in your daily diet are seen as complaint foods.
For the most part, the diet closely resembles a modified whole foods plant-based diet. We say modified because it does include some seafood and other animal products in small amounts, whereas a plant-based diet omits them completely.
Compliant foods include:
- Whole grains
- Healthy fats (i.e., olive oil)
- Low mercury seafood
As you age, these foods can change some as we saw in the seven guidelines above. For instance, people over the age of 65 tend to need more protein and may need to integrate more supplements like collagen for anti-aging into their diet.
Types of foods to avoid
The foods you include or exclude in a longevity diet are somewhat personal and will vary as you age, have changing life circumstances, or have emerging medical conditions.
For instance, women that are pregnant wouldn’t necessarily want to include much seafood in their diet, so other types of protein may increase and they can supplement with algae pills to get the omega fatty acids.
However, for the most part, the diet has a list of non-compliant foods that you should avoid.
Non-compliant foods include:
- Meat (in excess)
- Dairy (in excess)
- Saturated fats (especially from animal sources)
- Refined and processed sugars
- Refined carbohydrates
You will notice that eggs are not on the list for either compliant or non-compliant foods. Generally, eggs are suggested for people over the age of 65 but not necessarily seen as a main nutrient source.
Unlike a vegan or plant-based diet, Valter doesn’t recommend cutting out animal products completely. Instead, it encourages you to simply use animal products like meat as a supplemental part of a meal instead of the main focus.
So, you’d simply use small portions of meat to flavor a mostly plant-based dish with the main focus being on the complex carbohydrates and vegetables.
In regards to dairy products, the longevity diet doesn’t explicitly say to cut them out completely. It does encourage you to switch from cow-derived dairy products to either nut-based cheese and milks or goat-derived cheeses and milks.
The book cites goat milk as having anti-inflammatory properties among other potential health benefits, whereas cow milk may be an inflammatory.
Benefits of a longevity diet
The longevity diet as described in the book is based largely on populations of people that tend to have long, healthy lifespans. These cultures include Japan, Italy, and Greece and some studies focused in the United States.
Since many of these long living populations eat more plants and less animal proteins, and include some version of fasting, Valter Longo was able to combine these features into a practical and effective diet plan.
The main benefits of the longevity diet are that it:
- May reduce risk of cardiovascular mortality
- May improve body mass index
- May lower blood pressure
- May help balance blood glucose levels
- May improve effects of aging
Many of these benefits are often associated with the effects of aging, and the diet was first designed to help older populations live longer lives. The longevity diet may then be among the best diets for arthritis, but more research is needed to confirm.
Other health factors may play a role, and if you are over the age of 65, adding more protein may be necessary but difficult to do. Finding ways to supplement essential nutrient groups like protein may help improve overall health.
Longevity supplements will vary from person to person and regarding health needs. One example of a high-quality supplement that could be included in a longevity diet, especially as you age, is a nano-hydrolyzed liquid collagen supplement like ProT Gold.
ProT Gold is considered to be a medical food and is trusted by thousands of medical facilities to be used for medical nutrition therapy. It is easy to digest and easy to integrate into your diet whether you choose to include it in smoothies, mix it with water, or simply drink it on the go.
Disclaimer: While following a longevity diet has been proven to be effective and beneficial for most people, if you are allergic to any of the “compliant” foods, do not participate fully. Additionally, women that are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid doing the fasting portion of the diet, but the foods you eat during the diet are generally safe pending personal allergies.