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.”
But can what you eat really assist with how to slow aging? And what is the longevity diet, anyway?
Today we will look into what the longevity diet is, how to follow it, what foods to eat and avoid, and some benefits of following this diet for a long, healthy life.
What is the longevity diet?
The longevity diet is a dietary guideline or structure to help all people achieve a longer and healthier life. Valter Longo, the creator of the longevity diet, is also the director of the USC Longevity Institute at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
Valter originally designed the diet to help older people improve their longevity and to treat chronic diseases.
As 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 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
Valter believes that we can achieve longevity through the facets of diet and other healthy habits.
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. So don’t think carbs are the enemy!
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 you to follow:
1. Limit your meat intake
The meat in your diet should consist primarily of fish, and 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).
Of course, you should also bear in mind that a plant-based diet and wound healing don’t always mix. If you are recovering from surgery or injury, you may have to increase your meat intake to help your body heal.
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 of 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 olives 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 in your longevity diet
When looking at a longevity diet, foods are considered either compliant or noncompliant with the diet itself. Foods that you’d want to include in your daily diet are seen as compliant 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.
This is because our healing slows down as we age due to collagen deficiency.
At what age does healing slow down? This is different from person to person, but we start losing out stores of natural collagen as soon as we're in our mid-20s. This means that every year as we get older, we start to get more wrinkles and more aches and pains.
A daily collagen supplement can help with all those things!
Foods to avoid on the longevity diet
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 who 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 are 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 milk or goat-derived cheeses and milk.
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 hydrolyzed 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 who 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.
FAQs about the longevity diet
Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions about eating for longevity:
What are the drawbacks of the longevity diet?
Drawbacks of the longevity diet include the risk of nutrient deficiencies due to restrictive food choices. By emphasizing specific foods, the diet may lead to insufficient intake of certain essential nutrients, potentially affecting your overall health.
As with any restrictive diet, it is best to consult with a healthcare professional to ensure your nutritional needs are met.
Can the longevity diet help you to lose weight?
Yes, the longevity diet may aid weight loss through calorie restriction and nutrient-dense foods. You will be cutting out a lot of “junk food” by following the diet for longevity.
What are some good breakfast ideas on the longevity diet?
Some good breakfast ideas when eating for longevity include:
- Oatmeal with berries
- Greek yogurt with nuts
- Avocado toast with whole-grain bread
- Chia seed pudding
- Smoked salmon with a whole-grain bagel
- A quinoa bowl with mixed vegetables
- A smoothie with spinach, berries, almond milk, and a liquid collagen protein shot
How long do you need to fast for longevity?
Fasting duration for longevity varies; intermittent fasting and periodic longer fasts are common. You should speak with your doctor before attempting to fast to ensure it is safe for your body.
Do you need to exercise on the longevity diet?
Exercise is beneficial on the longevity diet (and any diet!) as it supports overall health and longevity. If you aren’t sure what type of exercise is best for you, you can speak with your doctor about it.
Even walking for 5,000 - 10,000 steps a day can be beneficial for your health when accompanied by a diet for longevity.
What are the 5 pillars of the longevity diet?
The five pillars of the longevity diet are:
- Eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet
- Consuming healthy fats
- Moderating your protein intake
- Engaging in regular physical activity
- Reducing your stress levels
Can you eat eggs on the longevity diet?
Eggs can be consumed in moderation on the longevity diet, preferably from pasture-raised or omega-3 enriched sources.
What are the best longevity supplements?
If you’re wondering, what daily supplements do I need for longevity? Some great ideas would be:
- A hydrolyzed collagen supplement
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin D
- Coenzyme Q10
Speak with your doctor before starting a new supplement regimen.