What is this ‘longevity’ diet, and will it really make you live longer?

You may have heard of the longevity diet and the promise of longer life – but what exactly is it and is it different from other diets that promote good health?

The longevity diet is a series of eating recommendations put together by a biochemist named Valter Longo, director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California. He is known for his research on the role of fasting, the effects of nutrients on your genes, and how they may affect aging and disease risk.

While the longevity diet is aimed at older adults, it is also recommended for younger people. Longo has said he plans to live to 120 by following this diet.

So, what does the diet look like?

Foods in this diet include vegetables, including leafy greens, fruits, nuts, beans, olive oil, and seafood that are low in mercury.

So most foods in the longevity diet are plant-based. Plant-based diets generally contain more vitamins and minerals, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and less saturated fat and salt, leading to health benefits.

Foods that are not recommended are an excess of meat and dairy products, and those that are high in processed sugars and saturated fats.

For people who don’t want to go without dairy, the Longevity Diet recommends switching from cow’s milk to goat’s or sheep’s milk, which have a slightly different nutritional profile. But there is little evidence that sheep and goat milk offer more health benefits.

Including fermented dairy (such as 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.



Read more: Why You Should Be Eating Plant-Based But That Doesn’t Mean You Have To Be Vegetarian


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 significant body of evidence that it promotes health, reduces the risk of disease and promotes longevity.

The longevity diet is also similar to many national, evidence-based dietary guidelines, including Australia’s.

Two-thirds of the recommended foods in the Australian Dietary Guidelines come from plant-based foods (cereals, grains, legumes, beans, fruits, vegetables). The guidelines also offer plant-based alternatives to protein (such as dried beans, lentils, and tofu) and dairy (such as soy milk, yogurt, and cheese, when supplemented with calcium).

Intermittent Fasting

Another aspect of the long-lived diet is the specified fasting periods, also known as intermittent fasting. The diet advocates eating within a 12-hour window and not eating three to four hours before bedtime.

Typically, people with intermittent fasting fast for 16-20 hours with a four to eight hour period to eat. Another option for intermittent fasting is the 5:2 diet, where eating is limited to about 2,000-3,000 kilojoules for two days of the week and eating normally for the other five days.

The evidence indicates that intermittent fasting can lead to improvements in insulin resistance, leading to better blood glucose control. This can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and obesity.



Read more: Is intermittent fasting actually good for weight loss? This is what the evidence says


Maintain a healthy weight

The Longevity Diet recommends that overweight people eat only two meals a day — breakfast and either a midday or evening meal — plus only two low-sugar snacks. This is to try and reduce kilojoule intake for weight loss.

Bag of chips
Reducing snacking reduces kilojoule intake.
The Organic Craving Company/UnsplashCC BY

Another important aspect of this recommendation is to reduce snacking, especially foods high in saturated fat, salt or sugar. These are the foods that we typically refer to as discretionary/sometimes foods or ultra-processed foods. These offer little nutritional value and in some cases have been linked to poorer health outcomes.



Read more: Ultra-processed foods: It’s not just their low nutritional value that’s of concern


Eat a rainbow of colors

The Longevity Diet recommends eating nutrient-rich foods, which most national dietary guidelines also advocate. This means eating a diet rich in plant foods and a variety of foods within each food group.

Each color of fruits and vegetables contains different nutrients, so eating a range of colored fruits and vegetables is recommended. The recommendation to choose a range of whole grains over refined grains, bread, pasta and rice also reflects the best nutritional evidence.



Read more: How to get kids to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables


Vegetables in a bowl
Different colored vegetables have different nutrients.
Hi, I’m Nik/UnsplashCC BY

Limit protein intake

This diet recommends limiting protein intake to 0.68-0.80 g per kilogram of body weight per day. This is 47-56 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 cheese, 40 g lean chicken, 250 ml milk, 3/4 cup lentils, 120 g tofu, 60 g nuts or 300 ml soy milk. This is in line with government recommendations.

Most Australians readily consume this level of protein in their diet. However, it is the elderly population, targeted by the long-lived diet, who are less likely to meet their protein needs.

In the longevity diet, it is recommended that most of the protein come from vegetable sources or fish. This may require special planning to ensure a complete range of all the nutrients needed if the diet lacks red meat.



Read more: How to get the nutrients you need without eating so much 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 this prevents malnutrition and does not cause nutritional problems.

However, many health authorities, including the World Cancer Research Fund, the British Heart Foundation, and the American Heart Association, advise against 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 in a particular nutrient. This is because some vitamins and minerals can be harmful in large amounts.

Eating a variety of foods in all food groups will meet all your nutritional needs and will not require supplements.



Read more: Vitamins and minerals are not without risk. Here are 6 ways they can cause damage


The verdict?

This long-lived diet is a compilation of many aspects of evidence-based healthy eating patterns. We are already promoting these because they improve our health and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. All of these aspects of healthy eating can lead to a longer lifespan.

What is not mentioned in the longevity diet is the importance of exercise for good health and longevity.

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