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You may have heard of the longevity diet and its promise to extend your life – but what exactly is it and how is it different from other diets that promote good health?
Foods that are not recommended include excess meat and dairy products and foods high in processed sugar and saturated fat
The Longevity Diet is a set of dietary recommendations compiled by biochemist 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 effect of nutrients on your genes and their possible impact on aging and disease risk,
by Evangeline Mantzioris, Program Director, Nutrition and Food Sciences, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, University of South Australia
Although the longevity diet is aimed at the elderly, it is recommended for younger people as well. Longo said he plans to live to be 120 years old thanks to this diet.
So what does the diet look like?
The foods in this diet are vegetables including leafy greens, fruits, nuts, beans, olive oil and seafood with low mercury content.
Most of the foods in the longevity diet are therefore of plant origin. Plant-based diets are generally higher in vitamins and minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and lower in saturated fat and salt, leading to health benefits.
Foods that are not recommended include excess meat and dairy products and foods 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. However, there is little evidence that sheep’s and goat’s milk provide more health benefits.
Including fermented dairy products (such as cheese and yogurt) in the diet, as recommended by the longevity diet, is beneficial because they provide a more extensive microbiome (good bacteria) than any milk.
Have you come across this diet before?
Many of you may recognize it as a well-known eating pattern. It is similar to the Mediterranean diet, especially since in both cases olive oil is the basis. The Mediterranean diet is promoted and supported by considerable evidence that it promotes health, reduces disease risk 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 foods (cereals, grains, legumes, beans, fruit, vegetables). The guidelines also list plant-based alternatives for protein (eg, dried beans, lentils, and tofu) and dairy products (eg, soy milks, yogurts, and cheeses, as long as they are supplemented with calcium).
Another aspect of the longevity diet is the set periods of fasting, known as intermittent fasting. The diet recommends eating within a twelve-hour time frame and not eating three to four hours before bedtime.
Typically, with intermittent fasting, people fast for 16-20 hours with a four- to eight-hour meal break. Another option for intermittent fasting is the 5:2 diet, which restricts food to around 2,000-3,000 kilojoules two days a week and eats normally the other five days.
Evidence suggests that intermittent fasting can lead to improved insulin resistance, leading to better blood glucose control. This can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases such as heart disease and obesity.
Maintaining a healthy weight
The Longevity Diet advises overweight people to eat only two meals a day – breakfast and a lunch or dinner – and only two low-sugar snacks. They try to reduce the intake of kilojoules in order to reduce weight.
Another important aspect of this recommendation is to limit snacks, especially foods high in saturated fat, salt or sugar. These are ultra-processed foods. These have little nutritional value and in some cases are associated with worse health outcomes.
Eat a rainbow of colors
The Longevity Diet recommends eating nutrient-dense foods, which most national dietary guidelines recommend. This means eating a diet rich in plant foods and a variety of foods within each food group.
Each color of fruit and vegetable contains different nutrients, so it is recommended to eat a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. The recommendation to choose a range of whole grains instead of processed grains, breads, pastas and rice also reflects the best evidence on nutritional value.
Limit your protein intake
This diet recommends limiting protein intake to 0.68-0.80 g per kilogram of body weight per day. That’s 47-56g of protein per day for a 70kg person. To give you an idea, each of these foods contains approximately 10g of protein: two small eggs, 30g of cheese, 40g of lean chicken, 250ml of milk, 3/4 cup of lentils, 120g of tofu, 60g of nuts or 300ml of soy milk. This is in line with government recommendations.
Most Australians have no problem getting this amount of protein in their diet. However, it is the older population that the longevity diet is targeting that is less likely to meet their protein requirements.
In the longevity diet, it is recommended that most of the protein comes from plant sources or fish. This may require special planning to ensure a full range of all the necessary nutrients if red meat is lacking in the diet.
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 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 the use of dietary supplements to prevent cancer or heart disease.
Dietary supplements should only be taken on the recommendation of a doctor and after a blood test that proves the lack of a certain nutrient. Some vitamins and minerals can be harmful in high amounts.
If you eat a varied diet from all food groups, you meet all nutrient requirements and should not need supplements.
This longevity diet is a compilation of many evidence-based aspects of healthy eating habits. We already support them because they improve our health and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. All of these aspects of healthy eating 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.