longevity diet

Book review: The Longevity Diet (Prof Valter Longo)

The Longevity Diet is one of these few diet books worth reading. It was written by Prof Valter Longo, one of the leading scientists in the field of longevity. Prof Longo has been experimenting with fasting-mimicking protocols in order to extend life and vitality.

One of the coolest facts about Prof Longo I learned from his book is that he wanted to become a rock star and that’s why he travelled from his home town in Italy to the US. He was on his way through a jazz composition major when he decided to change gears and pursue an interest that had been dormant in his mind: to study the science of how to stay young.

Blue zones

The main motivation for Prof Longo was knowing that living a healthy life beyond a century is not only possible but relatively common in certain parts of the world, known as blue zones, which include Sardinia in Italy.

Prof Longo has also spent time studying a population in Ecuador who suffer from a disease called Laron syndrome, in which the growth hormone receptor is defective. Interestingly, these very short individuals have lower incidence of cancer diabetes, despite poor lifestyle habits.

Aim of the Longevity Diet

Prof Longo’s thesis stems from the fact that most diseases and ageing occur due to cellular/DNA damage. Science usually focuses on addressing the symptoms caused by this damage (a reactive approach). Conversely, the Longevity Diet aims to awaken the body’s mechanism that is meant to protect and repair itself from damage but has become dormant due to the advances in exogenous protection from damage (aka technology).

Benefits of the Longevity Diet

Multiple animal experiments and several human trials have been performed in order to explore the effects of this diet in health. Potential benefits include weight management, longevity, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s), inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

The longevity plan at a glance

Now, the bad news (just kidding!). This diet is a stricter, low protein, low calorie version of what we know as a Mediterranean diet. It includes lots of vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and olive oil, but it limits animal protein to seafood a few times per week and dairy products, which are only permitted for adults over 65 years old who are losing weight or muscle mass.

The actual foods included in the diet should match what our ancestors used to eat.

The plan also include 5 days of a fasting-mimicking diet (very low calorie diet). The frequency and need for medical supervision vary depending on each individual’s health conditions, body composition, age, etc. Note that fasting-mimicking diets are not recommended for pregnant women, underweight people, high-charging athletes, etc.

The book also addresses the need of exercise, brain engagement and social interaction.

The daily diet

Below is a summary of the daily diet portion of the plan:

  1. Eat mostly vegan, plus a little low-mercury fish (two or three servings per week).
  2. Keep protein intake to 0.68 to 0.79 grams per kilogram of body weight (higher for people over 65 years old). Protein should maily come from legumes.
  3. Minimize saturated fats (with the exception of coconut oil) and sugar. Eat whole grains and high quantities of vegetables with generous amounts of olive oil and nuts.
  4. Supplement with a multivitamin every three days.
  5. Eat what your ancestors would have eaten.
  6. Have 2 meals and a snack per day if you need to lose weight, otherwise 3 meals and a snack.
  7. Eat all your meals within 12 hours.

Rationale

The diet is low in protein (and relatively low in calories) because proteins activate the growth hormone receptor (leading to increased insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1) and TOR-S6K. In addition, the diet is low in sugar because sugars activate PKA. The end result may be diabetes, cancer and accelerated ageing.

Following our ancestors’ diet (if they did eat a reasonably healthy diet) ensures our bodies are familiar with those particular foods and thus less likely to develop allergies or intolerances.

The fasting-mimicking portion of the protocol puts healthy cells in an antiageing state, promotes destruction and replacement of damaged cells and shifting the body’s fuel utilisation to abdominal/visceral fat. It is fasting-mimicking and not “real” fasting to provide enough energy for the immune system and other important functions.

The exercise

Below is the exercise part of the plan, which aligns well with the Australian guidelines:

  1. Walk fast for an hour every day, emphasise incidental exercise (e.g. stairs instead of escalators, walking instead of driving).
  2. Do moderate exercise for 2.5 to 5 hours a week.
  3. Do resistance training.
  4. Eat your largest protein meal (with 30+ grams of protein) after resistance training to maximise muscle gain.

The meal plan

The book comes with a 2-week meal plan with recipes for every meal and snack suggestions. Keep in mind the recipes are based on Italian traditional cuisine, which might not apply to you based on your ancestry. Also, you might need to adjust the recipes due to food allergies or intolerances.

More information

For more information on Prof Valter Longo’s work follow the links below:

Valter Longo Foundation
Prof Valter Longo on Facebook

To learn more about the book and/or buy it online, click here. All proceeds go toward funding more longevity research.

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