Ageing is something that we all have to deal with – most of us don't like it, but unfortunately our bodies don't last forever.
Nevertheless, there are ways we can maximise how long our health lasts – this is the fundamental idea behind The Longevity Diet, the new book by Dr Valter Longo, PhD, a professor of biogerontology and Director of the USC Longevity Institute.
“This is not really a diet, in the sense that it's not about weight loss. The Longevity Diet is close to 30 years of my work in the field of longevity, looking at how I can make somebody live a long, healthy life,” says Dr Longo.
Dr Longo has been researching longevity since the 1990s, and his lab has made discoveries relating to PKA gene pathways and their role in accelerated ageing. These discoveries laid the foundation for what would eventually become The Longevity Diet.
Another research method that informs the science behind the diet is looking at people with record longevity – living beyond 100 years – around the world. This information is then combined with clinical data and population studies to find common denominators in living longer and healthier.
The Longevity Diet is divided into two sections: the “Everyday Diet” and the “Fasting Mimicking Diet” (FMD).
A combination of healthy vegetables and fish such as salmon is a great meal choice if you're following The Longevity Diet
The Everyday Diet
The Everyday Diet offers advice on what nutritional components you should be adding to your body and in what quantity.
For example, a major recommendation is to maintain a low protein diet, as this is a consistent factor among longevity studies. However, it must be sufficient protein – Dr Longo suggests the recommended dietary allowance of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. (It's worth noting that this is the amount of a nutrient needed to meet your basic nutritional requirements – not the specific amount you should eat every day.)
If you're over 65, evidence suggests you should increase your protein intake from this level by adding more fish to your diet and introducing animal products like eggs, cheese, and yoghurt to maintain muscle mass.
Another perhaps disappointing suggestion of the diet for those of us who love meat is that a pescatarian diet is the most ideal choice for living longer. Pescatarians add fish and seafood to an otherwise vegetarian diet.
However, Dr Longo stresses that compromise is an option, and not everyone is going to fully commit to wanting to live to the maximum possible age.
“If somebody wants to go for the ideal diet, then the meat should be really minimal. But people have to figure out what they're willing to leave out – some may compromise and say, 'let me reduce it to once a week' which will still help increase your lifespan.”
Other simple tips from the book include:
- Minimising saturated fats while ensuring your diet is rich in unsaturated fats from oily fish, almonds, and walnuts.
- Eating only twice a day, plus a small snack, to prevent overeating.
- Restricting all eating to twelve hours per day – this kind of “mini-fasting” has been shown to aid in longevity.
The Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD)
The second section of the book involves what is termed a “Fasting Mimicking Diet” or FMD, which is done periodically and aims to activate the same gene pathways as true fasting, whilst still maintaining nutrition levels.
The activation of these gene pathways results in damaged cells being removed and replaced with healthy ones.
“I like to use an analogy with a wood-burning train. If you're running out of fuel and won't make it to the next station, you can start burning components of the train itself, for example, the seats and the walls. So you consume your own pieces, and when you get to the next station, you can rebuild the train with new components – the human body does something very similar,” says Dr Longo.
“The other interesting thing is that, as with the train, you would burn components that were already damaged first. The human body seems to be able to identify damaged cells (e.g. cancerous or autoimmune cells), and destroy those first during the FMD.”
The FMD was originally tested on mice, where the regenerative effect on cells was first observed. There are now over 25,000 people who have done the FMD throughout the United States, Italy, the UK, and Australia, and it is being used as a standalone method by some doctors to assist their patients with age-related diseases.
The diet landscape
There are so many popular diets out there (5:2, paleo, Mediterranean – to name a few) that it can be difficult to determine which is best for your personal situation.
Of course, a diet book is never going to be a replacement for the advice of a medical practitioner, so if you're unsure of the best way to improve your health, consulting your GP or a nutritionist is always the first step.
The Longevity Diet appears to be a good option to try if you're not necessarily aiming to lose weight, but want to improve your general health as you reach the years where your body isn't quite holding up like it used to.
“The nutrition and longevity field is extremely complicated because nutrients and the human body are both very complex. Making the human body live to 110 is an extremely difficult task,” says Dr Longo.
Compromise is always a good start – perhaps try incorporating some of the ideas discussed into your diet and see whether it has a positive impact on your health. You're not going to live forever, but a little longer might just be worth it.
The Longevity Diet by Dr. Valter Longo, published by Penguin Random House, is available now, RRP $29.99.
What diet and health changes have you made in an effort to live longer?