My mom is well over 100 years old. I’m close to 66. Genetic tendencies being what they are, I figure that if I play my cards right, I’ve got several more decades ahead of me.
But I’m not just interested in a long life. I want to be healthy, active and alert until I reach those golden years.
To that end, I’m always looking for ways to bolster my health and keep my mind alert – especially ways that I can improve or change my diet.
That’s why a new article has caught my attention. It pulls together old and new research on the ideal “longevity diet.”
Change is hard
Professor Valter Longo of the University of California is following in the footsteps of his mentor, Dr. Roy Wolford, a gerontologist and leading authority on aging and the concept of using caloric restriction to combat the effects of aging and disease.
He and co-author Rozalyn Anderson reviewed hundreds of studies on nutrition, diseases and longevity in laboratory animals and humans and combined them with their own studies on nutrients and aging.
Their goal? According to Longo, “By adopting a multi-system and multi-pillar approach based on over a century of research, we can begin to define a longevity diet that represents a solid foundation for nutritional recommendation and for future research.”
But he is also realistic about how difficult it is for most of us to change our eating habits.
“The reality is 90 percent of people are never going to change what they eat,” he says. “Neither the quantities nor the type. They may make small changes, but they’re not going to make big changes in the long run. They could make big changes for six months, for 12 months and then they’d go back. That’s a reality, right? We have a million studies showing that. So then people should start dealing with that reality.”
A diet that mimics fasting
For this reason, Professor Longo does not advocate what may be considered the most difficult type of dieting, but one that has mountains of research behind it — fasting.
Despite acknowledging the power of fasting to promote health and longevity, he urges caution in undertaking it.
“I always say that fasting doesn’t really mean anything. Fasting is like saying eating. As we all know now if you say, ‘Oh, is eating good for you?’ Well, yes and no. So it can be very good or very bad. It depends what you eat, and fasting is the same way. It can be very good or very bad, depending on what you do, how long you do it for, who you are, etc. So, we’d been trying to move away from words that don’t mean anything, like intermittent fasting, and really started saying, ‘Pay attention, be careful,’ because fasting-based intervention can be very powerful or very damaging.”
Instead, his longevity diet incorporates stretches of several days where a person eats a diet that mimics fasting closely enough to trick the body into getting the benefits — without the downsides.
This consists of limiting calories to 900 per day and doing this three times a year for several days. Longo believes this may also help reduce insulin resistance, blood pressure and other disease risks.
And what type of foods should you eat on this longevity diet?
Longo and Anderson settled on key characteristics of what they consider “optimal” for a longevity diet: a mostly plant-based, low protein, Mediterranean type diet.
How to eat to extend your lifespan
“There is nothing that even comes close to the benefit that we will have for almost nothing, free or close to free, by changing food habits. And it could be revolutionary.”
Professor Longo goes on to describe what those food habits look like.
“Lots of legumes, whole grains, and vegetables; some fish; no red meat or processed meat and very low white meat; low sugar and refined grains; good levels of nuts and olive oil, and some dark chocolate.”
One thing he emphasizes is that, if you’re eating all the right foods, eat more of them, not less.
An example he gives of a “classic” longevity dish is two ounces of pasta, 12 ounces of chickpeas and four ounces of mixed vegetables — a dish that’s full of fiber, but more importantly, will fill your stomach enough to tell your brain it’s time to stop eating.
If you’d like a few recipes to help you get started on a “longevity diet,” look no further than recipes that come out of the Mediterranean diet.
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Professor Valter Longo: fasting and healthy aging — USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology