Eight secrets of the longevity diet: Professor VALTER LONGO, an expert on ageing, reveals the foods that can help you roll back the years
- Professor Valter Longo says fasting can transform our health and risk of disease
- Short period of fasting two or three times a year can be powerfully rejuvenating
- He has developed five-day ‘fasting mimicking diet’ named the Longevity Diet
All this week in the Daily Mail — as part of our Good Health for Life series — we will be sharing advice by leading experts about how to stay healthier for longer, to help ensure you stay in the best shape possible, well into your later years.
From tips to protect your memory, to eating right to support an older body and exercises that will help keep you supple and strong, we will show you the surest ways to fight the effects of time.
In today’s pullout, we reveal how changing your diet and fasting for a few days each month can protect you from diseases associated with old age, based on a book called The Longevity Diet, by ageing expert Professor Valter Longo.
He is an award-winning researcher, gerontologist, biological science professor and director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California in the U.S.
There’s plenty of truth in the saying: ‘You are what you eat.’
The science is now unequivocal — food can determine how you look and function, whether you sleep well at night, how your brain operates, whether you will stay thin or gain weight, even whether your body is shaped more like an apple or a pear.
But research by Professor Valter Longo at the University of Southern California in the U.S. has also shown that there is another key element of our diet that can transform our health, our risk of disease, even the rate at which we age: Fasting.
We know how important it is to eliminate or minimise the consumption of food that will make your life shorter and sicker, and to increase the consumption of nutrients that will make your life longer and healthier. But that is not enough.
He is convinced that a short period of fasting two or three times a year can be powerfully rejuvenating — and well worth incorporating into your life.
The science is now unequivocal — food can determine how you look and function, whether you sleep well at night, how your brain operates, whether you will stay thin or gain weight (stock photo)
The only problem is, proper fasting — drinking only water for a few days — is tough and can cause side-effects.
So in addition to discovering potent regenerating and rejuvenating effects of fasting, he has developed and rigorously tested what is known as the ‘fasting mimicking diet’.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU FAST?
The decision to fast, and how often to do it, should ideally be made with input from a GP, or under the guidance of a dietitian, but broad guidelines are as follows . . .
You should fast:
l Once every six months if you are a healthy weight, want to maintain a healthy diet and engage in regular physical activity.
l Once every four months if you are a healthy weight but not physically active.
l Once every three months if you are a healthy weight but you have one risk factor for type 2 diabetes, cancer, or cardiovascular or neurodegenerative disease (such as a close family history of those conditions).
l Once every two months if you are a healthy weight but you have at least two risk factors (perhaps you smoke, drink heavily, have a stressful life or work in a toxic environment).
l Once a month if you are overweight with at least two risk factors.
This plan is low in protein and sugar, but rich in healthy fats; and provides enough calories, vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients that mean it doesn’t necessarily require medical supervision.
It is a five-day plan based on 800 calories a day split between 400 calories of complex carbohydrates (mainly vegetables) and 400 calories of healthy fats (nuts, oil and seeds), which you can incorporate intermittently into your life.
He has tested the fasting mimicking diet on himself, on patients as part of clinical trials and also monitored thousands of patients with cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases to fully understand the association between the consumption of certain foods and illness.
These studies have shown it to be more effective and feasible than full fasting, particularly when strategically incorporated as part of the so-called Longevity Diet, which brings together robust research and the eating habits of the world’s longest living people.
According to these studies, says Professor Longo, a precise Longevity Diet (which is described on the next page) accompanied by periodic fasting can extend the healthy lifespan.
This is thought to be the optimal diet plan for maintaining a healthy weight and waist measurement, too.
And that’s really important because too much abdominal fat is associated with increased diabetes, elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease.
Studies have suggested that having a waist circumference of more than 40 inches in men and 35 inches in women doubles the risk of premature death, compared with having a waist circumference of less than 33 inches in men and 27 inches in women.
THE BENEFITS OF FASTING
Fasting forms a strong part of our history and evolution and is one of the most powerful interventions we can make to promote beneficial changes to our health if used correctly, according to Professor Longo.
Short periods without food have been shown to have a profoundly beneficial effect, reducing the risk factors for many diseases because fasting appears to awaken a highly coordinated response that is already built into the body, but that has fallen dormant after many generations that never seem to stop eating.
Fasting helps minimise disease and maximise a healthy lifespan because it acts on the ability of the body to regenerate and rejuvenate itself.
You’ll find a healthy diet like this is even superior in taste, since vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and other plant-based foods provide a much wider variety of ingredients (stock photo)
But studies by Professor Longo and his team have shown that you can glean the same incredibly beneficial effects without having to go without food completely.
The carefully controlled balance of nutrients on his fasting mimicking diet keeps you healthy and functioning, while your body goes through all the health-giving checks and processes it would on a complete fast.
In this way, he has measured how a fasting mimicking diet can effectively ‘treat’ the ageing process and help promote longevity through a number of important processes:
- It switches cells throughout the body to a protected ‘anti-ageing mode’ — an effect which endures beyond the fast.
- It promotes a natural reset programme whereby damaged cells and cell components are cleared out and replaced with fully functional newly generated ones.
- It shifts the body into an abdominal fat-burning mode, which continues after returning to a normal diet (probably through a process which modifies proteins which bind to our DNA).
Indeed, a particular study by Professor Longo of 100 people yielded impressive results. It found that adopting a fasting mimicking diet for five days a month over a period of three months led to weight loss of more than 8lb (most of it abdominal fat), and reduced blood pressure, cholesterol, cancer risk and blood fats — as well as more controlled blood sugar levels (which returned to normal in those with borderline type 2 diabetes).
Additionally, many people who try the fasting mimicking diet report that it generates glowing younger looking skin, stronger mental focus and an ability to resist bingeing (many of the people in their studies reported reduced consumption of sugar and naturally cutting back on alcohol and desserts, for example).
The studies suggest it is a safe and potent way to reverse many age-related and diet-related problems by rejuvenating cells, systems, and organs in a natural way.
CAN I EAT WHAT I LIKE WHEN NOT FASTING?
There are clearly great life-extending health benefits to be had from short periods of fasting, but you can maximise the effects by incorporating a regular fast into a longer term healthier way of eating, says Professor Longo.
He has pooled many years of research to come up with an eating protocol that puts periodical fasting as just one of the eight important tenets of healthy eating to form what he calls his ‘Longevity Diet’.
It incorporates all the most important dietary elements proven to help extend your life (see panel on the right).
The dietary recommendations he makes are based not on opinion, but on rigorous science. Because, he says, in order to understand how people can live long, healthy lives, we need to combine scientific, epidemio-logical, and clinical studies but also investigate the actual populations that age successfully.
It would be far too simplistic to suggest that one key element — such as taking high doses of vitamin C — could extend a healthy human lifespan. That’s like trying to improve a Mozart symphony by increasing the number of cello players.
Instead, the Longevity Diet puts a big emphasis on eating more not less, but by consuming vegetables and healthy fats with complex carbohydrates (stock photo)
The cello might be a beautiful instrument, but to improve a Mozart symphony, you need to be a better composer than Mozart. Adding cellos alone won’t do it, says Professor Longo.
Our bodies are much more complex than a Mozart symphony. We cannot expect a simple supplement to make something that’s almost perfect even better, so we cannot expect that we will live healthier and longer lives just by adding or taking away a single component to our diet. One of Professor Longo’s key recommendations is of a fundamentally vegan or pescatarian diet.
He urges us to choose vegetables over meat, and add a little fish into the mix occasionally.
This makes the diet intentionally lower in protein than many other diet plans — by design.
Instead, the Longevity Diet puts a big emphasis on eating more not less, but by consuming vegetables and healthy fats with complex carbohydrates (vegetables, legumes and wholemeal grains), and a return, as much as possible, to enjoying the foods of our ancestors.
This doesn’t just address the health issues associated with huge populations now struggling to digest the toxic components of a typical Western diet.
Even so-called health foods can be more harmful than helpful to people whose ancestors never consumed them. Quinoa, historically consumed in certain South American regions for instance, might be perfectly digestible for the great majority of people around the world.
But for some, it could lead to allergies, intolerances, and even autoimmune diseases if your body has not adapted to tolerate it.
That’s why he recommends finding out where your grandparents came from and what foods were common — and uncommon — in those places and identify among those the ones that are consistent with the Longevity Diet.
What’s more, the Longevity Diet isn’t restrictive. It allows you to enjoy coffee and alcohol and — contrary to what you might expect and as stated earlier — it often requires that you eat more, not less.
You’ll find a healthy diet like this is even superior in taste, since vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and other plant-based foods provide a much wider variety of ingredients and flavours, compared with unhealthy foods rich in saturated fats, starches and sugars that obscure natural flavour.
Changing your diet to gear it towards healthy longevity might take some work.
But it will be much easier than you imagine, and in many cases it will be more beneficial than drugs and in the long run, well worth the effort.
Among the longevity factors within your control, what you eat is the primary choice you can make that will affect whether you live to be 60, 80, or 100 and more importantly, whether you will get there in good health.
n DISCLAIMER: Always consult your doctor before making major changes to your diet, particularly if you are over 70 and take regular medication. Don’t try the diet if you are pregnant or underweight.
Follow these steps until you reach a waist circumference of less than 35.5 in for men and less than 29.5 in for women. By incorporating the benefits of fasting, ensuring more-than-adequate nutrition and reducing the amount of fat stored around your abdomen, you will effectively reduce your risk of diseases. The Longevity Diet is safe to follow long term, or you can return to it periodically to maintain your level of health.
The eight principles of this diet are:
1. Eat mostly vegan, plus a little fish, limiting meals with fish to a maximum of two or three times a week. Choose fish, crustaceans and molluscs with a high omega-3, omega-6 and vitamin B12 content (such as sardines, salmon, anchovies, cod, clams and shrimp).
After the age of 65, if you start losing muscle mass, strength and weight, add more fish and fruit and animal-based foods such as eggs, cheese and yoghurt made from sheep or goat milk.
Eat mostly vegan, plus a little fish, limiting meals with fish to a maximum of two or three times a week (stock photo)
2. If you are under 65, keep protein intake relatively low. Aim to eat 0.31g to 0.36g of protein per pound of body weight per day, mostly from vegetable sources to minimise meat’s negative effects on diseases and maximise the nourishing effects of plants.
So someone who weighs 9st should eat 40g to 47g protein per day, of which 30g should be consumed in a single meal (equivalent to 200g of beans or fish, for example). If you weigh 14st to 15st and have 35 per cent body fat or higher, then 60g to 70g of protein per day is sufficient, since fat cells require lower levels of protein than muscles.
Aim to eat 0.31g to 0.36g of protein per pound of body weight per day, mostly from vegetable sources to minimise meat’s negative effects on diseases (stock photo)
3. Maximise good fats and complex carbohydrates but minimise bad fats and sugars.
Good unsaturated fats include those in olive oil, salmon, almonds and walnuts.
Enjoy complex carbohydrates found in wholemeal bread, legumes, vegetables and some fruit; eat whole grains and vegetables with 3 tbsp olive oil and 1 oz nuts per day. Try to eat organic as much as possible. But avoid saturated, hydrogenated and trans fats found in processed foods.
Good unsaturated fats include those in olive oil, salmon, almonds and walnuts (stock photo)
4. Be nourished. The human body has an army of cells always at war against enemies that include oxygen, bacteria and viruses.
When your intake of certain nutrients becomes too low, the body’s repair and defence systems slow down or stop, allowing the damage to accumulate or fungi, bacteria and viruses to proliferate.
As extra insurance, take a multivitamin and an omega-3 fish oil capsule every 2-3 days.
Be nourished. The human body has an army of cells always at war against enemies that include oxygen, bacteria and viruses (stock photo)
5. Eat foods your grandparents may have eaten (native vegetables and pulses, for instance) and avoid those they wouldn’t recognise (such as junk food and sweeteners).
This helps avoid intolerances and autoimmune related conditions (such as Crohn’s, colitis and type 1 diabetes).
Eat foods your grandparents may have eaten (native vegetables and pulses, for instance) and avoid those they wouldn’t recognise (stock photo)
6. If you’re overweight or tend to gain weight easily, consume two meals per day: breakfast and either lunch or dinner, plus one low-sugar (less than 5g) snack or salad, with fewer than 100 calories.
If you are already at a normal weight or if you tend to lose weight easily — or are over the age of 65 and of normal weight — then have three meals per day, plus a low-sugar, low-calorie snack.
If you’re overweight or tend to gain weight easily, consume two meals per day: breakfast and either lunch or dinner (stock photo)
7. Observe time-restricted eating. The world’s longest living people tend to confine all meals and snacks to within 12 hours a day. As studies show, a long night-time fast gives the body and brain the chance to properly regenerate.
So confine all eating to within a 12-hour window; for example, start at 8am and end around 8pm.
Avoid eating anything within three to four hours of going to sleep.
Observe time-restricted eating. The world’s longest living people tend to confine all meals and snacks to within 12 hours a day (stock photo)
8. Until the age of 65 to 70, depending on your weight and frailty, try doing five days of the fasting mimicking diet (see main copy) every one to six months, based on your goals and — if possible — your GP’s or a dietitian’s guidance.
From the example plan in the panel on the right, follow points one to eight in such a way that you reach and maintain a healthy weight and waist measurement — less than 35.5 in for men and less than 29.5 in for women.
From the example plan in the panel on the right, follow points one to eight in such a way that you reach and maintain a healthy weight and waist measurement (stock photo)
HOW TO MAKE THE FASTING DAYS WORK
The fasting mimicking diet is one of the key principles of the Longevity Diet. You will consume 800 to 1,100 calories, mostly from nuts and vegetables, for five days. This method makes the body think it’s in a completely fasted state when it is not — providing the health benefits of fasting without the deprivation and hunger.
Professor Longo advises that this five-day fast should be undertaken when you need it — which, for most people, is two to three times a year. He recommends you do the clinically tested fasting mimicking diet with the following characteristics:
Limit: 1,100 calories
- 500 calories from complex carbohydrates (vegetables, eg broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, pumpkin, mushrooms)
- 500 calories from healthy fats (nuts, olive oil)
- 1 multivitamin and mineral supplement
- 1 omega-3/omega-6 supplement
- Sugarless tea (up to 3 to 4 cups per day)
- 25g plant-based protein, mainly from nuts
- Unlimited water
Limit: 800 calories
- 400 calories from complex carbohydrates (vegetables, eg broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, pumpkin, mushrooms)
- 400 calories from healthy fats (nuts, olive oil)
- 1 multivitamin and mineral supplement
- 1 omega-3/omega-6 supplement
- Sugarless tea (up to 3 to 4 cups per day)
- Unlimited water
AFTER THE FAST: 24-HOUR TRANSITION
A so-called transition diet should be followed for 24 hours after the five-day fast. You should follow a diet based on complex carbohydrates (vegetables, cereals, rice, bread and fruit), and minimise fish, meat, saturated fats, cheese and milk. The components can be divided between breakfast, lunch and dinner, or two meals and a snack. Here are some ideas. Mix and match one from each category, but ensure you maintain a similar nutrient composition, with plenty of vitamins and minerals.
- Coffee or tea with freshly squeezed lemon (use 2 teabags: 1 green tea and 1 black).
- TOASTED wholewheat bread (60g) with 2 tsp no-sugar mixed berry jam.
- Porridge with fresh fruit, plant milk and 2 tsp honey.
- 240ml unsweetened coconut, almond, hazelnut, milk with wholewheat focaccia and extra virgin olive oil and blueberry jam.
- 60g cereal with 240ml almond milk.
- Spinach with pine nuts and raisins
Boil 150g spinach. Add 1 tbsp pine nuts and 1 tbsp raisins. Cook for a few minutes, adding water to avoid drying. Add 1 tbsp olive oil, stir and let it rest, covered, for 3 minutes. Serve on spelt crackers.
- Barley salad
Boil 40g barley in salted water. Add 150g tomatoes to a salad bowl with 75g mushrooms, 150g peppers, and 20g corn. Add 150g pickled vegetables, 1 tbsp pecans and 1 tbsp olives. Season with salt and pepper, and add the barley.
- Pumpkin soup
Boil 300g pumpkin in salted water. Add 1 tbsp olive oil, chilli flakes (to taste), onion (to taste), some parsley, and salt and pepper. Stir well. Puree the soup, then serve with croutons and seeds.
- Pasta with broccoli
Bring water to the boil, add salt, 150g black beans, 200g broccoli, and 40g pasta. When cooked, drain and toss with 2 tbsp olive oil, garlic, chilli and Parmesan.
- Salmon with asparagus
Bake 150g salmon fillet and 300g asparagus. Drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Top ready-made base with 90g anchovies and sardines, 80g cherry tomatoes, 50g artichokes, 100g mushrooms, 100g spinach, 100g peppers, and 20g olives. Add olive oil, salt and pepper; then bake.
- 240ml coconut milk, unsweetened.
- 70% dark chocolate bar; maximum 150 calories, 8g sugar.
- 30g nuts; 25g dried fruit.
- 250ml any plant milk.
- Fresh mixed berry smoothie and a banana.
- 125g goat milk yoghurt.
Studies suggest the Longevity Diet — with the occasional days of fasting — may help prevent, delay, treat and even reverse specific diseases (stock photo)
Studies suggest the Longevity Diet — with the occasional days of fasting — may help prevent, delay, treat and even reverse specific diseases. Here are some of the most promising examples:
The Longevity Diet could be useful for cancer prevention and is being tested for the prevention of cancer in people at increased risk. It could also reduce the chance of recurrence.
Your immune system is one of the major defences against cancer so it is important to balance your diet so it can kill cancerous or pre-cancerous cells without causing deficiencies in your immune system or hormonal changes that can leave you frail.
Professor Longo’s studies have shown that a fasting mimicking diet can trigger the same effects produced by immunotherapy in mice. It appears to weaken cancer cells and remove the protective shield safeguarding them from immune cells. It also revs the immune system, making it more aggressive toward the cancer.
Animal studies and those of other researchers show that fasting, in addition to protecting normal cells, makes chemotherapy much more toxic to melanoma, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, neuroblastoma, and many other cancers.
Three small clinical trials and one report involving 75 patients provide initial evidence that fasting and fasting mimicking diets are safe and potentially effective in protecting patients from multiple side-effects of chemotherapy.
Ongoing clinical trials, which have now tested more than 400 patients, provide additional evidence for the safety and potentially protective effect of the fasting mimicking diet against chemotherapy side-effects.
Adopting the Longevity Diet can help prevent — and has the potential to reverse — diabetes in some people.
Ongoing clinical trials are now testing its efficacy in diabetes. Diabetes drugs interfere with or activate enzymes that can lower blood sugar levels, but they will not target the root causes for diabetes — some of which are understood and some of which are still emerging.
The results of a 100-patient trial led by Professor Longo are very promising: they show that undergoing three-monthly cycles of the fasting mimicking diet lower many of the risk factors for diabetes and metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
The relatively low protein levels might help. Because proteins are the major regulators of the growth hormone gene, results suggest that a diet high in protein may promote cancer and diabetes in some people, in part by increasing the activity of growth hormones. A relatively low-protein diet can potentially reduce obesity’s causal effect on diabetes and cancer.
BECAUSE drugs and other interventions have not been very effective in reversing heart disease, the Longevity Diet and fasting mimicking diet have the potential to reduce cardiovascular disease incidence and progression. When it comes to cardiovascular disease, two studies on monkeys, conducted over decades, as well as multiple human studies serve as evidence of the power of certain diets in combating this widespread problem.
Also, Professor Longo’s studies show the fasting mimicking diet can reduce your risk factors for cardiovascular diseases — the greater your risk, the more effective it seems to be.
The fasting mimicking diet is not yet recommended, although it is being tested in the over-70s.
Professor Longo encourages anyone whose parents or grandparents had Alzheimer’s to get a genetic test to determine if they are at risk. If the tests come back positive, talk to your GP about adopting the Longevity Diet.
In order to optimise brain health, delay or help prevent Alzheimer’s, you could try the Longevity Diet plus additional nutrients including extra olive oil (50ml per day) and nuts (30g per day). Though the efficacy of this diet in the prevention of dementia has not been demonstrated yet, it has a higher potential for significant impact since it represents a stricter version of the Mediterranean diet and includes many additional components of reported benefit.
Professor Longo also suggests drinking coffee every day. Researchers found three or four cups of coffee a day provide a 30 per cent reduction in the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases (compared to those who didn’t drink coffee).
TOP FOOD CHOICES FOR LONGEVITY
Some foods contain the highest levels of key nutrients and should be included as part of the Longevity Diet. Here are some of those foods, with suggested daily serving sizes:
BEST FOR: VITAMIN C
For wound healing, immunity and maintaining healthy skin, blood vessels and bones.
- Orange juice (¾ cup)
- Strawberries (½ cup)
- Kiwi (1 medium)
- Broccoli (½ cup)
- Tomato juice (¾ cup)
For wound healing, immunity and maintaining healthy skin, blood vessels and bones (stock photo)
BEST FOR: FOLATE
For forming healthy red blood cells and foetus development.
- Spinach, boiled (½ cup)
- Black-eyed peas (½ cup)
- White rice (½ cup)
- Romaine lettuce (1 cup)
BEST FOR: VITAMIN B12
For the development of the nervous system, and releasing energy from food.
- Clams (75g)
- Mackerel (75g)
- Sardines, in oil or tomato sauce (75g)
- Fortified cereal (1 serving)
For the development of the nervous system, and releasing energy from food (stock photo)
BEST FOR: CALCIUM
For healthy bones and teeth, and muscle contractions.
- Almonds (1 cup)
- Sardines, canned in oil (3oz)
- Pistachios (1 cup)
- Kale (1 cup)
BEST FOR: VITAMIN A
For healthy vision and boosting the immune system.
- Sweet potato (1 medium)
- Carrots (½ cup)
- Red peppers (½ cup)
- Pickled herring (3oz)
BEST FOR: VITAMIN D
For regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.
- Cod liver oil (1tbsp)
- Soy milk (1 cup)
- Egg yolk (from 1 egg)
BEST FOR: OMEGA 3
For protecting the heart and blood vessels from disease, and maintaining memory.
- Halibut (75g)
- Black-eyed peas (¾ cup)
- Chia seeds (1 tbsp)
- Walnuts (¼ cup)
BEST FOR: IRON
For making red blood cells that carry blood around the body.
- Chunky peanut butter, (2tbsp)
- Cocoa (1 cup made with cocoa powder)
- Oysters (3oz)
For making red blood cells that carry blood around the body (stock photo)
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