The Longevity Diet: Re-thinking your eating for a longer healthier life?

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Professor Valter Longo has spent 30 years researching and carrying out scientific trials looking at the effects of food on ageing and studying the eating habits and lifestyles of centenarians.

Longo is the director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California and the Milan Molecular Oncology FIRC Institute's Program of Longevity and Cancer. With pretty impressive credentials he’s worth listening to.

Over 20 years ago he found evidence that fasting causes regeneration of the body’s cells. Since then he has advocated fasting as a way of slowing the ageing process and fighting disease.

Longo’s book, The Longevity Diet, published by Penguin on February 8, promotes fasting but isn't just about weight loss. Many of us may have tried Dr Michael Moseley’s popular Fast Diet (aka the 5:2). Moseley was influenced by Longo’s research saying,  ‘He is one of the real scientific pioneers when it comes to researching the impact of food (or lack of it) on health’.

The Longevity Diet is on the whole vegan, or rather, pescatarian. Longo recommends eating oily fish three times a week. Thumbs up to that for menopausal women. We’ll get a decent whack of omega-3 essential fatty acids which he says will boost your health and dramatically slow the ageing process. Double thumbs up!

Longo promotes what he terms a ‘fasting-mimicking diet’, a five-day, restricted-calorie  plan which should be done at least twice a year. That's manageable we think.

He doesn’t believe that we totally cut out carbs. ‘I’m pro carbs, proteins and fats, and against carbs, proteins and fats: it is about type and quantity and not about demonising one micronutrient or the other.’

We’ve listed 8 of Professor Longo’s rules on eating for a longer, healthier life. Talk to your doctor before you start this plan to check that it's appropriate for you.

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Pro pescatarian

Eat two to three portions of fish per week. Ideally, oily fish such as sustainably sourced salmon, sardines, sole, mackerel and halibut. Although you should avoid fish with high mercury content such as tuna and swordfish. Over 65’s should introduce more fish into their diet.

Pro the proper proteins

This is where it gets a bit more scientific. You need to study the book, as it really depends on your weight and body fat. When Longo talks protein, he’s talking a 100% vegan, that’s legumes, nuts and pulses, with the exception of fish of course. No animal protein, so red meat, white meat and cheese are a no, no!

Max on the good fats & carbs

It’s all about the types of fats and carbs. Gorge on the good unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, almonds, walnuts and salmon, but as go as low as you can on saturated, hydrogenated and trans fats. Change up to the complex carbs found in wholegrain bread, legumes and veggies. Lower sugar intake, limit pasta, rice, bread, fruit and fruit juices.

Supplement subs

Our body needs proteins, vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids (omega-3 & 6), and sufficient amounts of sugar to boost the immune system and to fight off any infections. Longo advocates if your body is low on these take a multivitamin and mineral pill, plus an omega-3 fish-oil soft gel every two or three days.

Back to your roots

You need to eat a wide variety of foods to ensure you get all the required nutrients. The Longevity Diet guidelines recommend that you should eat foods that your grandparents ate. (Being Italian, that'll be a healthy diet for his grandparents). It’s all about evolution and genotypes. Think what were the common foods they ate? The potential problems are intolerances, or autoimmunities, such as a reaction to gluten or lactose.

Two meals plus a snack

The Longevity Diet recommends eating breakfast and one major meal plus a nutritious low-calorie, low-sugar snack daily. Skipping breakfast is not an option as it’s related to increased risk of age-related diseases.

Time restricted eating

Eating within a 12-hour window, or fewer, every day is common amongst centenarians. Ideally, eat breakfast after 8am and finish dinner before 8pm. Having an even shorter eating window of ten hours is found to be more effective for weight loss. And avoid eating three to four hours before going to sleep.

'Fasting Mimicking Diet' optimises health

Healthy under 65’s, Longo says, should try the five-day fast twice a year. The frequency increases according to your weight, level of risks for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular or neurodegenerative diseases. Thankfully, he allows you to eat 800-1,100 calories per day.

The effects of the ‘Fasting Mimicking Diet’ on disease risk factors and the optimisation of a long healthy life are found in Longo’s clinically tested research. He describes it as ‘the ultimate medicine’, by depriving the body of food in his fasting diet, its cells begin to regenerate. When the cells are starved they go into survival mode and begin to repair themselves.

Longo's trials show that fasting kills cancer cells, reverses autoimmune disorders and significantly reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. All well-worth knowing as menopausal women going through the hormonal challenges of transition into our next life phase. Whether or not you can sustain this diet, is another matter!