Is the longevity diet the key to a long and healthy life?

longevity diet
© iStock/Eva-Katalin

Two researchers from the US have developed the longevity diet, which they believe is the most optimal diet plan for living a longer and healthier life.

Developed by Professor Valter Longo from the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and Rozalyn Anderson of the University of Wisconsin, the longevity diet is a multi-pillar approach designed from studies on a range of diet aspects, including food composition, caloric intake, and fasting frequency and duration.

Professor Longo said: “Examining a range of research from studies in laboratory animals to epidemiological research in human populations gives scientists a clearer picture of what kind of nutrition can offer the best chance for longer, healthier life.

“We explored the link between nutrients, fasting, genes, and longevity in short-lived species and connected these links to clinical and epidemiological studies in primates and humans, including centenarians. 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 future research.”

What is the longevity diet?

To develop their longevity diet, the researchers analysed hundreds of studies on nutrition, diseases, and longevity that were performed on animals and humans and amalgamated them with their investigations on nutrients and ageing. Diets in the study included those that restrict calories, the high-fat and low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet, vegetarian and vegan diets, and the Mediterranean diet.

Subsequently, the team reviews different fasting methods, such as a short term diet that mimics the body’s fasting response, intermittent fasting (frequent and short-term) and periodic fasting (two or more days of fasting or fasting-mimicking diets more than twice a month).

Additionally, the team examined lifespan data from epidemiological studies and attributed these to certain dietary factors that influence longevity-regulating genetic pathways. These included insulin levels, C-reactive protein, insulin-like growth factor 1, and cholesterol.

From these studies, the team determined that the longevity diet should consist of moderate to high carbohydrate intake from non-refined sources, low but adequate plant-based protein, and plant-based fats to provide 30% of energy needs.

Daily meals should be consumed in an 11-12 hour window, allowing for a period of fasting, and a 5-day cycle of a fasting or fasting-mimicking diet should be implemented every three to four months to reduce insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and other disease risk factors.

Longo explained that the longevity diet should consist of: “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.”

Testing the diet

The researchers are now aiming to examine the performance of the longevity diet in a 500-person study conducted in Italy. The longevity diet has similarities and differences to the Mediterranean-style diets seen in areas of the world that are famous for a high number of people aged 100 or older, such as Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California. Diets in these parts of the world are predominantly plant-based or pescatarian and low in protein. However, the team explained that the longevity diet is an evolution of these “centenarian diets” due to limiting food consumption to 12 hours per day and having various short-fasting periods during the year.

In addition, they explained that the longevity diet should be adapted for people based on their sex, age, genetics and health status. For example, people older than 65 may need a higher protein intake to mitigate frailty and lean-body-mass loss. Prior research highlights that higher protein is optimal for people over 65 but detrimental to younger people.

Longo concluded: “The longevity diet is not a dietary restriction intended to only cause weight loss, but a lifestyle focused on slowing ageing, which can complement standard healthcare and, taken as a preventative measure, will aid in avoiding morbidity and sustaining health into advanced age.”

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