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What’s this ‘longevity’ diet, and will it really make you live longer?

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Although targeted at older people, it is also recommended for the younger generation says EVANGELINE MANTZIORIS

 

You may have heard about the longevity diet, and its promise of an extended life span – but what exactly is it and is it any different to other diets promoting good health?

The longevity diet is a set of eating recommendations compiled by a biochemist called Valter Longo, director of the University of Southern California’s Longevity Institute. He is known for his research on the role of fasting, the effects of nutrients on your genes and how these may impact ageing and the risk of diseases.

While the longevity diet has been targeted to older adults, it is also recommended for younger people. Longo has said he plans to live to 120 by following this diet.

Foods included are vegetables, including leafy greens, fruit, nuts, beans, olive oil, and seafood that’s low in mercury.

So most foods in the longevity diet are plant based. Plant-based diets are generally higher in vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre, antioxidants and lower in saturated fat and salt, which lead to health benefits.

Foods that are discouraged are an excess of meat and dairy, and those high in processed sugar and saturated fats.

For people who don’t want to go without dairy, the longevity diet recommends switching from cow’s milk to either goat’s or sheep’s milk.

Including fermented dairy (such as cheese and yoghurt) in your diet, as recommended in the longevity diet, is beneficial as it provides a more extensive microbiome (good bacteria) than any milk.

It is similar to the Mediterranean diet, especially as both feature olive oil as the oil of choice. The Mediterranean diet is promoted and backed by a considerable body of evidence to be health promoting, reducing the risk of disease, and promoting longevity.

Another aspect of the longevity diet is the specified periods of fasting, known as intermittent fasting. The diet advocates eating in a 12-hour time-frame, and not eating for three to four hours before bed.

The evidence indicates intermittent fasting may lead to improvements in insulin resistance, which leads to better blood glucose control. This can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and obesity.

The longevity diet recommends that people who are overweight eat only two meals a day – breakfast and either a midday or evening meal – plus just two low-sugar snacks. This is to try to reduce kilojoule intake for weight loss.

Another important aspect of this recommendation is to reduce snacking, particularly of foods high in saturated fat, salt or sugar. These offer little nutritional value, and in some cases are linked to worse health outcomes.

The longevity diet recommends eating foods rich in nutrients, a diet rich in plant foods, and a variety of foods within each food group.

Each colour fruit and vegetable contains different nutrients, so eating a range of coloured fruit and vegetables is recommended. The recommendation to select a range of wholegrains over refined cereals, breads, pasta and rice also reflects the best nutritional evidence.

This diet recommends a restricting protein intake to 0.68-0.80g per kilogram of body weight per day. This is 47-56g of protein a day for a 70kg person. For reference each of these foods contains about 10g of protein: two small eggs, 30g cheese, 40g lean chicken, 250ml dairy milk, 3/4cup lentils, 120g tofu, 60g nuts or 300ml soy milk.

It is the elderly population, to whom the longevity diet is targeted, who are less likely to meet their protein requirements.

In the longevity diet it is recommended most of the protein comes from plant sources or fish. This may require special planning to ensure a complete range of all the nutrients needed if the diet is missing red meat.

This diet recommends taking a multivitamin and mineral supplements every three to four days. Longo says this prevents malnourishment and won’t cause any nutritional problems.

If you are eating a variety of foods across all food groups, you are meeting all your nutrient requirements and shouldn’t need supplements.

This longevity diet is a compilation of many aspects of evidence-based healthy eating patterns. We already promote these as they improve our health and reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. All of these aspects of healthy eating could lead to increased longevity.

What’s not mentioned in the longevity diet is the importance of exercise for good health and a long life.

 

Evangeline Mantzioris is Program Director of Nutrition and Food Sciences, Accredited Practising Dietitian, University of South Australia. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence

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