You’ve probably heard of a number of big-name diet plans. Atkins, South Beach, Paleolithic, the Master Cleanse, there are a lot of names and also a lot of claims to go with them. The popularity of these diets ebbs and flows and more often than not, so does the health of their devotees who struggle to adhere to the diet’s rules.
While some of these diets have some validity, others aren’t quite as scientific as they claim. And generally, these diets aren’t designed with aging populations in mind, rather they’re often setup to sell books to the largest audience possible, regardless of age.
But there are diets out there that are heavily based in science and backed by researchers that have put in the time to consider long lasting effects and feasibility, particularly for aging populations. Enter the Longevity diet. Over the last year and a half, the longevity diet and its creator, Dr. Valter Longo of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, have garnered a lot of attention in nutrition circles.
The diet is different from others because rather than looking merely at weight and glucose indexes, it is meant to promote healthy aging above all else. His recommendations are formed on the basis of the five pillars of longevity.
- Basic research on longevity
- Clinical studies
- Centenarian studies
- Studies of complex systems
How Does It Work?
Dr. Longo’s work over the years has focused on the fundamental biological mechanisms that cause aging to occur. What he has uncovered is that through the right diet, aging can be slowed significantly over time and health maintained in a way that could lead to more people living beyond the age of 100.
Centenarians were actually a big part of Longo’s research, as he studied their habits to help inform the development of the longevity diet.
Essentially the diet consists of two parts, the first of which is obviously the food you take in. For this, Longo tells the USC Keck School of Medicine website that “a diet rich in vegetables, legumes, fish, nuts and whole grains, can provide the least costly way to take care of a lot of problems and can be key to a longer and healthier life.” It’s worth noting that fish was the only animal-based protein in that mix. Centenarian studies show that people who live longer don’t commonly eat processed foods or red meat but once in a great while.
The second component of the longevity diet is what is called the fast mimicking diet. This is similar to intermittent fasting and is an important part of the diet plan. Longo goes on to say that “Lab and clinical studies show that it is perhaps the most potent way to activate protection, repair and rejuvenation processes in the body. Current research on fasting, including a fasting-mimicking diet, represents attempts to understand and leverage the benefits of caloric restriction in a safe and manageable way.”
The diet consists of range of different nutrient groups that are high fat, low protein and packed with complex carbohydrates and unsaturated fat. This includes a mix of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. The truth is, as Longo puts it, “all the populations who have record longevity have a high carbohydrate diet. All of them. No exceptions. It may seem easier to label foods as good or bad, but in the long run this leads to problems.”
Legumes, vegetables and whole grains have a significant role in the Longevity diet as they can replace animal protein sources and encourage you to eat more not less, something Longo wants aging populations to realize is perfectly okay.
Impact on Health
Of course, the impact on participants health is significant. Prolonged usage of the diet has been shown to activate stem cells and promote regeneration and rejuvenation in multiple organs to reduce the risk of bone and muscle loss in aging patients, increased resistance to diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancer and even Alzheimer’s.
One fascinating aspect of Longo’s work is the impact on the brain. A study that used rats with dementia showed that alternate-day food deprivation for 12 weeks led to significant reductions in oxidative damage to brain tissue and reduced mental deficits compared to a control diet.
Other animal studies have demonstrated that fasting increases the generation of nerve cells and enhances brain function. In monkeys, researchers have found that cancers and cardiovascular disease are reduced by 50% when a calorie restricted diet was administered.
As trials continue to study the impact on humans, Longo is excited to see if they can replicate the results from the animal trials. Doing so could reduce the need for certain types of drugs and be a significant in the treatment of certain health conditions related to aging.