The Longevity Diet

 by Valter Longo, PhD

Dr. Valter Longo, author of “The Longevity Diet”
is a leading longevity researcher with a
message about why eating less has more
advantages than you could have imagined.  In
his book, he consolidates strategies for health
and longevity into a sensible guide.  His
research on fasting is fascinating and
encouraging for anyone seeking new strategies
to improve health and longevity.

What Dr. Longo has compiled is a longevity
formula that includes diets, exercise
recommendations, and fasting strategies for a
healthy body and mind.  Unfortunately, some
may dismiss the book as just another fad diet
with a clickbait title.  What separated this book
from fads are Dr. Longo’s decades of research,
his commitment to peer review of his data, and
a five-pronged methodical approach to
assessing the value of data that the
recommendations have been drawn from.

When a world-renowned longevity researcher
writes a new book, it’s interesting to learn what’
s new.  The gem this time is research showing
that a five day reduced calorie fasting
mimicking diet (FMD) can be as effective as
water fasting.  Given the difficulty most have with
water fasting, the effectiveness of the FMD is
good news.  Dr. Longo also reminds us that, on
average, no known method beats a calorie
restricted diet for health and longevity.  
Interestingly, the same effect has been
observed in every species it has been tested on
(flies, worms, rats, dogs, apes, etc.)

At the center of longevity research is the living
cell.  A combination of healthy cells create a
healthy person that can live longer with a better
quality of life.  For this reason, finding ways to
switch on the body's ability to promote cellular
protection, regeneration, and rejuvenation is at
the heart of longevity research.  Among the
most interesting and repeatable finding are
studies about the effects of cell underfeeding
and cell overfeeding.  This research shows that
overfeeding shortens the life of all organisms
and food reduction to the minimal nourishment
needed extends life and improves health.  
Experimentally, research also shows that
protein and sugar consumed in excess are the
foods that have the greatest effect on shortening
a cell’s life.

Interestingly, a period of fasting or reduced food
intake not only burns excess calories, it also
stimulates a condition in which the body begins
to feed on itself (autophagy).  While this may
seem at odds with health there are good things
that happen.  The body has the ability to identify
cells that are the weakest and consume or
dispose of them first.  That’s a good thing since
these are the cells most likely to misbehave and
become cancers.  What happens next is even
better.  When fasting stops, the body
regenerates new cells that are healthier and
better able to promote health.  Another
advantage of the fasting mimicking diet (FMD)
over traditional fasting approaches is that it
stimulates the loss of abdominal fat while
conserving muscle and bone mass.  While there
is much to like about the effects of fasting, there
are conditions that can make fasting
dangerous.  If considering a new diet or fasting,
let’s discuss it at your next check-up visit.

A new recommendation from Dr. Longo’s
research for cancer patients is to incorporate a
fast with traditional treatments for cancer.  Dr.
Longo’s research shows that fasting can often
improve the effectiveness of traditional cancer
therapies.  Unfortunately, in cases where the
body is frail, fasting would be contraindicated.  
In either case, a talk with the oncologist is in
order before trying this strategy.

Having been raised near one of the Blue Zones
(Molochio, Italy), Dr. Longo provides his direct
knowledge of centurions and their lifestyle.  
From this experience, he reminds us that most
centurions in a region fit into a lifestyle pattern
that’s common to the group.  Curiously, a very
few manage to maintain long healthy lives
despite the worst lifestyles imaginable.  For
example, one of the longest living people
smoked until the last few years of life.  The
message is a reminder that in all populations
there will be a few outliers that will have
exceptional characteristics.  From this
background, Dr. Longo offers a set of
recommendations that include the following

• Eat a mostly vegan diet with a little fish once in
a while and avoid fish high in heavy metals.

• Consume low but sufficient protein

• Minimize bad fats and sugars, and maximize
good fats and complex carbohydrates.

• Eat the foods your ancestors ate if they lived
long lives and were healthy.

• Restrict your feeding window to 12 hours or
less each day.

• Eat two meals a day plus a snack unless you
have weight loss issues.

• Use the fasting mimicking diet periodically for
5-7 days.

• Exercise at least 150 minutes a week.

The goal is to create a lifestyle that encourages
the body to rebuild cells.  The advantage being
that rebuilding can shift the end of the body’s
youthful state from the 50s on out to the 80s or
90’s.  While fasting may seem a tough
recommendation to follow, the FMD as a calorie
reduction strategy makes fasting far easier.

Perhaps a diet change like the Longevity Diet is
at odds with what you believe would bring you
happiness.  Because of peculiarities in human
nature that would not be an unusual response.  
Many assume that their food habits are what
make them happy.  As with many assumptions,
this is an illusion.  What makes us happier is the
vitality that good health gives us.  Our human
inclination to pursue false beliefs is
demonstrated by Harvard professor Daniel
Gilbert in his Ted Talk “
The Surprising Science
of Happiness.”  The reality is that in contrast
with common beliefs about eliminating foods
high in saturated fats, red meat, fried foods,
cheese, refined foods, and soft drinks the
options for healthy foods are incredibly varied,
tasty and nutritious.  Should you find Dr. Daniel
Gilbert’s explanations compelling you may also
more from this happiness expert.

As for Dr. Longo’s book, “The Longevity Diet,”
there are more gems to be enjoyed from a
leisurely read.  If interested, pick up a copy from
the public library.  If not ready to take on a 300-
page book, consider watching Dr. Longo’s 20-
minute video, “
Fasting: Awakening the
Rejuvenation from Within.

There is much more to learn from the Longevity
Diet.  An appendix to the book provides a two-
week meal plan.  A separate appendix to the
book contains a reference for food sources of
vitamins and minerals.  In general, the diet
recommendations for the Longevity Diet would
probably be met with almost any of the current
whole food plant-based diets from authors like
Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Joel Furhman, or Dr.
Caldwell Esselton.

If you are the type that prefers to read a
personal story, you may find Jenni Russell's
experience, “
Fasting transformed me after
medicine failed,” helpful.  While her experience
is anecdotal, she may have it right. Perhaps
fasting is the panacea that western medicine

While diet is a significant factor in how
gracefully we age, the importance of physical
activity is not far behind.  As that thought lingers
in your mind, recall the 100 benefits of walking.  
At least a dozen of the benefits could apply to
everyone I’ve ever met.  Find your dozen
benefits, set the alarm clock as a reminder, and
join me for a life boosting walk around the lakes.

Nancy Neighbors, MD
      Huntsville, Alabama

More About Longevity

Among the longevity factors within your control,
the food you eat has the greatest effect.  The
dilemma is which foods to choose from with so
many conflicting claims.  Fortunately, there is a
methodology for identifying the
recommendations for longevity.  This
methodology is based on testing each food
recommendation against the five premises
described below.

1. What has been learned from experiments
with other life forms?  Even simple life forms
often have 50% of human DNA.  This research
provides insights that help explain why
interventions work and in the absence of better
research is sometimes all that’s available.

2. Epidemiology is the study of diseases in
populations.  By studying the effects of foods,
toxins, lifestyle, etc. on large populations it’s
possible to test a hypothesis with varying
degrees of statistical confidence.  Often these
studies involve thousands or even millions of

3. Clinical studies based on randomized trials
are the gold standard for lifestyle and longevity
research.  Unfortunately, this is also the most
expensive and time-consuming type of
research.  When humans are the subjects,
obtaining meaningful longevity research is a
problem unless you don’t mind waiting a lifetime
for the results.

4. Studying the lifestyle of centenarians is
another approach.  It’s hard to argue with

5. Analysis based on simulation of our body’s
processes can complement the previous
approaches.  In essence, this approach views
the body as a set of interconnected processes.  
Unfortunately, understanding the complexity of
these processes is a work in progress that
limits the use of this approach.

Each of these approaches has value but also
has limitations.  The true value is when all
approaches point to the same conclusion.  This
is where recommendations in popular diet
books and magazine articles often fall short.  
Most fad diets rarely measure up to even one
criterion.  A case in point is the Atkins diet
which fails all five test.

Dr. Longo’s book contains many more insights
than space in a newsletter allows.  At the risk of
over-saturating you with information, below are
a few more gems.

• All living creatures appear to be programmed
to die except for the rare situation where certain
genetic errors occur.  One group in Ecuador
(Laron group) has a genetic defect that
diminishes their production of growth hormones
which stunts their growth.  Interestingly it also
leaves them largely free of cancer, diabetes and
many other diseases despite eating a very poor
diet.  In essence, their genetic defect allows
them to live their lives in younger bodies.

• Our biological age is the greatest risk factor
for cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s
and many other diseases.  Once diagnosed,
most treatments for cancer and cardiovascular
disease only extend life a little over three years
on average.  If all major diseases were cured
tomorrow, it would only increase life expectancy
by about 12 years.  By comparison, delaying
aging with lifestyle interventions can potentially
add several decades.

• In the United States, the population that lives
the longest is the Seven Day Adventist
community living in Loma Linda, California.
Their common characteristics include a
vegetarian diet, 12 hour time-restricted eating,
light dinners, exercising often, and maintaining
a healthy weight.  In this population, the vegans
(eating no meat) have health outcomes that are
even better than the vegetarians.

• The fact that exercise is good for us is hardly
news.  Not so well understood is what kind of
exercise is best and how much is needed for
health and longevity?  The short answer is that
the best exercise for longevity is the exercise
you enjoy doing and will keep doing as the
years go by.  While any exercise is better than
none, the best combinations of exercises are
those that use every muscle in the body.  So,
how good is exercise for us?  In several large
studies, 150 minutes of exercise per week
reduces mortality over eight years by about
47%.  Increasing exercise time to 300 minutes
per week reduced mortality by 54%.  
Decreasing time to 75 minutes per week
decreased mortality by only 20%.  Exercising
more than 300 minutes per week provided no
additional reduction in mortality and in some
studies reduced the health value of exercise.  
For most, the best return on effort is a goal of
150 minutes per week.  Exercising more can
increase the benefit but at a diminishing rate of
return for the time and effort expended.

• Not everyone should fast. In general, fasting is
not recommended if pregnant, underweight,
over 70 (unless in excellent health), fragile,
affected by pathologies, diabetic, hypertensive,
etc.  Unless very healthy, the first step in
preparation for a fast should be a talk with a
doctor about your fitness for an extended fast.

• The Fasting Mimicking Diet typically last for 5
days followed by a nutrition recovery day.  In
general, it’s a calorie reduction diet that
provides about 1,100 calories on the first day.  
On days 2-5 the diet provides about 800
calories per day.  Side effects vary. Some feel
weaker during parts of the diet, others feel they
have more energy.  Most feel hungry on days 1-
3, with hunger urges decreasing on days 4-5.  
For best result from fasting, fasting should be
preceded by a period of healthy foods.

• Benefits of the FMD typically include younger
looking skin, better overall health, stronger
mental focus, and an ability to better resist
binge eating.

• Reducing food intake to 12 hours a day is
often observed in long-lived populations.  
Further restricting the hours that food is
consumed can be advantageous for weight loss
purposes.  However, restricting the hours food
is eaten to less than 12 hours per day can have
adverse side effects including gallstones.

• The FMD has been demonstrated to improve
mental function in animal studies involving
normal mice and mice with Alzheimer’s.  Given
that fasting after the age of 70 is only for those
in peak health, the frail would usually be
inappropriate candidates for the treatment.  The
greatest proven merit for the FMD remains as a
preventative measure.

• The FMD has been shown to reduce the
effects of twenty-nine diseases including type 1
diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease,
polymyalgia, psoriasis, lupus, and rheumatoid
arthritis.  Following a diet based of foods eaten
by your ancestors prior to the advent of the
globalized food delivery system is another
approach to discovering which foods are least
likely to induce autoimmune reactions.

• Small animal studies often provides insights
into what may be expected in humans.  As an
example, in mouse studies, a low protein/high
carbohydrate diet improved adiposity (weight
loss), improved metabolic health, and improved
longevity.  In contrast, a high protein/low
carbohydrate diet decreased adiposity (weight
loss) at the risk of greater metabolic health
issues and shorter length of life.  Just as in
mice, many diets produce weight loss.  Only the
best diets produce weight loss along with health

Patients that used the FMD for five days a
month over a period of three months had
remarkably positive outcomes that included.

•        Eight pounds of weight loss (mostly
abdominal fat)

•        Reduction in fasting glucose

•        Reduction in blood pressure

•        Reduction in triglycerides and cholesterol
(total and LDL)

•        Reduction in IGF-1 which is associated
with risk for cancer

•        Reduction in C-reactive protein, a risk
factor for cardiovascular disease