There are so many books and articles about the right diet that it can be bewildering. There is the GI, Atkins, Paleo, Ketogenic, Dukan, Scandinavian LCHF, Banting, Bulletproof, South Beach and I’m sure many more diets.
All of these have there strong advocates and so it’s hard to decide which one to opt for. Thankfully, I came across the work of Professor Valter Longo,an expert on ageing, at USC Davis School of Gerontology. His work focuses on diets that can help you live longer and healthier, rather than diets that focus on weight loss and six-packs and is featured in his book , The Longevity Diet. His approach is based on five pillars:
- Juventology – understanding how nutrients such as protein and sugars work at the cellular level. This is where mice studies come in.
- Epidemiology – stay causes and risk factors for disease in defined populations. So the theories from (1) can be assessed in the real world
- Clinical studies – ideas that seem to work from (2) can then be tested in randomised clinical trials on people
- Centenarian studies -studies of populations with large numbers of people living to over 100 years old can used to assess the long-term effects of different styles of living. These are places like Okinawa (Japan), Loma Linda (California), Calabria and Sardinia (Italy), Costa Rica and Greece.
- Studies of complex systems – looking at the body in a holistic fashion.
He finds that many diets are based on one or two pillars, but rarely all five. Take a high-protein, high fat, low-carb diet (like Atkins or Dukan), it turns out to be one of the worst for health. Populations with record longevity do not eat like this, laboratory studies find that high protein and high saturated fat intake are associated with ageing and disease.
So what is the optimal diet for living long? Here’s what he finds:
- Eat a mostly vegan diet with some fish (two or three times a week).
- Consume low but sufficient proteins. Consume around 0.31 to 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. So if you weigh 150 pounds/70Kg/11 stones that would mean 52 grams of protein per day. Protein intake should be raised after age 65 in individuals losing weight and muscle. The diet should be low in animal proteins and high in vegetable proteins.
- Minimise bad fats (saturated, hydrogenated, trans) and sugars, and maximise good fats (unsaturated) and complex carbs. So salmon, almonds, walnuts, whole bread and vegetables are in, and sugars, pasta, rice, white bread, fruit juices and fruits that easily convert to simple sugars (apples, oranges, bananas) are out.
- Be nourished. The body needs protein, essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), minerals, vitamins, and sufficient sugar to fight disease. To be sure you get enough nutrients, every three days take a multi-vitamin and mineral pill, plus an omega-3 fish oil soft gel.
- Eat at the table of your ancestors. Choose foods that were common on the table of your parents, grandparents and grand-parents so long as they meet the Longevity Diet criteria.
- Eat twice a day plus a snack.
- Time-restricted eating. Restrict your eating to 11 or 12 hours or less per day. If you eat breakfast after 8am, finish dinner before 8pm. Shorter periods of feeding (10 hours or less) are even more effective.
- Periodic prolonged fasting-mimicking diets. People are 70 years old and free from certain diseases should undergo five-day periods during which they consume a relatively high calorie fasting mimicking diet (water-only fasts are much harder to follow).
- Follow 1 to 8 in order to maintain a waist circumference of less than 35.5 (ideally 33) inches for men and less than 29.5 (ideally 27) inches for women.
Aside from diet, Longo also recommends:
- Walk fast one per day
- Moderate exercise for 2.5 hours a week, some of it vigorous
- Do weight training and weight-free exercises to strengthen muscles (combined with 30 grams of protein intake following weight training)
- Stay close to family and friends
- Belong to spiritual or religious organisations
- Volunteer to help others
This general approach sounds much more reasonable than many diets and it’s something I can follow!