From Chapter 5.2 of the book “Live Young 4: Don’t Be a Slave to Your Genetics”. Éric Simard, 245 pages, 2020 (currently only available in French).
This is the title of a book. The gripping tale of a musician interested in aging, who became one of the most important researchers in the field of longevity. Professor Valter Longo, head of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. He teaches gerontology and biology, with a specialty in understanding the processes of primary aging and the effects of diet on these processes.
Since 2014, Prof. Longo has also been the head of the Oncology and Longevity Program at the Firc Institute of Molecular Oncology in Milan. It is one of the best European cancer research centers. He is one of the few scientists to combine observations of century-old populations with epidemiological research, the basic research on aging and clinical research.
Professor Longo became known for his work on fasting and calorie restriction. For thirty years, he also studied the diet of centenarian populations in order to derive research approaches that could optimize dietary recommendations for longevity. He seeks, among other things, to reproduce the beneficial effects of calorie restriction – without its drawbacks and its applicable risks to health. His work has led to significant advances in applications in prevention and treatment in the fields of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.
The Italian origins and the science of longevity
At the beginning of his book, Professor Longo explains that his parents and grandparents were from one of the regions of the world with the highest number of centenarians per capita: the village of Molochio. With 2 centenarians per 1000 inhabitants, this represents 3 times more centenarians than in Okinawa, the Japanese island known for the great longevity from its inhabitants.
He originally came to the United States with the idea of playing music. However, the differences in eating habits, his interest in biology, and his curiosity for the particular longevity of his origins opened the doors to scientific research. The first chapter of his book explains how the musician became a great scientist, going through the apprenticeships of the American military.
The approach differs profoundly from usual dietary recommendations because it focuses on longevity and not on the diseases to fight, on the risk factors to reduce, or on weight loss. Specifically, he is interested in the ability to stay young. He believes that aging exists because species have already achieved their goal (reproduction), without having to invest heavily in their protection to achieve greater longevity. He calls this programmed longevity or even “juventology” (the science of staying young).
His research has shown that protein and simple sugar intake accelerates aging. His work on yeast has made great strides in identifying the cellular mechanisms that cause primary aging.
Strongly convinced that it is possible to age in good health, even at a very advanced age, he gave an example of two super-centenarians (over 110 years old) whom he himself, was able to meet. He recounted his visit to an Italian woman who was, at the time, the dean of humanity. Their great physical and mental capacities, for people over 110, convinced him that it was possible to identify recommendations that would allow more people to reach old age.
He based this on, what he called, his five pillars:
- Basic research in biogerontology (why we age)
- Epidemiological research (on populations)
- Clinical trials (aimed at testing an approach in humans in a controlled environment)
- The centenarians study
- Understanding of complex systems (bringing together all of the knowledge)
The objective: to develop a diet that allows us to mimic the benefits of calorie restriction (or fasting), to improve our repair capacities and allow us to stay young longer.
He has thus developed dietary recommendations aimed at keeping people healthy, protecting them from disease as long as possible. He estimated that people could earn 10 to 30 years extra. I myself, had estimated, in the subtitle of my first book released in 2016 – at the same time as the first version in Italian of Professor Longo’s book – that we could gain 20 years: “Extend your life by 20 years”.
Professor Longo bundles all of his dietary recommendations into what he called “The Longevity Diet.”
The Longevity Diet
Here are two key recommendations that should always be kept in mind as we strive to eat well:
- First, the most important thing is to get all the nutrients that can keep us healthy, and get as much of it as possible.
- Second, it is to get them while consuming as few calories as possible, therefore from foods with the highest concentration of nutrients.
I will explain Professor Valter Longo’s 9 main recommendations regarding the longevity diet to live healthy, longer. I will comment on each one to put them into context and allow you to better understand them in order to make them more easily applicable.
1. Eat a diet based on plants and fish (2 to 3 times a week), for those up to 65-70 years old. Then incorporate foods of animal origin (eggs, milk, cheese).
However, before 65 years of age, care must be taken to have sufficient sources of protein. Professor Longo recommends here, a diet based on proteins of plant origin (legumes, soy, peanuts) before 65 years old and the integration of animal proteins (eggs, milk and cheese) after 65 years in order to slightly increase (10% ) protein intake. This protein intake is essential in order to limit muscle loss (with physical activity). If you don’t eat legumes, try incorporating them into your diet. Besides protein intake, they are linked to longevity for many people around the world.
According to recent studies, there is no risk and a lot of benefits come from consuming eggs in moderation (one to two per day). Personally, I recommend considering eggs – even before the age of 65 – among other things for their lutein, vitamin B12 and choline. Also remember that if you are not able to implement these recommendations to the letter, doing so partially is already a good thing. Replacing one serving of animal protein with one serving of plant protein should already be a source of pride for many people. You have to walk before you run.
2. Eat little protein: 40 grams for people who weigh up to 100 pounds or more, 60 grams for those who weigh 200 pounds or more. After the age of 65, would require a meal richer in protein per day (30 g; preferably after exercise), where you would increase the amount by 10%.
Here, it should be noted that the body largely causes primary aging (the body’s urge to age) in response to its measure of our ability to grow. Our rate of development when we are young is directly related to our rate of aging later on in life. Our body’s assessment methods for our ability to grow are related to calorie intake and protein intake. For example, when we are young, the higher the calorie and protein intake, the faster the growth rate (and vice versa).
Because these are the same mechanisms for aging, the greater the intake of calories and protein, the faster we age. We must therefore try to maintain essential intake only, in order to stay in good health. Professor Longo’s recommendations are based on his research data and observational data from centenarian populations.
For example, in Okinawa – the island of Japan known for the healthy longevity of its people – the daily calorie intake has traditionally been 1,785 calories compared to a protein intake of 39 grams. This was a diet richer in nutrients for the number of calories consumed. Thus, the people of Okinawa eat more in quantity (weight), but less calories. Their diet is richer in vegetables and contains less animal products.
3. Cut out bad fats and refined sugars and replace them with good fats and complex whole grain sugars.
It’s simple: zero tolerance. Here, don’t tell yourself it’s good to eat it occasionally. We should never eat refined flour products (white bread and pasta); always eat whole grains (even crackers). We must aim for “zero tolerance” to really have a significant impact on our health.
As for bad fats, stop frying, fast foods, animal fats, saturated fats and cold cuts. The good fats are those in olive oil, nuts, oily fish and avocados.
4. Give your body the nutrients it needs: a quality multivitamin every 3 days (nutrients required from a reputable business).
Yes, Professor Longo recommends taking a multivitamin supplement. Why ? Because it is essential for healthy aging to make sure that you are not lacking in certain vitamins and minerals. He took the opportunity to stress that it is important to consider the quality of the products, knowing that the products on the market are not all equivalent.
For my part, I regularly mention in conferences that if your diet is rich enough in fruits and vegetables, to which are added nuts, you should only consider omega-3s and vitamin D. A multivitamin cannot hurt, but it may not be necessary.
It should be noted here that Professor Longo talks a lot in his book about Calorie Reduction, Fasting and Intermittent Fasting. It is of course even more important to consider a vitamin and mineral supplement, if you are having periods of calorie restriction, to make sure you are not missing out on essentials.
Don’t hesitate to consult a nutritionist and talk to your doctor, and be aware that these calorie restriction periods are not recommended for everyone. For example, the list is not exhaustive, it is advisable to seek medical advice if you are over 70 years of age, have chronic illness, problems with glucose management, blood pressure medication, or are severely overweight.
Conclusion for this first part
Given the large amount of information, we decided to separate it into two articles. In article 2, I will review Professor Longo’s 5 other recommendations and continue to give you my comments on his recommendations for developing a healthy longevity-oriented diet.
Other suggested readings:
- Fasting, Article 1: The Biological Basics of Reflection
- Eat for Your Health and That of the Planet!
- Natural Products: We Don’t Need That?
- A Danger Is Hidden Behind the Ketogenic Diet…?
- Bergeron et Pouliot, 2011. La carence en vitamine B12 — sous-estimée et sous-diagnostiquée. Le Médecin du Québec, Volume 46, Numéro 2, 2011.
- International Agency for Research on Cancer. 2015. Volume 114 : Consumption of red meat and processed meat. IARC Working Group. Lyon ; 6–13 September, 2015. IARC Monogr Eval Carcinog Risks Hum (in press). https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(15)00444-1/fulltext
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