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).
In the first article, I introduced you to a fascinating book by a musician interested in longevity, who eventually became one of the most important researchers in the field. Professor Valter Longo is the 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 primary aging.
The first article introduced his history as a distinguished researcher and presented his first four recommendations for the longevity diet. Here are his 5 other recommendations for the development of a diet based on healthy longevity.
5. Eat what your ancestors ate.
Be careful to understand what this means. Here, Professor Longo is not referring to the “paleo diet”, with which he disagrees and so do I. In summary, the Paleo Diet recommends eating like cavemen did, since this is how we have evolved for thousands of years. It makes a lot of sense, but …
Just because we don’t have access to large amounts of whole grains doesn’t mean that’s necessarily a bad thing. A recent study, published in January 2019, reported analyzes from the World Health Organization, the data for 51 countries on cardiovascular deaths attributable to an unbalanced diet (in order of importance [Meier T. et al., 2019]). ). Here are the results:
- Low in whole grains = 429,000 deaths;
- Low in nuts and seeds = 341,000 deaths;
- Poor in fruit = 262,000 deaths;
- High in sodium = 251,000 deaths;
- Poor in omega-3 = 227,000 deaths.
Whole grains are extremely beneficial for your health.
What Professor Longo is referring to is access to certain types of food, depending on our origins, dating back a few hundred or even a thousand years. For example, almost all people of Asian descent are not able to digest lactose in their adulthood. This is because their ancestors simply did not consume it. In adulthood, they no longer produce the enzyme called β-galactosidase, which helps digest lactose.
Professor Longo thus underlines the fact that we should try to respect, in regards to our food choices, the main foods that were consumed by our ancestors. For a person of Italian descent, one should not try to eat like someone from an African descent.
- When less than normal weight and/or waist circumference: eat 2 meals per day, including a main meal, a small meal, and a nutritious snack.
- When at a normal weight, undergoing weight loss or loss of muscle mass: eat 3 meals per day + a nutritious snack.
Here it is one of the most important messages from this great specialist in nutrition/longevity, and also one of the most delicate. Professor Longo also mentions that, past the age of 70, just like with protein intake, we need to pay much more attention to these types of recommendations. After this age, the ability to adapt decreases. It is more difficult to manage periods with fewer calories.
Remember that our eating frequency and the size of our meals – assuming they are rich in vegetables – should be used to monitor our waistlines and adjust accordingly. We usually eat too much, too often. The recommendation is therefore two meals, one light and one normal (not a buffet), as well as a nutritious snack such as raw vegetables with fruits or nuts; three meals if at a normal weight or when losing weight.
It is possible here to develop another reflex: the awareness of feeling our hunger. Often we are not really hungry. We eat because we have to eat, because now is the time to eat. In addition, we eat portions that are considered adequate because our parents showed it to us or because the restaurant offers it to us.
We should pay more attention to eating according to how we feel, also bearing in mind that food can be a great reward or a source of comfort.
No two people are alike, and no recommendation should apply without considering each other’s realities. Do not hesitate to consult a nutritionist.
It is obvious that this recommendation of 2 meals and a snack is not in line with the recommendations conveyed for decades: it is supposedly necessary to have 3 meals a day and two snacks. Remember that for the majority of people, being aware of our hunger is good for our health and we should pay attention to it to make sure we feel it.
In this regard, here is an interesting confirmation of the importance of this recommendation, taken from a study published in 2019 by a cardiologist, professor at Duke University in the United States:
“A moderate calorie restriction (300 calories) in people who already have a healthy weight improves their physiological parameters in relation to the risks of metabolic diseases (obesity, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases).”
An average reduction of as little as 300 calories per day already lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. Popular belief is that if we don’t have a weight problem, we can eat whatever we want. This is partly true, provided you eat well, and that this diet is geared towards high nutrient and low-calorie intake (no “fast foods”).
7. Divide your meals over a maximum of 12 hours.
In my explanation from the previous recommendation, I mentioned two particularly important things:
- We usually eat too much, and too often, and
- Being aware of our hunger is good for our health and we should pay attention to it to make sure we feel it.
Professor Longo’s recommendation number 7 combines these two aspects, in connection with his research results. Over the past decades, many dietary recommendations have been geared towards a constant balance of energy intake. Avoid not eating enough at one meal, so as not to compensate and overeat at the next meal. Here is another example of putting too much attention on the negative: the risk of compensating at the next meal. For my part, I recommend focusing on the positive: pay attention to your feeling of satiety so that you don’t overeat, and remember that feeling that sensation of hunger is good for your health.
Thus, the 12-hour period without eating allows the body to enter its cycle of using its reserves, which is very beneficial for health. Remember that for an equal caloric intake, it is beneficial if it is consumed over a shorter period of time. This period could also be 8 or 10 hours within the day.
Here, Professor Longo’s recommendation is a maximum of 12 hours. This is easily achievable. Even if you have dinner relatively late, it is possible to have breakfast also later: finish dinner at 9 p.m. and breakfast at 9 a.m. the next morning. It should be noted that this recommendation has a broad consensus among researchers in the field of longevity, but it is not applicable to some people who could end up with very low blood sugar levels or drops in blood pressure. In some cases, improving other health conditions would be a prerequisite for this recommendation to be implemented. For example, physical activity, with weight loss if applicable, could improve glucose management enough to help reduce the length of feeding periods throughout the day.
8. Regularly practice periods of diets with lower caloric intake (approximately 800 calories), but very nutritious, if you are at a normal weight and not affected by diseases.
What does the term “regularly” and “very nutritious” mean? The “regularly” is applied considering, of course, that the person runs no risk in reducing their daily calorie intake for a week. Professor Longo recommends doing this for people at a normal weight, twice a year. This is to reduce calorie intake to 800 calories for 5 to 7 days.
The “very nutritious” refers to a practically vegetarian diet, very rich in nutrients, like a legume salad containing avocado. Here you have your vegetables, some fruit, your proteins and good fats; all this in a small, nutritious meal without too many calories.
It is complex to calculate calories and ensure that these periods of reduction are well balanced in nutrients. Professor Longo gives examples of meals in his book, but the easiest way is to consult a nutritionist.
9. Use the 8 previous recommendations to control your weight: size 34 for men, 28 for women. From the age of 40 and 35 respectively, the risk of premature mortality is doubled.
Eating well and feeling good about yourself should of course be the priority. Professor Longo’s goal is to bring your attention to the use of portion size and frequency of eating to help maintain a healthy weight. Remember that the primary goal of this chapter was not weight control, but a diet related to longevity.
Also note that for people above the values mentioned, losing a little weight is already beneficial. Also, as you get older, it seems that a slightly heavier weight reduces your risk of certain health problems. Professor Longo mentions that for people aged 70 and over, a slightly higher body mass index would help them maintain muscle mass.
The recommendation here is to use healthy eating tips to manage your weight well; but if you have weight problems, it is not enough. A holistic approach to health makes sense. It should be complementary to other factors in healthy body weight management, such as exercising, sleeping well, managing stress, and most importantly, having a good outlook on life.
Other suggested articles:
- Fasting Article 4: Stimulate Repair and Slow Down Aging
- DIGESTION: Five Things You Need To Know About the FODMAP Diet
- Why Is Vitamin D So Important?
- Natural Products: The Opinion of a Researcher
- 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
- Kolber et Houle, 2014. Oral vitamin B12 — a cost-effective alternative. Vol 60 : february • février 2014 | Canadian Family Physician • Le Médecin de famille canadien.
- Kraus et al, 2 years of calorie restriction and cardiometabolic risk (CALERIE): exploratory outcomes of a multicentre, phase 2, randomised controlled. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. Volume 7, ISSUE 9, P673-683, September 01, 2019.
- Meier T. et al. Cardiovascular mortality attributable to dietary risk factors in 51 countries in the WHO European Region from 1990 to 2016: a systematic analysis of the Global Burden of Disease Study. European Journal of Epidemiology (2019).
- Moore E, Mander A, Ames D, Carne R, Sanders K, Watters D. 2012. Cognitive impairment and vitamin B12: a review. Int Psychogeriatr. 2012 Apr;24(4):541-56. Review.
- Valter Longo, 2016 (en français 2018). Le Régime de Longévité. Editions Actes Sud Format : 336 pages.
- Willcox et al., Caloric Restriction, the Traditional Okinawan Diet, and Healthy Aging: The Diet of the World’s Longest-Lived People and Its Potential Impact on …. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1114: 434–455 (2007).