Updated: Feb 2, 2022
In November 2018 my wife, Mary Elizabeth, and I attended the “1st International Conference on Fasting, Dietary Restriction, Longevity and Disease” on the campus of the University of Southern California. We attended because the course director was Dr. Valter Longo.
We were familiar with Dr. Longo’s recommendations offered in his 2016 book, The Longevity Diet. Mary and I spoke of Dr. Longo’s research and that it gave a scientific underpinning to the Mediterranean Diet. Refer to the two Lessons Learned, “The Man Who Taught Us How to Eat” and “Mediterranean Wisdom” regarding the Mediterranean Diet.
Valter Longo, Ph.D. born in Italy, came to the United States as a teenager. He had a goal. He intended to become a professional jazz musician. He determined that the path to his career would be through the famed music department of the University of North Texas. He proceeded with his music studies in Denton, Texas. In The Longevity Diet, there is a photograph of Dr. Longo playing his guitar in front of a centenarian in the Longo family town of Molochio.
Walking the streets of Denton, his thoughts lead him to intense self examination. Young Valter Longo changed his mind. He had a compelling reason. His relatives who preceded him to the United States from the region of Calabria in southernmost Italy were dying young. His relatives who remained in Calabria lived healthy, productive lives into their nineties, even past one hundred years of age. Why?
In his 2016 book, The Longevity Diet, Dr. Longo recalls "I was exposed for the first time to the American diet. Having grown up in two regions of Italy, with some of the healthiest cuisines in the world and never really having thought about it. I was amazed at the giant portions, the huge amounts of meat and cheese consumed at almost every meal, the sugary drinks and snacks so readily available. The other thing I noticed was that my relatives living in Chicago were developing diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments uncommon to my family back home."
Dr. Longo notes "At the time, I didn't think much about it, but later these exposures motivated me and helped me solidify hypotheses about diet, diseases and longevity."
Dr. Longo describes his search for the answer to the why. "My search into youthful longevity has led me around the world, from Los Angeles to the Andes of southern Ecuador; from Okinawa, Japan to Russia; from the Netherlands to southern Germany. But ultimately back to Italy."
Studying human populations across the world, experimenting in his laboratories with yeast and mice, ultimately performing clinical trials on human subjects, some relatively healthy and some very sick, Dr. Longo developed the concepts included in The Longevity Diet.
Dr. Longo observes, ”Most people are discouraged and often confused by nutritional news...So we need a better system to filter out the noise and extract beneficial information.”
Dr. Longo explains, “This method is based on my own studies and also on the studies of many other laboratories and clinicians. It uses five research areas to determine whether a nutrient or combination of nutrients is good or bad and to identify the ideal combination of foods for optimal longevity.”
The Five Pillars of Research:
Basic juventology research. “Without animal studies to determine whether a diet can in fact extend longevity, in addition to having acute effects on general health, it is difficult to translate the basic discoveries to human intervention.”
Epidemiology. “This is the study of the causes and important risk factors for disease and other health-related conditions in defined populations.”
Clinical studies. “Hypothesis formulated in basic and epidemiological studies eventually must be tested in randomized, controlled clinical trials. This is the gold standard to demonstrate efficacy.”
Centenarian studies. “Studies of various centenarian populations from around the world provide long-term evidence of the safety, efficacy and compliance associated with a particular diet (for example, a low-sugar diet).”
Studies of complex systems. “This pillar is the result of my fascination with..the need to simplify the human body’s complexity by identifying machines that can serve as models to teach us about the function and loss of function of human organs and systems.”
Dr. Longo’s Recommendations:
Follow a Pescatarian diet. “Aim for a diet that is close to one hundred percent plant and fish based...If you are past age sixty-five and start to lose muscle mass, strength, and weight, introduce more fish into the diet, along with other animal based foods commonly consumed by populations with record longevity, like eggs and certain cheeses (preferably feta and or pecorino and yogurt made from goat’s milk, all of which are commonly consumed in high longevity areas.”
Consume low but sufficient proteins. “Consume 0.31 to 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. If you weigh 130 pounds, that comes to about 40 to 47 grams of protein per day…” Fifty grams of protein approximates four hard boiled eggs and one and a half cups of cooked lentils or seven teaspoons of peanut butter and one and a half cups of full fat Greek yogurt.
Minimize bad fats and sugars and maximize good fats and complex carbohydrates. “In fact, your diet should be rich in good unsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil, salmon, almonds and walnuts...the diet should be rich in complex carbohydrates, such as those provided by whole bread, legumes and vegetables, but low in sugars and limited in pasta, rice, bread, fruit, and fruit juices, which are easily converted into sugars by the time they reach the intestine.”
Be nourished. “You can think of the human body as an army of cells...Like an army in need of rations...the body needs proteins, essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), minerals, vitamins, and, yes, sufficient levels of sugar to fight the many battles raging inside and outside cells.” In addition, “As extra insurance, take a multivitamin and mineral pill, plus an omega-3 fish oil soft gel every two or three days.”
Eat a variety of foods from your ancestry. “To take in all the required nutrients, you need to eat a variety of foods, and it's best to choose from foods that were common on your parents’, grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ table.”
Eat twice a day plus a snack. “It is extremely difficult for most people to regulate food intake when they are told to eat so often.”
Observe time restricted eating. “Another common practice adopted by many centenarian groups is time restricted eating, or confining all meals and snacks to eleven to twelve hours or less..”
Dr. Longo summarizes, “For most people, the Longevity Diet can be adopted simply by replacing a limited number of items with food that are just as enjoyable, if not more so. Virtually all diets fail because they are too extreme to maintain in the long run. They also fail because they require major changes to your habits and lifestyle...Because the Longevity Diet is closer to diets generally adopted by Americans, Europeans, and Asians, it can be embraced by people all over the world.”
My wife is of Northern European and Eastern European ancestry, and I of Southern European ancestry. We raised our children with family meals of the three regions. With our children grown and married and with lives of their own, Mary and I share our table keeping in mind the lessons of Dr. Valter Longo and the Longevity Diet.