On The Record: This “Longevity Doctor” On How Changing Your Diet Can Help You Live Longer

longevity diet
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* Dr. Valter Longo is the director of the Longevity Institute at USC
* His new book, “The Longevity Diet,” details what to eat to stay young
* Longo is from a town in Italy that is home to some of the longest-lived people in the world

We all know that what we eat can affect how we feel, but can changing our diet also affect how long we live? According to Dr. Valter Longo, it’s not only about what you eat — but how often you’re eating too.

The director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and of the Program on Longevity and Cancer at IFOM (Molecular Oncology FIRC Institute) in Milan, Longo has been studying the fundamental mechanisms of aging for years. His work has even earned him the 2010 Nathan Shock Lecture Award from the National Institute on Aging (NIA/NIH) and the 2013 Vincent Cristofalo “Rising Star” Award in Aging Research from the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR). Not coincidentally, Longo is from a town in Italy that is home to some of the longest-lived people in the world.

His new book is called “The Longevity Diet,” and it details how re-thinking what you eat and incorporating a “Fasting Mimicking Diet” can help you lose weight, avoid stress, build resistance to diseases and ultimately, increase your lifespan. Here’s what Dr. Longo had to say about how it all works, along with the science to back it up.

the longevity diet book Image courtesy of Valter Longo

What inspired you to write this book?
This book is the result of 25 years of research I did together with scientists in my group. It is also about my journey starting from Italy and ending in the U.S. in the search for the fountain of youth.

Who is the target audience?
Anyone, but especially people who want to be healthier and feel better, whether they are 20 or 80. It is not only about what you should do, but about easy ways to get there, so that you keep enjoying what you do. I always think of myself, my friends and relatives before I start with a scientific or clinical study and ask the question: “would we do it?”

dr valter longo Dr. Valter Longo

What are some myths that people have about aging?
That living a long life means living for decades sick. We are now showing that you can not only live longer but much healthier. For example, we have mice with a mutations in the growth hormone receptor that live up to twice as long, but even considering the longer life, have a major reduction in cancer and other diseases. We have similar effects in humans, although lifespan extension in humans with mutations in the growth hormone receptor is smaller.

What are some myths that people have about dieting and fasting?
1) That you should eat 5 times a day; 2) That fasting for 16 hours a day is healthy; 3) That a low carb and high protein diet is good for you. In fact, in my book I explain that if you are overweight you should eat twice a day plus a low cal snack, you should only fast for 12 hours per day, and should not confuse carbohydrates with starches and sugars and should have a 60% carb, 30% good fats, and 10% protein diet with low starches (pasta, bread, rice etc) and sugars.

Tell me about your work at the Longevity Institute – what is your main area of research and how did you get involved with the program?
I have done research on aging since I was 19 years old. That is all I have ever done. Our main focus is on how to maintain the body young by using genetic and nutritional interventions.

How is the Longevity Diet different from other diets out there?
It is very different since it is based on five disciplines of science and medicine (the 5 pillars of longevity) and also on something i called “juventology” or the study of youth versus the older discipline of “gerontology” or the study of aging. The Longevity Diet combines science and tradition to identify the everyday diet to promote “staying young,” but also a periodic fasting mimicking diet that has the ability to regenerate and rejuvenate multiple systems.

How difficult is it to implement this diet and stick to it?
Not difficult, since it is about getting as close as you can to it and not about revolutionizing your everyday diet. The periodic fasting mimicking diet instead can be done on average for five days once every four months, and it is relatively easy to do since it contains soups and bars, etc, making it reasonable for most people.

valter longo the longevity diet

You talk about “eating at the table of your ancestors.” Where did you grow up and what did you eat?
Yes, this is about avoiding or reducing the chance of intolerances, autoimmunities, allergies etc. If your parents and grandparents regularly ate some foods you are less likely to be negatively affected by them. I was lucky enough to be born and raised in some of the areas with the highest longevity in the world: Calabria and Liguria in Italy.

Aside from eating better, how else can we slow aging and fight disease?
Exercise for 150 minutes a week and keep you mind active with reading, and games that force you to think.

What’s the best piece of advice you have for people to stay motivated and confident?
Stick with the rules but don’t feel like you cannot violate them once in a while. Also, find among the foods and methods that are good for you, those that you also enjoy. This will allow you to continue it for life.

Everyone wants to know: does the fountain of youth exist? Where can we find it?
In Molochio Italy, a little village in the mountains of Southern Italy with a record number of centenarians (where, surprisingly, both of my parents are from).

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