The Longevity Diet has taken by storm longevity enthusiasts looking for ways to optimize their diet. Here at Shanah, we decided to take a look at the diet and see if it matches up to what we know about improving your healthspan.
For some background, The Longevity Diet was created by Valter Longo, a professor at the University of Southern California. In 2018, a book was published detailing the specifics of the diet to the public, and the book has caught on since.
Reading a brief summary of the diet on Valter Longo’s page, we can say that the diet does in fact check out -- though it's perhaps more specific and detailed than would be helpful for a beginner diet.
To start off, Longo suggests a mostly vegan diet with small amounts of fish. This lines up pretty well with the plant-based diet (minus fish, of course). The historically most popular longevity diet, Mediterranean, also includes lean meats such as chicken. We also recommend chicken as a potential source of protein, alongside the fish and legumes that Longo suggests.
Another difference comes with Longo’s suggestion of vitamin supplements (not very popular in the longevity research field). However, Longo does seem to suggest getting vitamins naturally through the foods is better than just using multivitamins, which we do agree with. So the suggestion of multivitamins as a backup “buffer” isn’t particularly harmful, though you could probably skip this step if you wish.
There’s a few nice ‘heuristics’ that Longo mentions here. First, he says to ‘eat foods… your ancestors would have eaten’. This is because our bodies are made to digest particular types of food, and if we eat foods our bodies aren’t used to then it can sometimes backfire on us. This is why things like ice cream and soda are so bad for your body -- our body was never designed to drink carbonation or eat things with large amounts of cream and sugar, and so when we do our bodies don’t know how to store the nutrients and get rid of the rest. Sticking with natural foods helps to avoid this problem.
So, the science that Longo is mentioning all checks out. However, we do have criticism for Longo on the habit side. Many things mentioned in this guide (‘40 to 47 grams of protein per day’, ‘Based on your weight, age, and abdominal circumference…’) are much too nitpicky for a beginner to take in. That doesn’t mean they’re false, it just means that they’re things you would want to worry about much later in the process rather than at the very beginning. The jump from 50% to 90% efficiency in your longevity diet (doing the generalizations) is much bigger than the jump from 90% to 95% (doing the specifications).