Ask pretty much anyone if they want to live a longer life, and the answer is probably a big, resounding yes. But how exactly does one go about living longer? Should you eat more fish? Cut out processed foods? Go vegan?
One researcher, Valter Longo, PhD, a professor of gerontology and biological sciences at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and the director of the USC Longevity Institute, has worked on solving this very riddle.
He combed through the research on how diet can influence life span (find the papers on his website), and came up with the longevity diet, a research-informed way of eating that, when followed for your whole life, may give you some extra years. Dr. Longo also wrote a book about the diet, The Longevity Diet: Discover the New Science Behind Stem Cell Activation and Regeneration to Slow Aging, Fight Disease, and Optimize Weight, which was published in 2018.
“Using epidemiology and clinical trials, we put all the research together, and got a big picture of a safe and beneficial diet that's associated with living longer,” says Longo.
Here, discover how this eating approach works and how much stock to put in it if you’re aiming to lengthen your life.
Longo created the longevity diet to help people eat in a way that promotes the longest and healthiest life possible. Longo says he drew from various research sources to create a plan that incorporates healthy eating habits and a fasting-mimicking diet (more on that later).
Those habits include a medium to high amount of carbohydrates from sources that aren't refined (think whole grains like spelt rather than saltine crackers), a low but sufficient amount of protein from plant-based sources, and about about 30 percent of calories from plant-based fats (like olives or avocados), which he outlines in an article. He also explains that all your meals (including snacks) should happen within 12 hours, and that a five-day fasting-mimicking diet should happen two to three times a year.
“The diet might be best described as a 'hybrid' of the various blue zone dietary features — plant-predominant, relatively low-protein, very little animal foods, with emphasis on fatty fish and seafood, coupled with 'mimicry of fasting' by limiting the timing and quantity of food intake,” explains David Katz, MD, the president of the True Health Initiative and the founding director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. (As a refresher, the blue zones are regions around the world that are considered “longevity hot spots,” where many people live well into their 100s.)
In Longo’s view, the point of the diet is not to try something trendy that will fall out of favor in a month or two. “I try to move away from the opinion of the month, but rather toward a multi-pillar strategy that will hold up for 20 years,” he explains.
As mentioned, the longevity diet encourages healthy eating habits and has a fasting component.
If you’re new to the longevity diet, start by following a strict vegan diet and restricting calories to between 800 and 1,100 per day. When you eat this way, your body gets tricked into believing it’s fasting, Longo says. This is also called a fasting-mimicking diet.
Before you begin, Longo advises talking to a registered dietitian or doctor. His nonprofit foundation clinic, Create Cures, has a team of specialized dietitians who can help, he says. Longo emphasizes that people shouldn’t create a fasting-mimicking diet on their own. “It’s easy for people to misunderstand and make fasting-mimicking diets that would not be effective and are potentially unsafe. (Longo says he does not benefit financially from the commercially available fasting-mimicking diet because he donates everything to charity and research.)
After that five-day period, you will eat within a window of 12 hours per day (for example, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.), which is technically a style of intermittent fasting. “While the concept of intermittent fasting is still being debated within the scientific community, I believe the idea of finishing eating several hours prior to bed is sound,” says Christine Palumbo, RDN, of Chicago. You’ll follow the eating style described in the next section.
From there on out, you’ll do the fasting-mimicking portion a total of two to three times per year for healthy individuals, and potentially more if you’re overweight or obese, says Longo (again, talk to a registered dietitian, he advises, before jumping in).
Palumbo points out that the longevity diet is mostly plant-based. “We know that eating fruits and vegetables — with their estimated 20,000 plus phytonutrients — helps to slow down aging,” she says.
You’ll eat lots of produce (including fruit in moderation), healthy oils like olive oil, whole grains, legumes, and dark chocolate, and a few times a week you’ll eat fish. The diet excludes all red meat, including the processed kind (like pepperoni, sausage, and hot dogs), and suggests limiting dairy for many people. You will eat small amounts of white meat, according to Longo’s website.
Palumbo adds that the diet is low in calories, and while it calls for cutting back on animal protein, it encourages lots of plant protein, especially among individuals ages 65 and older.
People who are 65 and older will also need to eat more protein than those who are younger. “Older people seem to have more difficulties absorbing the amino acids that come from the protein,” says Longo. Among that age group, he suggests 40 to 47 grams (g) of protein for a person who weighs 130 pounds, while 60 to 70 g of protein daily should suffice for those who weigh 200 to 220 pounds. To hit these numbers, reach first for plant sources like beans, chickpeas, and other legumes. Then turn to sources such as fish, eggs, white meat (such as lean, skinless turkey and chicken), as well as goat and sheep’s milk.
Longo suggests eating in a way that your ancestors would have eaten (think simple, wholesome ingredients rather than highly processed foods), and taking a multivitamin every three days.
If you are overweight, he says you may want to consider eating only two meals a day (breakfast and either lunch or dinner) with two low-sugar (fewer than 5 g total) snacks, each with no more than 100 calories. For people of normal weight, he encourages three meals and one low-sugar snack per day.
While there’s a lack of research focusing on this specific diet plan, there is an abundance of research on plant-based eating.
“There is abundant research — overwhelming, in fact — on the general health benefits of diverse dietary patterns that emphasize whole plant foods,” Dr. Katz adds.
The other fasting-related aspects of the longevity diet — fasting-mimicking and intermittent fasting — are less studied. “It channels the science of calorie restriction and fasting, but whether this practice, twice a year, really does translate into altered longevity for humans, independently of other factors, is, of course, unknown,” says Katz. But animal research suggests this style of eating may hold promise.
In the April 2022 issue of Cell, Longo notes that fasting-mimicking diets have been linked with metabolic and anti-inflammatory effects in mice. These results could reduce risk factors for certain diseases, he writes.
A review published in October 2021 in the Annual Review of Nutrition states that intermittent fasting patterns such as time-restricted eating (which is a part of the longevity diet) is a safe way to improve metabolic health for people who are obese. Yet the jury is out regarding other benefits. For example, one study, published in April 2022 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a time-restricted diet was not more beneficial for weight loss in people with obesity compared to a calorie restricted diet.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the possible health effects of this eating plan.
Given the name of the diet, this potential perk likely comes as no surprise. The element of the longevity diet that researchers have studied most widely is plant-based eating.
“Research suggests one can boost life expectancy by 3 to 13 years by replacing the Western diet of red meat and processed foods with a diet that contains more nutrient-rich foods that include vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and nuts,” explains Palumbo. The research Palumbo points to, published in February 2022 in the journal PLOS Medicine, notes that when people start the diet earlier, the gains may be even greater.
Katz, though, adds a caveat. “The only evidence in direct support of longevity, per se, is observation of the links between dietary intake patterns and longevity in populations such as the blue zones,” he says. “There are, for obvious reasons, no intervention studies or randomized trials assessing actual longevity in humans, as such trials would span the lifetimes or more of the researchers who initiated them, and few would be willing to participate as subjects,” Katz adds.
Plant-based eating, which features plenty of produce, is a smart choice for heart health. As the World Health Organization points out, heart diseases are the leading causes of death worldwide.
review published in February 2017 in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that five servings of vegetables and fruits a day was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. And even more servings per day (around 10) was associated with even lower risk.
Another review of research found that the more vegetables and fruits people consumed, the lower their odds of developing cardiovascular disease, compared with people who ate only 1.5 servings of vegetables per day.
Research published in June 2022 in the European Heart Journal found that a diet rich in potassium (from longevity diet–approved foods like avocados and salmon) was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular events, and especially helped women who had high levels of sodium in their diet.
While fish isn’t necessarily a staple in a plant-based diet, it is a feature of the longevity diet, and fish is good for the heart, research suggests. For example, a study published in June 2022 in JAHA found that 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily was associated with lower blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a risk factor for heart disease, as the CDC notes.
Plant-based eating may help protect against cancer. In the aforementioned review in the International Journal of Epidemiology, not only did researchers find that a diet rich in fruits and veggies was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, but they also found it lowered people’s odds of cancer.
In addition, research published in February 2022 in the journal BMC Medicine found that those who ate a low-meat or meat-free diet (in this study, that was defined as meat five times or less per week) had a lower overall cancer risk than those who consumed more.
Eating ample plant-based foods, like vegetables, legumes, and nuts is a key pillar in the longevity diet. And research published in April 2022 in the journal Diabetologia suggests that a higher total fruit and vegetable intake may be associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes in men specifically (there wasn’t an association with women in this particular study).
Meanwhile, a diet high in red meat and poultry may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, research published in May 2017 in the American Journal of Epidemiology shows
A healthy, plant-based diet may help prevent eye diseases that can come along with old age, like cataracts and macular degeneration, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. For example, research suggests that high amounts of vegetables and fruits are associated with a lower risk of cataracts (yet there was no reduced risk for cataract extraction even among people who ate the highest amounts of fruits and vegetables). In the study, the “high” group of fruit and veggie eaters consumed around 10 servings a day, while the lowest group consumed about three servings each day.
If you’re eating a healthy, plant-based diet, without lots of processed foods, chances are it will be good for your waistline. “Eat a lot of vegetables, a lot of whole grains, and a lot of legumes — that's the way to get to a much healthier state, and less weight,” says Longo.
Katz notes that switching to a more regimented and healthy diet in general may help with weight loss. “Anything that moves diet quality from low to higher, and that imposes some rules and discipline about what to eat and when, what not to eat — where before there were none — will tend to result in weight loss because such factors limit intake of total calories,” Katz says.
Eating more vegetables, whole grains, and nuts is also a healthy way to lose and maintain weight, according to the CDC.
A study published in the journal PLOS Medicine found that eating nonstarchy vegetables and fruit was associated with weight loss. “In mouse studies we see advantages of the longevity diet against the Western diet but also against healthy diets, so there should be advantages against most diets,” says Longo. One study, published by Longo and his team in February 2017 in the journal Science Translational Medicine, found that study subjects who went on a fasting-mimicking diet reduced body weight, trunk size, and amount of body fat compared with a group who didn’t do the fasting-mimicking diet.
While the diet has a laundry-list of potential benefits, there may be some drawbacks, especially for people who aren’t used to incorporating so many vegetables into their menus, or who might become too fixated on the diet.
“The diet is rather restrictive and could be problematic for people with disordered eating such as anorexia nervosa or orthorexia,” says Palumbo. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, orthorexia is when a person is so concerned about the nutritional quality of their diet that their overall health and well-being suffers. Still, Longo stresses that apart from the fasting-mimicking periods, you can eat as much as you’d like on the diet (as long as it’s the right ingredients and occurs within a 12-hour period) — typically, people don’t need to worry about portion sizes, for example.
“These are the people who automatically reach for steak and potatoes on the menu,” says Palumbo. Research presented in June 2022 at the American Society for Nutrition Conference found that most people think their diet is healthier than it is — these people may find making big changes to their diet a real challenge. And while a “fasting mimicking” diet is different from fasting (as in, not eating food), following a strict plan for five days, a few times a year, may pose too much of a challenge.
Research in mice is coming out in support of a longevity-style diet (for example, one study published in May 2022 in Science found that male mice who ate a calorie-restricted diet and fasted for 12 hours or more a day lived longer), but much more research needs to be done on humans.
“A diet is only truly about ‘longevity’ per se if it extends life span, and since we have no direct evidence in humans of that effect, the platform is arguably somewhat sensationalistic,” says Katz. Further, he thinks that the proposition of a longevity diet is something of a reach beyond the science we have in hand, particularly as it pertains to long-term adherence in humans.
Katz believes there’s more long-term research needed on the fasting front. “So, whether or not it is problematic for health reasons — in the vulnerable, probably yes; in the generally healthy, probably no — it is arguably problematic in terms of the claims,” adds Katz.
Ready to give the longevity diet a whirl, and have your healthcare team’s okay? Here’s what you’ll eat, limit, and avoid.
Generous amounts of vegetables, including (but not limited to):
Generous amounts of legumes including (but not limited to): 
Generous amounts of nuts (about 1 ounce per day) including (but not limited to):
Generous amounts of whole grains including (but not limited to):
Generous amounts of olive oil (about 3 tbsp per day)
What you eat in a day will depend on your age (people over 65 will need more protein, for instance), says Longo. He adds that you can consume vegetables until you feel full, so your portions may look different from someone else's.
Here’s a sample menu from Longo’s site for a man who is obese.
Breakfast Whole-grain toast with no-sugar-added jam and a cup of almond milk (also with no added sugar)
Lunch Spelt with chicory and carrots (this recipe includes spelt, extra-virgin olive oil, cheese, chicory, and carrots; the grain can be replaced with barley or rice)
Snack A slice of whole-wheat bread and three small squares of dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cacao for the maximum health benefits)
Dinner Fresh salmon with extra-virgin olive oil, whole-wheat bread, and a side of vegetables, such as cauliflower
Dessert Fresh, in-season fruit and walnuts or dried fruit of choice
Here is another sample menu from Longo’s site for a man who is over 70 years old and has a tendency to lose lean muscle mass.
Breakfast Whole-grain toast with no-sugar-added jam and a cup of almond milk (also with no added sugar)
Lunch Farro salad with lentils and sesame seeds
Snack Three small squares of dark chocolate and 10 dry roasted hazelnuts
Dinner Spaghetti with clams and a side of fresh vegetables like collard greens
Dessert Fresh, in-season fruit and walnuts or dried fruit of choice
If you aren’t used to eating generous amounts of vegetables, this style of eating may be a big change. In addition to working with a registered dietitian-nutritionist, here's some advice for transitioning to the longevity diet.
If you’re having a hard time switching up your diet and eating more fruits and vegetables, keep your diet the same but move forward with eating in a 12-hour window, says Longo. That could be between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. or 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., but don’t forget to eat breakfast!
“Try eating a vegetable you’ve never had before at your dining spot, or venture out to an ethnic restaurant known for its vegetables,” says Palumbo. She suggests, for example, ordering a bowl of minestrone soup or pasta fagioli at an Italian restaurant, then trying to make it at home. At a Greek restaurant, try ordering their horta, which is sautéed greens, or select the sautéed spinach, both served with lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil, then make these at home, too.
This tip can apply to all foods on the longevity diet, really. “You can go slow so that your taste buds have time to adapt, and learn to love the foods that love you back,” says Katz.
“Then,” suggests Palumbo, “get back into the kitchen and explore some new recipes by following along with cooking instructors on YouTube, TikTok, or their own websites.” She also recommends setting a goal to cook one new recipe a week and come up with a repertoire of new recipes that you enjoy over time.
When in the grocery store, take time to read the ingredient lists on some of your favorite processed foods, says Palumbo. “Once you realize how many additives there are, you may be convinced to reduce your reliance on them and begin controlling your own ingredient lists by cooking more,” Palumbo says.
The rules for the longevity diet may come off as rigid, but there’s a level of customization you can work with.
That will be important if you’re managing a health condition such as celiac disease and can’t eat whole grains, which the diet calls for, for example.
Make an appointment with a doctor or nutritionist if you’re concerned about a food allergy or intolerance that would make following the longevity diet framework problematic for your health. Again, working with a professional for the fasting-mimicking portion of this diet is key, anyway.
Here, you’ll find delicious, often Italian-inspired recipes that fall in line with the longevity diet, as well as up-to-date research and tips.
The Vegan Society
The longevity diet is in many ways similar to a vegan diet, because vegetables in both diets are the main event. If you’re looking for new ways to cook vegetables, or want to know how to go vegan for less, you can find inspiration here. This site could also be worth bookmarking and returning to when you’re on the fasting-mimicking diet.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
Seafood shopping can get complicated quick. Not only do you want to buy fish that have low mercury levels, but it’s also a good idea to support sustainable seafood. With the Seafood Watch tool, you can figure out which fish aren’t in trouble due to destructive fishing and farming practices.
From one of our favorite vegan bloggers you can find tons of healthy, simple, and delicious vegan recipes. A personal favorite: quinoa lentil burgers and no-bake raspberry cheesecake.
The Posh Pescatarian
Some people are turned off by seafood — maybe it’s taste or fishy smell — but there are endless ways to make seafood mouthwatering (trust us!). Stephanie Harris-Uyidi is a sustainable seafood enthusiast, and she shares countless tips on how to make scrumptious pescatarian meals.
For those seeking to explore a diet that has some research-supported health principles and may lead to improved longevity, the longevity diet may indeed be an option. It’s filled with tons of good-for-you food that studies show can promote your health. “With the emphasis on vegan eating, the entire produce category is open to you — most of us consume too few vegetables, in particular, and this diet encourages eating plenty of veggies as well as fruit,” says Palumbo. (The CDC reported in January 2022 that only 10 percent of Americans are meeting vegetable intake recommendations.)
Just know that sticking to the diet will likely require perseverance. “The diet appears to be overall sound for people who are motivated to maintain its strict guidelines,” says Palumbo.
Not to mention, there are other diets that support a long life that you may want to explore. For example, the vastly researched Mediterranean diet — which focuses on whole, plant-based foods like nuts and seeds and fruits and veggies, along with olive oil and some red wine and dark chocolate — is associated with a greater life expectancy, research shows.
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