What’s the ‘longevity’ diet, and will it really make you live longer?

You may have heard about the longevity diet, and its promise of an extended life span — but what exactly is it and is it any different to other diets promoting good health?

The longevity diet is a set of eating recommendations compiled by a biochemist called Valter Longo, director of the University of Southern California’s Longevity Institute. He is known for his research on the role of fasting, the effects of nutrients on your genes and how these may impact ageing and the risk of diseases.

While the longevity diet has been targeted to older adults, it is also recommended for younger people. Longo has said he plans to live to 120 by following this diet.

So, what does the diet look like?

Foods in this diet are vegetables, including leafy greens, fruit, nuts, beans, olive oil, and seafood that’s low in mercury.

So most foods in the longevity diet are plant based. Plant-based diets are generally higher in vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre, antioxidants and lower in saturated fat and salt, which lead to health benefits.

Foods that are discouraged are an excess of meat and dairy, and those high in processed sugar and saturated fats.

For people who don’t want to go without dairy, the longevity diet recommends switching from cow’s milk to either goat’s or sheep’s milk, which have a slightly different nutrient profile. But there is little evidence sheep’s and goat’s milk provide more health benefits.

Including fermented dairy (such as cheese and yoghurt) in your diet, as recommended in the longevity diet, is beneficial as it provides a more extensive microbiome (good bacteria) than any milk.

A woman with blue nail polish picks up a pink iced donut from a box of several donuts
The diet recommends people maintain a healthy weight, perhaps by reduce snacking, particularly of foods high in saturated fat, salt or sugar.(Pexels: Andres Ayrton)

Have you seen this diet before?

Many of you may recognise this as a familiar dietary pattern. It is similar to the Mediterranean diet, especially as both feature olive oil as the oil of choice. The Mediterranean diet is promoted and backed by a considerable body of evidence to be health promoting, reducing the risk of disease, and promoting longevity.

The longevity diet is also similar to many national, evidence-based dietary guidelines, including Australia’s.

Two-thirds of the recommended foods in the Australian dietary guidelines come from plant-based foods (cereals, grains, legumes, beans, fruits, vegetables). The guidelines also provide plant-based alternatives for protein (such as dried beans, lentils and tofu) and dairy (such as soy-based milks, yoghurts and cheeses, so long as they are supplemented with calcium).

Intermittent fasting

Another aspect of the longevity diet is the specified periods of fasting, known as intermittent fasting. The diet advocates eating in a 12-hour time-frame, and not eating for three to four hours before bed time.