Longevity Institute, USC
“So many people will say to me, ‘I don’t want to live that long.’” This is how leading longevity researcher Valter Longo begins our conversation. “They think that if they live to one hundred, they’re going to be very sick for the last twenty or thirty years of their lives. But data is showing this isn’t necessarily true. By intervening in the aging process, research suggests that you can live longer healthier.”
Longo is the director of the Longevity Institute at USC and of the Program on Longevity and Cancer at IFOM in Milan. As a sixteen-year-old, he moved to the US to study music and, well, become a rockstar. But Longo was raised in Italy, and the Italian approach to aging was more deeply ingrained in his consciousness than he realized. And along his path to becoming Mick Jagger, he made a left turn into biochemistry. He wanted to figure out the secrets to staying young.
For the past few decades, Longo has researched aging, nutrition, and disease around the world. He has come up with what he calls the five pillars of longevity—different disciplines for evaluating what works and what doesn’t. He has used these disciplines—juventology (the science of youth), epidemiology, clinical studies, studies of centenarians, the understanding of complex systems—to come up with his own nutrition program. His goal is to promote health at every age.
The plant-based pescaterian way of eating that he recommends is outlined in his book The Longevity Diet, along with a five-day Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD) he created for use a few times a year. The FMD is what it sounds like—a temporary, tailored, calorie-restricted diet that makes the body think it’s fasting, for the potential regenerating effects Longo and others have identified. It does not promote the extreme deprivation of a true fast, which Longo points out can have damaging side effects. “The FMD gives us a chance to reset systems to better support the repair of age-related dysfunction,” he explains. In response to people continually asking Longo how to DIY the FMD, he set up a company, L-Nutra, which sells it in kit form—plant-based soups, bars, drinks, snacks, teas, and supplements. (If you get Longo’s book, don’t skip the opening note on proceeds and products, which is interesting in and of itself; he donates his shares in L-Nutra back into research, and same for his book royalties. You can check out Create Cures, the nonprofit research organization he founded to help patients identify integrative therapies, here.)
But you don’t have to have any kit, or the desire to fast in any form whatsoever, to take advantage of what Longo has learned about eating. “I preach eating more, but more of different types of foods. Once you identify the thirty to forty foods that work for you consistently, you don’t have to go around with a manual. You just eat.” He broke it all down for us, including why we should stop demonizing carbs, eat more protein, and carry a few extra lbs in our later years.
Valter Longo is a biogerontologist and cell biologist known for his studies on the role of fasting and nutrient response genes on cellular protection aging.