The longevity diet is something more than just lifespan; it is all about vigorous years enjoyed into their nineties and sometimes yet more. The word here is "functional capacity" meaning maintaining one's capabilities right to the very end. Nobody looks forward to living to a hundred if the last decade is bedridden, or without our marbles.
Researchers from the School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, have come up with a diet that is truly sustainable, sensible and safe that will enable us to approach old age with confidence. In many ways it is the food patterns followed in the Mediterranean region with a few tweaks.
Most of us know that diet is a dirty four-letter word; it makes huge promises but a year later has delivered nothing. Most of them just aren't sustainable; this one is the exception. By choosing the right foods we can even regulate our genes and slow the pace of aging of our cells.
There are four pillars to the longevity diet as supported by the work of gerontologists Drs Valter Longo and Rozalyn Anderson.
Food containing moderate to large amounts of unrefined carbohydrate is the first pillar of the longevity diet; but not in those who are obese or are insulin-resistant. They must restrict their starches to less than 50g per day until their BMI is near to 25.
It is without a doubt the most difficult pillar; unrefined carbs are not easy to come by, and we are no longer accustomed to eating them.
Cake flour, sugar and white rice, for example, all promote "insulin-like signalling," regulating our genes in a way that promotes premature aging of our cells, poor health and a shorter lifespan.
In those over 65 too, in the absence of obesity and insulin-resistance, energy from complex, unrefined carbohydrates does not appear to increase the demand for the hormone, nor activate the detrimental glucose signalling pathways; and promotes longevity.
Low but sufficient mainly plant-based protein is the second pillar of the longevity diet; except in those over 65 when a larger amount is recommended to prevent frailty syndrome.
Processed meat in particular is strongly fingered with premature aging and neoplastic changes in cells. However all animal products are restricted, except fish, and most of the recommended protein is from nuts, seeds and legumes.
In particular the amino acid methionine and in general protein from animal sources are "pro-aging" inducing the insulin and other signalling pathways that are associated with premature frailty.
More difficult, because free-range chicken and meat are not readily available, the researchers did not consider their role in the longevity diet. Would mutton from sheep that feed widely on a thousand hills have a different effect on these pathways compared to pork from pigs kept in a sty?
Would eggs and meat from free-range chickens also have an adverse affect on longevity?
Fasting in one form or another has long been associated with health benefits. Three models have come to the fore as recommended in the longevity diet.
Perhaps surprisingly the longevity diet recommends relatively high fat, around 30% of calories, but mostly from plant sources; olive oil, avocados and nuts. Freshly-ground seeds are good too, such as flax and sesame.
The authors speculate that high circulating fats are not pro-aging like too much protein and glucose in the blood from refined carbs because the ketone bodies produced are the same as those from fasting.
Most of us on the so-called "industrial diet," foods readily available at the supermarket, have been plied with highly-refined carbs; we have become accustomed to them, assuming they are a normal part of healthy food, and will not readily relinquish them.
In particular sugar consumption is more than three times that which is recommended, much of it in "energy drinks and colas;" 17 teaspoons per day. That it the average, meaning many are consuming far more.
Many recommendations blithely specify unrefined starches, not recognising how difficult they are to get. Corn on the cob, brown rice and quinoa are the three exceptions; and bulgur too.
Most difficult of all is that bread from 100% unrefined wholemeal is virtually non-existent.
The longevity diet means giving up commercial bread, cakes and cookies for ever; a bridge too far for the majority.
The only exception is to purchase an electric mill for 100% real flour to grind true wholemeal, and use it for baking artisan bread; and for making your own bulgur.
With the aid of a baking machine this true wholemeal flour can easily then be used to cook a nutritious loaf in keeping with the longevity diet.
It's noteworthy that this is done in all the Blue Zones where longevity is the norm, often in the form of sourdough.
Spuds are not specifically mentioned in the longevity diet. From cold storage, particularly when baked or fried they are extremely glycemic; however new potatoes in moderation can even be enjoyed by many diabetics without extra insulin being needed.
Protein in the longevity diet comes largely from legumes and fish. Greatly reducing red meat, and even chicken and dairy products means turning to peas and beans for the required amino acids.
Vegans who eat no animal products are remarkably healthy in many respects with lower levels of malignant tumours, hypertension and diabetes. However legumes are very low in methionine, an essential amino acid; consequently they suffer from osteoporosis and have a 43% increase in all fractures.
We must have methionine, just not too much of it.
In the so-called Blue Zones where longevity is profound, folk not only eat plenty of legumes but they grow them too. The mixed broad and lima beans seen in the pot above would not be atypical.
Longevity diet is for those who greatly desire to enjoy life into healthy old age and are prepared to forego modern meals; highly-refined foods loaded with salt, sugar and animal protein. They look forward to sitting under the trees they once planted, sipping wine and tea, vigorous, zestful lives to the end; enjoying watching the grandchildren grow up.
Lots of legumes, whole grains and vegetables are recommended. It is very low in sugar and refined flour which means no commercial bread. There is little red meat but large amounts of nuts, seeds and olive oil.
Intermittent fasting in one form or another is recommended.
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The ketogenic diets share one pillar in common with longevity; they are relatively high in fat though not necessarily mainly from vegetable sources. That means there is considerable satiety though there is no contribution from the fibre in legumes and whole grains.
Unlike the longevity diet they are not nearly as sustainable; most people are simply unable to give up foundation foods like bread. They both eschew refined carbohydrates though, so the commercial loaf is banned from both.
Also many people have grave difficulties eating the amount of meat and animal fat recommended in the ketogenic diets; they would rather choose legumes as their main source of protein.
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