The diet that helps you live longer

  • by: Fondazione Valter Longo Onlus in collaboration with the Create Cures Foundation
  • March 10th, 2022

A recent study confirmed that the type and quantity of food that characterized the “Longevity Diet” by Prof. Longo can increase life expectancy up to 13 years.

We often think that the word “diet” pertains to weight loss, but this is not the case exactly. The word “diet” comes from the Greek “diaita” and means lifestyle. We should use this word to describe how we eat. In this context, the “Longevity Diet” created in 2016 by Professor Valter Longo (it is also the title of his best seller), described the ideal lifestyle to promote current and future health, as well as healthy longevity.

What is reassuring about the “Longevity Diet” is that, in addition to having a strong scientific background based on hundreds of studies, following it is easier than you might think. You don’t have to go to exclusive shops to buy foods or deprive yourself of pleasure foods. The Longevity diet is mainly composed of grains, vegetables, legumes and beans, as well as fruits and fish, which are ingredients that are found anywhere. Furthermore, they are among the most nutritious foods, which means they are low in calories, but rich in nutrients that are important for our health, such as 1) minerals, vitamins, polyphenols, and antioxidants that protect against harmful substances, and 2) fibers that contribute to satiety.

The Longevity Diet contains many ingredients found in the Mediterranean diet. Particularly, it describes above all the proper quantities that should be consumed, establishes an eating window, and takes into account the age of the person. In fact, it is more advanced in comparison to the Mediterranean diet, even though it is based on studies on the Mediterranean diet and Mediterranean centenarians. As a matter of fact, fruits and fish, both at the center of the Mediterranean diet, are not central to the Longevity diet, nor were found to be important contributors to a longer life. Furthermore, the absence of red meat, as recommended by the Longevity diet, instead of the lower intake recommended by the Mediterranean diet, is associated with an increase in life expectancy of almost 2 years. “I am delighted to see that the results of this study confirm almost all the conclusions of the Longevity Diet, and they do so by highlighting 8-13 years of increased life expectancy even for those starting at 60 years old. When I wrote my book, I based the recommendations of the five pillars of Longevity and hundreds of studies, but there was a need for “a study of many studies”, like this one, to be completely sure,” explains Dr. Valter Longo.

This is a result of a recent study based on dozens of studies conducted across Europe, the USA, and China, which was published in PLOS Medicine, a prestigious peer-reviewed open-access journal in the medical field.

What would happen to a woman or a man if they replaced the typical “Western Diet” with a diet similar to the Longevity Diet? The authors of this study began asking themselves this question and were then able to give valuable information to all those who want to optimize their health.

If the diet is changed at age 20, women and men can potentially live 10 and 13 years longer, respectively. But what happens if this is done at an older age? Again, good news: women and men who adopt this diet at age 60 can live 8 and 9 years longer, respectively. What if this happens at age 80? Men and women can live an additional 3.5 years. In all these cases, we are talking about “extra” years, meaning less chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, and more “healthy” years.

The study drew on previous studies from over 200 different countries. The greatest benefits in terms of longevity are seen when there is an increase in the intake of legumes (beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas), whole grains (pasta, bread, and rice), and nuts (walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios). Although it seems quite simple and people believe they are already making this kind of choices, the reality is much different, as seen by an American Report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an important public health institution in the US. According to the CDC, few Americans follow nutritional health recommendations. In fact, the data revealed that only 10% consume the approximately 400g (0.8 lbs) of vegetables recommended per day, including legumes. About half of the overall grain consumption should consist of whole grains, but nearly 95% of Americans fail to achieve this, and instead opt for refined grains, which lack bran and other nutrients, including fiber. Finally, more than half of Americans are unable to eat even 5 grams of nuts and seeds recommended per day (about a teaspoon).

In Italy the situation is not so different. The diet of most Italian, even as children, is quite similar: poor variety, excessive protein intake (16.5% compared to 10-12% recommended before the age of 65), and a low intake of fat, including healthy fats from EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) or nuts. Furthermore, when fats are consumed, it mainly consists of saturated fats (13.8 compared to less than the recommended 10%) and derives mainly from milk and dairy products. The unbalanced distribution of macronutrients is also reflected in an overall higher caloric intake.

How can one adopt the most suitable Longevity Diet? One of the fastest and most effective ways to improve nutrition is to have a personalized food plan and start replacing red and processed meats (cold cuts, hamburgers) with vegetable proteins derived from legumes, or consuming fish 2-3 times per week up to the age of 65. For the elderly, on the other hand, the best choice is to modify the Longevity Diet closer to the Mediterranean diet, which included the consumption of white and red meat, eggs, and dairy products. One way to do this would be to start cooking a few meals per week that includes legumes, whole grains, and vegetables, using olive oil, nuts, herbs, and spices. Once you are familiar with these novel foods, you can build other meals with similar nutritional characteristics. In no time we will be confident about this new, but traditional, lifestyle.

Combating aging, based on the five pillars of longevity, is the basis for all projects carried out by the Nutrition team of Fondazione Valter Longo. We work daily to give everyone the opportunity to have access to personalized nutrition that is suitable for each individual, considering physical condition and the presence of disease.


[1] Longo, Valter. The Longevity Diet. New York-London: Penguin, 2019. All the author’s proceedings are donated to Fondazione Valter Longo and Create Cures Foundation nutritional assistance and awareness-raising programs.

[1]Fadnes LT, Økland JM, Haaland ØA, Johansson KA. Estimating impact of food choices on life expectancy: A modeling study. PLoS Med. 2022 Feb 8;19(2):e1003889. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003889. PMID: 35134067; PMCID: PMC8824353.

[1] Lee SH, Moore LV, Park S, Harris DM, Blanck HM. Adults Meeting Fruit and Vegetable Intake Recommendations – United States, 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022 Jan 7;71(1):1-9. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.mm7101a1. PMID: 34990439; PMCID: PMC8735562.

[1] Concina F, Pani P, Carletti C, Bravo G, Knowles A, Parpinel M, Ronfani L, Barbone F. Dietary Intake of the Italian PHIME Infant Cohort: How We Are Getting Diet Wrong from as Early as Infancy. Nutrients. 2021 Dec 10;13(12):4430. doi: 10.3390/nu13124430. PMID: 34959981; PMCID: PMC8709248.

[1] Baldini M, Pasqui F, Bordoni A, Maranesi M. Is the Mediterranean lifestyle still a reality? Evaluation of food consumption and energy expenditure in Italian and Spanish university students. Public Health Nutr. 2009 Feb;12(2):148-55. doi: 10.1017/S1368980008002759. Epub 2008 May 27. PMID: 18503726.


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