Health: Living Longer With The Right Diet – Is It Possible? – Knowledge

According to the study, more whole grains, legumes, and nuts are beneficial – and less than red and processed meat. Photo: Ole Spata / dpa


Healthy aging – that’s what many people wish for. What role can food play in this? And is there ever a point in life when it is too late to adopt healthy habits?

BERLIN – The search for sources of eternal youth and longevity has accompanied humanity for centuries. At least for the sake of longevity, scientists think they’ve found a very powerful factor: the right diet.

Unlike genes or certain living conditions, they can be affected. Increasingly, it’s not just about what is put on the plate, in what quantity and quality – but also when.

American researchers Walter Longo and Rosalyn Anderson summarize the current state of knowledge in a general article in the specialized journal Cell. Calorie bomb friends like burger menus, French fries, and soda, or comforters like white chocolate, should be super powerful now: The duo say it’s best to limit energy intake and fast more in order to reduce disease risk and increase life expectancy.

Carbohydrates, proteins and fats

They lay out the essential characteristics of what might be an optimal form of nutrition—initially quite technically—as: a moderate to high intake of carbohydrates (45 to 60 percent) from high-quality sources; little but sufficient protein from plant sources; 25 to 35 percent is mostly vegetable fat.

Translated for everyday use in the kitchen, this means: “Lots of legumes, whole grains, and vegetables; some fish; no red or processed meat and very little white meat; little sugar and refined grains; good amounts of nuts, olive oil, and some dark chocolate,” as Longo says, according to a statement. It is best to eat only during a daily time period of 11 to 12 hours and to enter several phases of fasting per year.



Longevity is the subject of Longo’s life, so to speak: he is the Director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, USA, and the author of several books. On his homepage he offers tips on how to stay young and lists so-called recipes for longevity. Meat lovers may be disappointed, but they don’t seem entirely hostile to the fun: couscous with fish, bread salad from Tuscany, and pasta with eggplant. Longo also founded a company with products for Fasting Concepts, which he mentions in the study appendix.

There is no single solution

In their work, Longo and Anderson emphasize that an anti-aging diet must be individualized. No single solution is as fit for a 20-year-old as a 60-year-old with metabolic disease. They wrote that gender, age, lifestyle, health status and genetics should be taken into account. For example, people over 65 may need extra protein, they say.

For Christina Normann, an aging researcher at the German Institute of Human Nutrition, these modifications are a very important point: “In old age, it is often difficult to eat enough protein. Too little of it can lead to muscle breakdown, as a result, to increased protein intake. Risk of falls and fractures. So eating a little more meat than is generally recommended can be advisable.”

The author duo can look at a wide range of work: from studies on yeasts, worms or flies to clinical data and modeling. There are also findings about traditional nutrition in places where many people are getting older.

Summarize different evidence

“A study in which the Longo group’s recommended diet and lifespan are compared to that of a control group would be very difficult to conduct, so the authors approached that by accumulating mixed evidence,” Norman said. She considers the theses of Longo and Anderson to be convincingly documented.

There are many similarities with well-known recommendations, such as the recommendations of the German Dietetic Association, and also to a list proposed by scientists some time ago for a healthy and at the same time environmentally friendly diet. “Contrary to what is often assumed, recommendations for healthy eating do not change every few years. In general, they are very stable,” Norman said. “Longo’s study can be seen as old hat, but the topic has been rethought and increasingly supported by evidence.”

“It is better to use less energy than to use a lot”

For Bernard Watzel, former head of the Institute for the Physiology and Biochemistry of Nutrition at the Max Rubner Institute, the review article demonstrates above all that the quantity and quality of nutrition are essential for a long life. “It is better to use a little energy than a lot.” Regarding the basic mechanisms in the body, he explains: “The more a system takes, the more it wears out.” Instead, it is important to challenge the body at a low level.

When it comes to fasting, Watzl is less convinced by the data available so far from Longo: “Fasting is only for people who can’t limit their energy intake,” he said. Then temporarily not eating can help increase sensitivity of certain receptors in the body again.

never too late

In general, it’s never too late to follow a healthy, lifelong diet, Watzl emphasizes. With some diseases that have plagued the body for decades, the following applies: the earlier, the better. Longo responded to a dpa query that according to a study, life expectancy could be increased by several years even at 60 or 80 years if many of the suggestions he made were implemented. The study said the biggest benefits came from eating more legumes, whole grains and nuts and less red and processed meat.

When it comes to food quality, Watzl sees some customs in this country as positive: eating wholemeal bread or muesli, for example. “But it’s easy to put a lot of cheese or sausage on the bread. Or eat light bread.” Watzl is also very critical of processed foods – because of additives, but also because of the rapid availability of nutrients. This overwhelms the metabolism.

In general, Longo and Anderson recommend making small changes to the diet and discouraging drastic changes. Many are probably familiar with the problem with trying a diet: If a plan is too restrictive, it can’t last long-term. The result is the yo-yo effect.

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