The search for sources of eternal youth and longevity has accompanied humanity for centuries. At least for longevity, scientists believe they have found a very important factor: the right diet. Unlike genes or certain life conditions, it can be influenced. Increasingly, it is not only about what is put on the plate, in what quantity and quality, but also when.
American aging researchers Valter Longo and Rozalyn Anderson summarize the current state of knowledge in a general article in the specialized journal “Cell”. Calorie bomb friends like burger, fries and soda menus or soul comforters like white chocolate now have to be very strong: the duo say it’s best to limit energy intake and fast more often to minimize risk of disease and increase life expectancy.
They describe the core features of what is likely to be the optimal form of nutrition, initially quite technically, as follows: medium to high carbohydrate intake (45 to 60 percent) from high-quality sources; little but enough protein from mainly vegetable sources; 25 to 35 percent 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 meats and very little white meat; low in sugar and refined grains; good amounts of nuts and olive oil and a bit of dark chocolate,” Longo said in a statement. It is optimal to eat only within a daily time window of eleven to twelve hours and insert several fasting phases per year.
Longevity is Longo’s life theme, so to speak: he is director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California in the US and the author of several books. On the home page he gives advice on how to stay young and lists the so-called recipes for longevity. They may disappoint meat lovers, but they don’t sound entirely unfriendly to pleasure, either: couscous with fish, Tuscan bread salad, and pasta with aubergines. Longo also founded a company with products for fasting concepts, which he states in the study addendum.
In their work, Longo and Anderson emphasize that an anti-aging diet must be tailored to the individual. There is no single solution that is as suitable for a fit 20-year-old as it is for a 60-year-old with a metabolic disease. Gender, age, lifestyle, health status and genes should be taken into account, they write. For example, people over 65 may need extra protein, they say.
For Kristina Norman, an aging researcher at the German Institute for Human Nutrition, these adjustments are a very important point: “In old age, it is often difficult to eat enough protein. Too little can lead to muscle breakdown and, as a result, as a result , at an increased risk of falls and fractures. So it may be advisable to eat a little more meat than is generally recommended.”
The author duo can look back on a wide range of work: from studies on yeast fungi, worms or flies to clinical data and models. There are also findings about traditional nutrition in places where many people age.
“A study where a group is assigned Longo’s recommended diet and end lifespan is compared to a control group would be very difficult to implement, so the authors approach this by pooling disparate evidence,” Norman said. He considers that Longo and Anderson’s theses are convincingly documented.
There are many parallels with known recommendations, such as those of the German Nutrition Society, and also with a menu that scientists proposed some time ago for a healthy and at the same time environmentally friendly diet. “Contrary to popular belief, recommendations for healthy eating don’t change every few years. They’re generally very stable,” Norman said. “The Longo study may look old, but the topic has been rethought and is increasingly supported by evidence.”
For Bernhard Watzl, former director of the Institute for Physiology and Biochemistry of Nutrition at the Max Rubner Institute, the review article shows above all that the quantity and quality of nutrition are crucial for a long life. “It is better to consume too little energy than too much.” As for the underlying mechanisms in the body, he explains, “The more a system is required, the more it wears out.” Rather, it is important to challenge the body at a low level.
When it comes to fasting, however, Watzl is less convinced than Longo by the data available to date: “Fasting is only for people who can’t limit their energy intake,” he said. So temporarily going without food could help re-sensitize certain receptors in the body.
In general, it’s never too late for a healthy diet throughout life, emphasizes Watzl. With some diseases that develop in the body for decades, the following applies: the sooner the better. Longo responded to a dpa query that, according to a study, life expectancy could increase by several years even in people in their 60s or 80s if many of the suggestions he had made were implemented. The study said the biggest benefits came from eating more legumes, whole grains and nuts, and less red and processed meat.
Regarding the quality of the food, Watzl sees some habits in this country as positive: eating wholemeal bread or muesli, for example. “But it’s easy to put too much cheese or sausage on bread. Or eat light bread.” Watzl is also critical of highly processed foods, because of the additives, but also because of the rapid availability of nutrients. That overwhelms the metabolism.
In general, Longo and Anderson recommend small dietary changes and advise against radical changes. Many of you are probably familiar with the problem with trying a diet: If the plan is too restrictive, you can’t stick with it long-term. The result is a yo-yo effect. (dpa/announcement)