Fasting is quickly becoming a hot trend. Intermittent fasting, water fasting, 5:2 fasting, and now there is something called the fasting mimicking diet (or FMD Diet). As with most other new trends, there is so much new information and it is hard to make a choice. And it’s hard to know if this is yet another nutrition fad that has no science to back it up (like most of the latest diet trends), or if this is something that has real science to back it up. In short: The fasting-mimicking diet is the real deal, and it can genuinely improve your health, energy and lifespan.
That is why I am happy to introduce Dr. Valter Longo on this week’s podcast. Dr. Longo is the director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California and of the longevity program at the FIRC Institute in Milan, and he’s a world-renowned longevity scientist who has conducted some of the most pioneering research in the field of longevity science.
He is also the new author of the best-selling book, The Longevity Diet (which is by far, the best nutrition book I’ve read in a long time, and a must-read in my opinion). I wanted to bring him on the podcast to talk about his research, to separate the BS from the real science, and tell you about the incredible benefits of fasting and the fasting-mimicking diet. (By the way, you can grab a copy of his new book, The Longevity Diet on Amazon.)
In this podcast, you’ll learn
- The incredible health benefits of the fasting mimicking diet
- How much protein you should consume for longevity
- How the fasting-mimicking diet may prevent and even reverse many diseases
- The problem with the vegan diet (it is not what you think)
- The problem with the keto diet and low-carb diets
- Are ketones where we get the benefits of fasting?
- Why five days is a key to the fasting mimicking diet
- The best diet for longevity
- How often you should follow the fasting mimicking diet (depends on your personal goals)
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Why the fasting mimicking diet increases your health and longevity with Dr. Valter Longo – Transcript
Ari Whitten: Hi, everyone. Welcome back to The Energy Blueprint … Let me start over again. Hi, everyone. Ari Whitten here. Welcome back to The Energy Blueprint Podcast.
I am here today with a very special guest, someone whose research I’ve been reading for a very long time, and I’m honored and privileged to have him on the show finally. His name is Dr. Valter Longo, and he’s one of the world’s top longevity scientists.
He’s the director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California and of the program on longevity and cancer at IFOM, which is the molecular oncology FIRC Institute in Milan. Welcome, Dr. Longo. Such an honor to have you on.
Dr. Valter Longo: Thanks for having me.
The Longevity Diet book
Ari Whitten: You are also the author of this book, which I have thoroughly enjoyed. It’s the best nutrition book I’ve read in a very long time, and it’s also unique in the sense that this is not just a book emerging, kind of capitalizing on some of the latest trends in the nutrition world and diet world, and it’s not just some gimmicky pseudoscience of how to lose weight fast.
This is based on decades of solid research, and you were an actual scientist in the lab conducting a lot of this research yourself. It’s quite remarkable in how different of a path you’ve been on relative to a lot of other popular diet trends going on right now.
Dr. Valter Longo: Yeah, so obviously, my mission has been from the beginning not about scientific discoveries but how we use the science to make people live longer, healthier. It takes a long time, you know? I was a student of Roy Walford, and he was a pioneer of something called calorie restriction, but it was too early. It didn’t work very well. It had the incredible effects on disease but wasn’t really extending lifespan.
So in the book, we talk about how we took that understanding, that knowledge, and brought it to something that actually works and that’s probably not going to change in the near future.
Ari Whitten: You’re obviously known for your research on longevity and the fasting mimicking diet. Can you give us some of the most important discoveries or discovery in the science of aging that you’re unveiling in this new book?
Dr. Valter Longo: Yeah, so the book is divided into two parts. One is the everyday diet, so what do you eat every day? The other is the fasting mimicking diet, which is something periodic and people do it between twice a year and 12 times a year. That’s the idea. We’ll talk about it, but it’s a five-day diet that mimics fasting. I think that our discoveries back in the early 90’s starting with the genes that regulate aging.
That was really important. Now people say, “Well, what does that have to do with diet?” But it was key.
It’s key to understanding, for example, the identification of the protein signaling pathway, which is tyrosine kinase, and the sugar signaling pathway, which is the PKA pathway.
These were very, very important in developing the fasting mimicking diet and also in developing everyday diets that are likely or highly likely to extend the lifespan, and not just lifespan, but the healthy lifespan.
The benefits of fasting and the fasting mimicking diet
Ari Whitten: The fasting mimicking diet. Well, I guess I’m not sure where to go here. I guess we have two avenues we could go down. We could talk about healthy foods, not so healthy foods as it relates to longevity or, I think, let’s dig into the fasting mimicking diet specifically. What is that all about, why is fasting important and beneficial, and how does the fasting mimicking diet relate to fasting?
Dr. Valter Longo: Fasting is a little bit like calorie restriction. It’s been around a long time, but doctors have always been very scared of it, and there are some clinics that are very good that specialize in fasting for long periods.
But it wasn’t ever very clear whether it was beneficial or detrimental. I would say most people still think it’s detrimental, most doctors, and some think it’s beneficial. So we took for the past many years, we really looked at what does fasting do? Water only fasting. And what are the problems with this?
This fasting mimicking diet is a result of that, and it’s basically trying to get to the right length, to the right type, for the right use and trying to think something that could be good and bad and make it mostly good or only good.
The fasting mimicking diet, it basically pushes the body into getting rid of damaged components, cellular components, and damaged cells, and then turns on stem cells and it also turns on intercellular mechanisms and rebuilds.
The rebuilding, interestingly enough, doesn’t occur until you start eating again. This is why it’s so important to have mechanisms, because you could be fooled by thinking that you can do something long term and it’s going to work even better than short term, but the trick is actually, do it for short periods, and then combined with the re-feeding, that’s the structural damage components, rebuilding of good components, and then getting into a maintenance mode, and that’s what works.
Again, warning, we hear all the time talking about intermittent fasting, and I really dislike this word, because it doesn’t mean anything. It’s been applied to two hours of fasting to 10 hours to 20 hours to 20 days.
It’s like saying intermittent eating, what does that mean, you know? I think it’s very important to start understanding and having something that is clearly defined and then people can use it knowing what the clinical results have been, because otherwise, we’re going to end up like with most things, back in some good, some bad.
The optimal length of fasting
Ari Whitten: Yeah. There’s so much in what you just said, I want to dig in, that I feel like I could ask you 20 questions right now, but one thing you commented on there is this idea of the length of fasting, and what is the optimal length.
This is something that I personally have not been able to find a clear answer to in the research. I’ve actually been wanting to ask you this for a really long time, because there are some proponents of like seven and 10-day fasts, sometimes even longer fasts.
I’ve seen other people who are proponents of this what they would call intermittent fasting, what’s come to be associated with that term, which is this really more time restricted feeding, like confining all of your food intake within one meal a day or within a six-hour or eight hour chunk of the day, and having an 18 hour or 20 hour fasting window each day.
I would say, on one end of the spectrum, you have that, that sort of time restricted feeding of between just 12 to let’s say 20 hours a day of fasting, versus this long-term fasting of seven or 10-day fasting. Now, what’s your take on that as far as is there an optimal length of time that one should fast, and are there unique benefits of the longer term fast that you don’t get some shorter term, let’s say single day fasts?
Dr. Valter Longo: I’ll give you maybe a little bit longer answer. In the book, I talk about planes and the shuttle, and I basically say, look, when we build planes, we don’t look for opinions. We don’t say, oh, there are some people who think that the wing should be like this, and some people that … You know. So you have Boeing, they’ve been doing it for a long time. That’s all they do. You have Airbus, and they know exactly how to do it, and it’s evolving. The plane is not always the same, but very similar for a long time. It started back in the Leonardo da Vinci years, and then now we have planes that almost never come down, and everything in the plane is studied to the close to perfection.
When it comes to diet and the body, you have to do the same. Much more complicated than a plane, by the way. So you have food that is made of all these nutrients and you have the body that is extremely complicated.
You have to go with data and only data. This is why I talk about the five pillars, and I say, you have to go with epidemiological data, clinical data, basic research, and centenarians, and studies of complex systems, plane and …
Ari Whitten: And if I could just interrupt you very briefly on that point, I love that you do that. That you have all of these layers of evidence and you’re focused on putting together the big body of evidence because unfortunately, there’s so much cherry picking going on where somebody’s drawing only from this study or that study on one particular layer of evidence and not looking at the big picture.
Dr. Valter Longo: And I think that’s where the confusion … So if I had to say, what do you have to read this book? I would say, okay, you can even not read any of it, just read when I talk about the five pillars and don’t even read my book, you know? Then go out and just judge the opinion based on, okay, did you consider the epidemiological study? Did you consider clinical studies? And so you filter out 99.9 of this …
Ari Whitten: Yeah, learn to be scientifically literature.
Dr. Valter Longo: Right. And then, after you filter out 99.9, then you say, “Okay, now let’s start talking about real data, combine it.” So when you do that, then you see that all of it is good and all of it is bad. You know what I mean?
Time-restricted feeding, for example. No doubt that if you do 12 hours or 13 hours of fasting per day, is very good. Very little data in any of these different disciplines suggesting otherwise.
As you start going lower, then you start having metabolic problems, sleep problems. If you fast for seven hours, you eat for 16, 17 hours, you start seeing problems. You start seeing people overweight, not being able to sleep, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, etc., etc. That, a lot of people, I think, appreciate.
Very few people, even experts, appreciate that if you go over 13 hours of fasting, you start seeing problems, too. So you start seeing gallstone formation, major increase, by the way. And it’s a major surgery that you’ll have to receive if you have a gallstone. Your gallbladder is going to be removed.
Also, a lot of people don’t realize that most people that do, say, 16 hours time-restricted feeding skip breakfast, right? Because they have dinner. Everybody loves dinner, and then you say, “Okay, I’m just going to skip breakfast.”
Well, turns out that study after study after study, the epidemiology shows increased mortality, increased cardiovascular disease from skipping breakfast. Now, you could argue, say, “Oh, but yeah, that’s because the people that skip breakfast.” Okay, fine. Maybe there is another reason, but the point is, it’s not worth risking it, right?
If you not only don’t have a positive result, you have a negative one. Do you really want to do that? I mean, you’re trying to extend your lifespan with the data. One of the pillars shows decreased lifespan. So it is not a good idea. So go with 12, 13 hours. That’s what I talk about in the book, and that’s good to go.
Now, the longer fasting, there is really almost no data on two, three weeks of fasting. I could tell you that if you ask 100 doctors, 99 will tell you, “You got to do that in a clinic.” So that really cuts out the great majority of people, because it is so dangerous that … It’s not dangerous, meaning that a lot of people can do it and be no problem. A lot of people can do it at home. It’s not ”danger” in the sense that everybody will be killed by it or everybody will have big problems, but a percentage of people have big problems. It could be if you went to two, three weeks, it could be as high as 20, 30%.
One out of three may have some big problem, so you can’t do that. There is really very little data, almost no data on this. Some of the big clinics are working on it, but there is no data.
Then you have to go with what’s available out there, and so five days, we have a clinical trial. We now have tested over 20,000 people with the prolonged fasting mimicking diet. We’re starting to the build the data. And you go with that. Now, everybody else, there is some data from Michelle Harvie, an author, on the 5:2 Diet and some of that is very positive, very nice. And Krista Varady also in Chicago. So you have to look at all that and evaluate.
Some of the concerns, I think, with the 5:2, which refers to five days … The way Michelle Harvie has it is two days in a row of a very low calorie, about 500 calories per day. That’s, I think, a better version than when you split it apart, because when you do one day, then you wait, you do another day, and the reason for that is that there’s a circadian clock. The body like to have something very repeatable. It’s like sleep, that you sleep for five days and then you don’t sleep for two. It doesn’t work very well. I think it’s the same with food, but they have very nice results, and so that’s a very interesting path.
Now the five days, so the very important things. It takes about two days to get into a ketogenic mode. It takes about two days for the body to switch from using food from the outside, completely, to using your abdominal fat, as we’ve shown, for fuel. Then it takes also a couple days to start breaking down components. White blood cells, muscle cells, etc., etc. That sounds like a bad thing, but it’s a good thing because when you re-feed, you rebuild it.
So if you don’t break it down, you’re never going to be able to recycle so to replace with damage with good.
Ari Whitten: And right now, you’re talking about the process of autophagy, of breaking down damaged cell parts and rebuilding new, healthy ones?
Dr. Valter Longo: I’m talking about both autophagy and stem cell-based regeneration, so the body does it in two ways. Autophagy, which was already known, is, we have discovered, it breaks down also cells and turns on stem cells.
For example, we published a paper last year on the pancreas, and we can do heavy, heavy damage to the pancreas. Destroy all the insulin-producing beta cells, or at least make them not functional, and then do the fasting mimicking diet cycle, and you can see that there’s an embryonic-like that gets turned up. The pancreas looks a lot like the pancreas when you were first born or in the early stages of life because it’s now ready to rebuild or rebuilding at least the damaged components, so it’s a really powerful program to rebuild inside the cell, but also at the organ level.
Ari Whitten: Just to wrap up that last question that I had, if you would say the optimal length of fasting to maximize benefits while minimizing potential side effects, what do you think that would be?
Dr. Valter Longo: I think that in Europe when I first published the book, I made the mistake of basically telling people, “Well, you can do the prolonged fasting mimicking diet, which is what we tested clinically, or you can find an expert and they’ll do it for you.”
B was a disaster. Why? Because a lot of the experts were not really experts, and even those who were experts, they cannot teach somebody how to make their own medicine at home, right?
What we tested clinically has 66 components in it, and I don’t make a penny out of this, so I want to make sure that people understand that I assigned all my shares of our company that makes the fasting mimicking diet to charity, I don’t make any salary or anything from it.
Ari Whitten: That’s awesome.
Dr. Valter Longo: But I just realized that if we make it so that people have to go home and cook it up, yeah, 70%, 80%, maybe even 90%, sometime or maybe even 95%, will be fine one time, but in the long run, you’re going to hurt a lot of people. We had doctors calling us. We had lawyers call us. And patients, of course. A lot of people were angry because they say, “Oh, I thought you said this.” So they were going home, making it up, and then a lot of them were fine, a lot of them were hurt by it. So we said, let’s stop. Just do it with the kit that has been tested clinically.
I think out of close to 25,000 people now, we’ve had very, very little problems and reports from patients or doctors of problems. I really think for the safety and the efficacy, it should be done with this prolonged fasting mimicking diet that was tested clinically.
Now, in the book, I pretty much describe what the fasting is, the diet, so people can actually go to an expert. I didn’t want to hide it so that people think, “Oh, see, he’s trying to sell his product.” It’s there. People can pretty much follow it and do it. I strongly discourage people from doing it, because again, we’ve seen the problems that making medicines at home can cause.
Ari Whitten: Okay, so we have this fasting mimicking diet, which we’re going to dig into the details of that, but I just want to clarify one more point on this subject. So the fasting mimicking diet is a low-calorie diet with specific foods and herbal teas and various ingredients that are there that you’ve found to be particularly effective in mimicking the benefits of fasting or stimulating a lot of the same benefits.
Maybe there isn’t an answer to this but I’m just really curious, what if one day of fasting or two days of … Would you say that something like one day of fasting or two days of fasting is maybe equivalent in terms of benefits to the five days of the fasting mimicking diet or can you make comparisons like that at all?
Dr. Valter Longo: Well, one day every how often?
Ari Whitten: Let’s say once a month.
Dr. Valter Longo: Yeah. No, one day out of once a month is obviously not going to be comparable, because now you don’t even get … After one day, your body still mostly works on food that you’ve taken in the day before, right?
Ari Whitten: Mm-hmm.
Dr. Valter Longo: So there are glycogen reserves and it takes up to 30 hours for the food to be digested, so one day is definitely not going to do any of the things that I said before. You know, enter a ketogenic mode … For example, after four or five days, the brain switches from using almost exclusively sugar for energy to using 50/50 ketone bodies and sugar, so that’s where you want to get to have the full effect.
And that’s why the five days is there at five days. We didn’t want to go longer because also compliance and safety. If you go longer then you start really getting into a territory of a clinic being needed, but shorter, we really don’t think it will have … Certainly not once a month.
Now, you could do it more often, let’s say like the 5:2 Diet, twice a week. We just think that some people can handle that kind of chronic caloric restriction, but for a lot of people, every three days … We think that the fasting mimicking diet on average would be done once every four months. Even that, maybe eventually we hope 50% of people will consider it. Once every four months. Now, imagine once every three days, somebody tells you to do something. Some people can do it and benefit tremendously, but to a lot of people, it’s going to be a big …
I know for me if you tell me just to not eat dinner once a week, I will be suffering starting the day before because tomorrow is the no dinner day.
Why five continuous days of the fasting mimicking diet is better for your health than one day a week
Ari Whitten: Yeah, got you. One more, I guess, little layer to this is, it sounds like what you’re saying is there would be unique benefits to, let’s say, three days or four days or five days of fasting that you wouldn’t necessarily get with 24 hours of fasting?
Dr. Valter Longo: Yes, absolutely.
Ari Whitten: Okay. With that in mind, one thing that we could dig into from here is what you brought up a couple times now, the idea of ketones being in circulation and getting into ketosis.
There’s a lot of popularity of the ketogenic diet that is going around right now. A lot of people talking about nutritional ketosis from very, very low carb, very high-fat diets, typically animal food based diets with lots of various animal foods and saturated fats from animals and so on.
There’s a lot of people also making the claim that being in nutritional ketosis gives you a lot of the same benefits as fasting does. What’s your take on that? Are there unique benefits from the ketones themselves? Like, let’s say you take a ketone supplement and you have lots of ketones floating around in your body. Is that in any way mimicking the benefits of fasting?
Dr. Valter Longo: Of course, if you’re taking ketones, it’s going to potentially activate or most likely activate the enzymes that are processing ketones, using ketones. But that’s a big mistake, right? It’s a big mistake, because the body is, if you’re eating normally, it’s set on a normal metabolism. All of a sudden now, it’s gets a signal for a different metabolism being required without the program being there.
It’s a little bit like I talk about a hybrid car that is designed to either use electric power or gasoline, like some of these cars out there. But then all of a sudden, you impose both at the same time. Without programming the car. I mean, of course, you could program the car, but we’re not programmed to using both. We’re either starving or we’re not. If you’re not starving and you get both signals, well, it could be that if you did that to the car, for a while, it works better, and you say, “Look, since I’ve been using my car, I just tweaked something and now I’m using the electricity and the gasoline at the same time. It’s working better. It’s going faster and I’m getting more miles to the gallon or whatever.” Eventually, what’s going to happen? It’s going to break down. Not for sure, but almost for sure. You’re pushing something that was not designed for that car. The same for the body. So that’s a bad idea, clearly. No doubt.
Ari Whitten: Just to clarify for anybody who didn’t quite follow, you’re saying there’s kind of mixed signals going on. On the one sense, our bodies are programmed to get into ketosis as part of the protocol for calorie restriction or fasting when we don’t have enough food available to us, but now these nutritional ketogenic diets are creating sort of mixed signaling where you’re eating enough calories to go on living on a regular basis and you can do that indefinitely, but you’re also having this other signal, this sort of fasting related starving signal of ketones being in circulation, and you’re saying it’s kind of mixed signals to our biochemistry?
Dr. Valter Longo: Yeah, you’re confusing the system, including the brain now. All of a sudden, it has to decide, what do I do? And it’s trying to do both. Now, who knows what’s going to happen to neurotransmitters, serotonin, dopamine, dopaminergic neurons, etc. So it could be that eventually, you’re going to have, let’s say, a neurological problem. I would bet some money on that. If you think about it like for a car, I think most of us would bet some money that if you had the electricity and the gasoline trying to, somebody tweaked the car to do both at the same time, I think most of us would bet some money that eventually it’s going to break down.
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
Dr. Valter Longo: The other thing is, though, the ketogenic diet. That’s a little bit different, because the ketogenic diet, you can see in the past that there is an evolved need to be able to respond to, let’s say, a high protein, high fat, high animal fat diet, extremely low carbohydrate. That’s a different argument, there. The argument is more based on the pillars, again. What if you ate all the time, say, I’m just going to have a very low carb diet and high protein and high animal fat, etc. Well, if you look at the pillars, you’re going to have very little support, very little support for this.
If you look, for example, epidemiological data, a lot of the data, particularly if it’s animal based, showed increased mortality from almost all causes. If you look at our paper, high animal protein is associated with a several-fold increase in cancer. 75% increase in mortality from all causes. If you look at the animal data, if you feed the mouse high fat, animal fat, high protein diet, it dies very much earlier.
Not later, earlier. If you look at centenarians, not a single one of the record longevity areas of the world, Okinawa, Loma Linda, Sardinia, Calabria, Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece. None of them have a high fat, high protein.
If you look at some of the populations like Inuit, somebody pointed out, I mean I’m not an expert on Inuit but my understanding is they have some diets similar to that, they have 10 years shorter lifespan than the Canadians. As you were saying earlier, you can go find one pillar or half a pillar and say, “Oh, but these guys have shown that cholesterol is lower by a …” Absolutely. There are healthy ways to lower cholesterol that have five pillars instead of one, so that’s the point.
The five pillars of evidence
Ari Whitten: Just for anybody who hasn’t read your book and doesn’t know the five pillars, these five pillars are basically layers of evidence from epidemiological data, from population-level data to randomized controlled experiments to the physiological mechanisms. Basically what he’s saying is, do all of these layers of evidence add up in a way that they all point in a particular direction, or are certain people just cherry picking from one pillar of the data and only drawing from there, and then the other data are pointing in other directions or don’t even exist?
Dr. Valter Longo: I always like to talk about the courtroom. I say, can you imagine if somebody was in a murder trial, and the lawyer shows up and says, “I think he’s guilty. He was around the murder scene.” In the courtroom, we’re very careful with this. I don’t know about five pillars, but there are certainly four or five pillars that you use before you decide whether somebody’s guilty of a major crime or not, right?
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
Dr. Valter Longo: You have the DNA evidence, you have the motive, you have to have … So many things go into that. Then the jury looks at all that and says, “Okay, I think you’re guilty or not,” right? But it would be laughable if somebody just showed up with one and say, “Yeah, you were there, you were around the area, so it must be you.” So that’s what we’re doing, I think, with some of these diets.
The problem with the vegan diet
Ari Whitten: Yeah. One more kind of layer to this that I want to also ask a question on, which is, I do see some vegan authors cherry picking the data and leaving out some research where there are certain studies that I’ve seen come out in recent years where they haven’t found strong links between, let’s say, animal food consumption, red meat consumption, or animal saturated fat consumption and heart disease or cancer or all-cause mortality.
There have been some studies where they haven’t found strong links with those things. Certainly processed animal foods are kind of universally recognized by everyone as bad, but there still seems to be this debate where I’ve seen people in paleo circles, in keto circles, say, “See? This study found that butter and red meat didn’t harm health in any way.” What’s your take on the fact that certain studies like that exist?
Dr. Valter Longo: First of all, as somebody that has done epidemiological studies, multiple with some of the top people in the world that do this, I can tell you that epidemiological studies are very tricky. You take large populations and then you say, “Eat more butter,” “Eat less of this.” It’s extremely difficult, and you can pretty much come up with any answer you want if you manipulate or look at the population in different ways.
Now, let’s say, look at a population that has high meat but it happens to exercise a lot versus a population that has low meat but exercise very little.
So, I would say that being vegan, first of all, is not necessarily good. Why is it not good? And this is why I talk about pescetarian diet, not a vegan diet in the book, because a lot of people, they become vegan, they become too restrictive.
It’s very difficult, especially if you jump from a regular diet to a vegan diet. All of a sudden, you’re going from all this nourishment, all these proteins, all these minerals, and vitamins, etc., to something much, much more restricted. That’s, I think, problematic, and you see it. You can become protein deficient, you can become B12 deficient, etc., etc.
So we don’t know. The point is not to say, couldn’t there be another diet that has animal and that is grass fed and this and that, and it’s as good as the pescetarian diet that I described? Absolutely, there could be, but there is one pillar of evidence for it, so do you really want to get into that when, clearly, most of the pillars are suggesting that you’re going to shorten your life by doing that.
And also, don’t forget. One thing is the perfect implementation of something. One thing is what people get out of it. If you go out there and somebody says, “Oh yeah, but I go and get the grass-fed meat and I eat this much of it, I eat low levels, and then I get the eggs also that are from the garden next door.” You can do that. The question is, what is everybody else going to do when you tell them this? With the pescetarian diet, you pretty much guarantee that they’re going to have an optimized life because it’s supported by so many things.
With this diet, whatever interpretation they come up with could maybe none of them would be beneficial, but maybe in some cases, it would be beneficial, but some more interpretation of it will turn out to shorten someone’s lifespan. So, it’s not worth it to … Now like with smokers, if you smoke and you can’t quit, that’s the way it is. Nobody’s saying that you’re going to be forced to do it, but certainly, it’s good to know that smoking kills you.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. You’re saying, basically, the overall body of evidence, all the five pillars point in the direction that at least large amounts of consumption of meat and animal foods more broadly and animal protein and animal saturated fat are correlated with decreased longevity, higher risk of mortality from higher disease?
Dr. Valter Longo: Not just large amounts, but also normal amounts. If you look at southern Europe, the consumption of meat used to be very low, and a lot of animal products, cheese, etc., etc. Then in the last 40 years, you see a big increase, and if you look at breast cancer, prostate cancers, a lot of cancers used to be much lower than the US, and now they have caught up.
Now, could be other reasons, absolutely there could be other reasons, but the suspicion based on our data on protein, animal protein, and cancer, etc., etc., and many other data, is that in fact, even going to moderate to middle level, let’s say, of cheese and meat and chicken, so every day having a different version of this or a couple, it could be seen as normal, and that’s what’s associated with the modern, 40% chance of having cancer in your lifetime, and whatever percentage close to it about cardiovascular disease and the epidemic of diabetes.
If you just look at the last 40 years, we’re really becoming long-lived, but sick population. So yes, if you want to be sick and be on seven or eight drugs when you get to 60, then continue with this high animal, cheeses and the fats and the protein, but if you want to get to 100, have a high chance of getting to 100 healthy, then I think the vegan/pescetarian diet seems to be by far a much better choice.
The macronutrient ratio of the FMD Diet
Ari Whitten: Beautiful. Let’s dig into macronutrients a little bit. Carbs, fats, proteins. I know you talk quite a bit about protein in the book, and you have some very specific recommendations that are also age specific. I would like to dig into that, but first, I’m actually curious if you have any general thoughts on carbs to fats. Is the carb to fat ratio of the diet playing a critical role in longevity or disease prevention or is all the hype around carbs and fats really overblown in your opinion?
Dr. Valter Longo: Well, what’s overblown and the big mistake is demonization of macronutrients. “Carbs are good, carbs are bad. Fats are good …” None of it is good, and none of it is bad, or all of them are good and bad. So, I talk about in the book 60/30/10. 60% carbs, 30% fats, and 10% protein. If you look at carbs, on Amazon there are people that say, “Oh, but carbs, I’m on a low carb diet and I’m doing so well.” People confuse sugars, starches, and carbohydrates. I try to be very clear in the book, but it’s not easy to get people to understand.
What should be high or as high as possible is the legumes, and they contain carbs, the carrots, the peas, etc., etc. That’s where you should get your carbs from. Those are great carbs. There’s really almost no data suggesting that those carbs are bad. Even in excess. Two should be low levels of starches, so pasta, the bread, the rice. If I talk about to make it 50 grams in your dish, 50 grams of pasta and put 300 grams of legumes and 100 grams of vegetables, that’s a great dish. Almost no data against it, a lot of data in favor. Then you can have a little bit of bread here and there during the day. 30, 40 grams.
Very limited amounts, and then the sugars now should be, let’s say, less than 10 grams a day of added sugar. Now if you do that, for a lot of people, this would be a low carb diet. The diet has low levels of the bad carbohydrates that they hear so much about them being detrimental, and sure, I absolutely agree, but it should be a high carbohydrate diet of the kind that I just described.
The fats, same thing. Olive oil, I mean, yeah, there’s some data out there saying it causes inflammation and this and that, but the overwhelming majority of the data on extra virgin olive oil is very positive, including large, clinical trials randomized.
Of course, you’ve got to get calories from somewhere. You’re never going to have perfection. That’s another thing. There’s no diet that is enjoyable that people say, “Oh, this is a very good diet, I’ll keep it for the rest of my life,” that’s going to be perfect. That you cannot find some study saying it causes this, it causes that. Like with now cereals. Everything is under attack. The fats should be walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, salmon, some fish, fatty fish, and olive oil. Those are great sources of fat.
Now, the bad sources of fats are the animal fats, the butter, etc., etc. And even the vegetable fats. The margarine, etc., are probably not such a good idea. Even coconut oil, at least the American Heart Association argues that it may be bad for you.
I don’t know, but certainly, there’s a case for it. Then 10% protein, and again, legumes and fish are by far the best way to do it.
Fish a couple times a week is also very good to prevent malnourishment. It’s not easy to get enough. So many people that are vegan, you ask them, “Well, can you tell me in the last three days when you had your proteins?” And they’ll say, “Well, I had whatever, rice with garbanzo beans,” and then I ask them, “How many garbanzo beans, chickpeas, did you have in it?” “Oh, I don’t know, maybe like 30 grams.” That’s three grams of protein, so yeah. That’s what people do. So demonization and you go into diets that are missing important components, and that’s why in the book I described all three, and I think this is a very good way to good, 60/30/10.
How the protein needs change as you age
Ari Whitten: Now, protein requirements change a little bit as you age. I know there’s some data that suggests that if you’re above a certain age, you should change your protein intake a bit. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Dr. Valter Longo: Probably not just protein. We found that after 65 using the NHANES and CDC database here in the US, the people that had the very low protein diet were not doing so good. They were doing great before, but not so good after 65. Probably because IGF1, which is controlled by protein, this insulin-like growth factor 1, which we think is so central together with other growth factors in aging, is lowered by age, and by the time you get to 70, 80 years of age, it’s low enough that it doesn’t matter, and that’s what we’ve shown also in the paper.
If you have a high protein diet, it might actually help you … Not a high protein, but let’s say a moderate protein diet, so have sufficient proteins. Increase your protein level to also prevent lean body mass loss and of course exercise. This may not be just about protein. It may also be about the variety of the diet, so I talk about start introducing, maybe, some eggs, some goat yogurt or milk or cheese in your diet when you get to 70, 75. Maybe some additional fats.
Why? Probably because the body struggles to process all the complex food and needs more to do the same job that it used to do with less. For example, we’ve shown in a paper that mice who are young can deal very well with 4% protein, extremely low levels of proteins, but mice that are old, if you put them on 4% protein, they struggle. They rapidly lose weight. Then we suspected the same is true for humans, that you just have to be … Nourishment becomes more important or much more important after the age of 70.
Ari Whitten: Now is that based on just one study, or are there a number of studies that are all pointing in the direction that maybe you want to raise protein intake as you get above 65 or 70?
Dr. Valter Longo: There are a number of studies. There are studies, for example, showing the … Well, yeah, there are a number of studies from geriatrician looking at protein intake. These are like short-term studies, how much protein to maintain a good muscle mass?
This is a number of studies showing that about one gram per kilogram is ideal to maintain muscle mass when you’re over the age of 65, 70. But then there are data on, let’s say, body weight, suggesting that being a little bit overweight after age 65 is actually helpful and not detrimental. This is indicating that after 65, 70, having a little bit of backup, whether it’s fat or muscle or other nutrients, it’s probably beneficial to have a little bit of reserve.
This is why in the book I talk about compromise. You don’t want to go from, let’s say, low protein to high protein, but let’s say 0.8 is what I advise, 0.35 or so of proteins per pound of body weight, so 100 pounds, 35, 40 grams a day of proteins. So you might want to go, let’s say, 20% higher. 20, 25% higher after the age of 70 and just look at your lean body mass, and if you’re going down, as it happens for many people, then you might want to increase a little bit further, and of course you increase training, muscle training and exercise a little bit.
How to modify your protein intake to your individual needs
Ari Whitten: Yeah, I was also going to ask about that, if you modify protein intake according to physical activity levels at all. Like, somebody who is, let’s say, very lean, has low body fat percentage, but has a lot of muscle mass and does a lot of physical activity, do you recommend higher protein for those people or pretty much you have that 10% protein recommendation for everyone across the board?
Dr. Valter Longo: In the book, I talk about the data on muscle synthesis, and it looks like, several studies are showing that if you have 30 grams of protein together with the training, that maximizes the building of the muscle, so you don’t need more. Now, you could do it twice a day theoretically, so you now have 60 grams, but that seems to be maximizing. Now, what I usually recommend for somebody who it’s very important to have a lot of muscle, then I say, lower it to the level that you start noticing that you no longer can maintain that, because most people that train, they know exactly what their muscle is like and so they can keep track of it.
By the way, we’re doing a trial now at the University of Verona on this, on muscle strength and fasting mimicking diet. But yeah, we’re not doing it on an everyday diet. Yeah, I would stick with the 30 grams rule per meal together with the training, and then if you start losing muscle mass, then go higher until you get back to whatever it is that you’re happy with.
What the fasting mimicking diet is and how it differs from other diets
Ari Whitten: Great. Let’s dig into specifics on the fasting mimicking diet. We’ve talked quite a bit now on general recommendations for eating for longevity. What is the fasting mimicking diet all about, and how does it differ from other diets that are out there in terms of specifics?
Dr. Valter Longo: Well, again, the fasting mimicking diet comes from 25 years of work and the genetics of aging and on the discoveries made by my lab about regeneration of multiple organs and systems and on and on and on. Yeah, the fasting mimicking diet is really trying to be a substitute for many drugs, or certainly, a complement, and when possible, a substitute.
The idea is that you go to the doctor and you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and etc., etc., and high fasting glucose, so you’re pre-diabetic, in the stage where you have a high risk for cardiovascular disease. You may have systemic inflammation.
So now they start giving you drugs, and we envision that soon enough, that you’re going to have this clinically tested, fasting mimicking diet to do that. So how does it differ from another diet? I mean, what other diet? There is nothing like that out there.
This is really a new way of thinking in the sense that not just from me but the field of aging and it’s been saying for a long time, but certainly very loudly for the last 20 years, that we can’t treat disease or we can’t try to prevent cancer. It’s pointless, you know?
First of all, if you cure cancer completely, people don’t know that you will extend lifespan by a little over three years, that’s it, the average lifespan. Also, you could do something that prevents cancer that increases cardiovascular disease. So now it’s a wash. It doesn’t really help you. So this is why-
Ari Whitten: Just to clarify that, if you cure completely, you only extend average lifespan by three years. Is that because cancer is generally an end of life disease?
Dr. Valter Longo: No, no, because you could die of something else.
Ari Whitten: Okay.
Dr. Valter Longo: So, in average people, if you cure cancer completely, on average people, within three years, they would die of something else. You die of heart disease, you die of something else.
Ari Whitten: So you’re saying that the underlying health issues are still there, whether they manifest as cancer or something else, or …
Dr. Valter Longo: The underlying problem, aging, right? Aging is still there, and aging is breaking down, it’s compromising every single one of your systems. If you cure cancer completely, of course, you’ll have benefits, but you’ll just live a little bit longer and that’s it.
The point of this fasting mimicking diet is really not addressing a diet at all. It’s addressing, how do I regulate the aging process in a way that people can be compliant, without destroying somebody’s life because you tell them, “Oh, you got to do something crazy,” and they’ll never do it, and without causing side effects. This was the problem of this chronic calorie restriction that refers to lowering calories all the time by 30% below the normal level.
People have been knowing about this for 100 years, but it’s never really done any good. Why? Because nobody wants to do it, first of all, and then it causes as many problems as it causes solutions, and that’s why you now have to come with something much better. And I think this fasting mimicking diet is certainly one of the ways I think that we can start addressing these issues.
Ari Whitten: Now, kind of a big picture question, but why are humans biologically programmed this way? Why are we programmed to respond to periods of fasting with all of these effects, increased autophagy and cleaning up our cells of damaged parts and increasing stem cell proliferation and regenerating the immune system and increasing brain neuron growth? Why does this happen? Why is our biology programmed to respond with all of these beneficial effects from depriving ourselves of food? We’re used to talking about benefits of fasting, but if you think about it in those terms, it is kind of an odd thing, right? Why are we programmed this way?
Dr. Valter Longo: Actually, the main answer is probably pretty straightforward, which is, when you are starving, and this is why I use the analogy of a wood burning train. You have a wood burning train, the old ones, the 100 years ago, and you know that you’re not going to make it to the next station, then you can go and start looking around the train for seats that are broken, walls that are all made of wood, right? So you start taking those, and you burn those. You wouldn’t get the good ones first, you’d get the broken ones.
Then eventually you get the good ones. Why you do that? Well, you’re not going to make it to the next station. You don’t have a choice. You have to do this. And then, you get to the station, you refuel, but at the same time, you rebuild the train, so you’re going to put new chairs in.
I think that’s what the body does. So, if you’re starving and you can imagine throughout history, you have months and months of starvation. Maybe in the winter, maybe dry season or whatever. Now you have to make it through one month, 15 days, two months of no food at all or very little food, so what do you do? You start shrinking, and you start taking part of your liver, your lungs, your immune system, your muscle. Everything shrinks. Of course, the fat goes first, but the fact is, of course, the fuel.
Then, of course, you’re going to be very thin, and hopefully, you get enough food, and then you rebuild. Now imagine if you went from, let’s say, somebody who’s 100 kilograms, so 200 pounds, and then went from 200 pounds to 100 pounds. This will happen in about three months. Now you go to 100 pounds, and eventually, you find all the food again, and you’re just going to start rebuilding, and you’re going to go back to 200 pounds, so it’s 100 pounds of building. How is that going to happen? Well, mostly it’s not even cellular, it’s new cells, stem cells.
Ari Whitten: Wow.
Dr. Valter Longo: This is why we’re seeing these embryonic, developmental program like because you’re really building organs. Now you can go from a liver that is now a third of the size to three times bigger in a matter of potentially a month. Nobody’s ever done this experiment, but we suspect that that’s how quickly you could rebuild two-thirds of a liver. Now, maybe I’m exaggerating, I don’t know, but maybe not.
Certainly, it would grow back to its normal size, or its original size, within a period which could go from one to six months, let’s say. Of course, the liver regenerates on its own normally, but it does very slowly, and so do most other systems, and some systems don’t regenerate a lot. Now you really have an opportunity to just get rid of a lot of junk and [inaudible], and also, we suspect that the body knows how to pick not just any stem cell but pick a good stem cell. Pick a healthy stem cell to then give rise to this new rebuilding.
For example, when we do bone marrow transplants, you take fasted bone marrow and you put it into a naïve mouse that doesn’t have an immune system, and you see after one month and four months, there’s superior rebuilding. You’re starting from scratch. You have no immune system. The recipient mouse has no immune system. You put it in, and even the stem cells from a regular bone marrow will rebuild the immune system, but the ones that are from the fasted will rebuild much quicker and to a higher level. It’s just amazing how it’s probably going to pick very few stem cells that are highly functional and those are the chosen ones to give rise to a new immune system.
The difference between a continuous ketogenic diet and a periodic fasting mimicking diet
Ari Whitten: So all these effects that you just mentioned translate into benefits for certain diseases. What specific diseases have you guys studied and found the most benefits on?
Dr. Valter Longo: The first one was cancer, and so now there are a number of clinical trials on cancer in combination with chemotherapy, so the idea is that it would enhance the efficacy of chemo and reduce the side effects. There are several trials already published. They’re small and they are positive. There is another one that is about to be published, also positive, but the big ones haven’t been finished yet, so we’ll see.
Then multiple sclerosis and autoimmunities, we published one paper that had a clinical component in a mouse and 60 people, a human clinical trial. That also had the ketogenic diet that did not perform as well as the periodic fast. A continuous ketogenic diet did not perform as well as the periodic fasting mimicking diet.
We’ve done diabetes in mice, but we’ve done pre-diabetes in humans. Diabetes in mice both type 1 and type 2, and it was very effective. We have done some studies on cognition and age-dependent brain function in mice, and that worked very well. The idea is that it’s going to be beneficial in a lot of places where there is damage and the damaged cells and the major organs have to be helped by functional ones, can be helped by functional ones. This is why I think it’s got such a broad potential effect.
Now, humans, we’re just getting started, but certainly in the clinical trial that we finished, as I mentioned earlier, in 100 patient clinical trial randomized, we show in the people that had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, high triglyceride, high fasting glucose, high inflammation, etc., we show a high risk factor for cancer, we show a significant decrease and in some cases a major decrease. It’s really looking like it’s doing what we hope it would do, which is to rejuvenate the system.
How the fasting mimicking diet can slow down the aging process
Ari Whitten: Yeah, and I know we’re about to run out of time here, but hopefully just a couple more minutes. In relatively healthy people, do you suspect that incorporate fasting mimicking diets every so often will translate into increased longevity and slow down the aging process itself?
Dr. Valter Longo: Yes, I think so. We’ve shown this in mice, so we started in middle age, they are perfectly fine mice. They have a good diet. They don’t have a longevity diet, but they have the standard diet, which is considered relatively healthy, and that extends lifespan and reduces cancer by about half. This is not an induced cancer, these are just spontaneous cancers that happen on a standard diet. It reduces inflammatory diseases in mice.
The answer is yes. Now, will it have as much of an effect on healthy people that exercise and have a very good everyday diet as it does on people that don’t exercise and have a terrible diet? Absolutely not. I think it’s going to have a much bigger effect on people that have bad habits. Bad habits, of course, it’s probably about 80% of Americans, so I think for the great majority of people, a tremendous effect. And for everybody else, probably doing it a couple times a year is sufficient.
How often you should follow the fasting mimicking diet
Ari Whitten: Got you. The plan is probably somewhere along the lines of eat in accordance with the principles that you’ve outlined on a daily basis and then incorporate the fasting mimicking diet somewhere between once a month to once every six months?
Dr. Valter Longo: Yes, yes. And I should point out one thing because some people complained, the wheat, the gluten, etc., etc. So, obviously, there are foods, and I didn’t talk too much, I talked about it but not too much about it in the book, and I realized I should have expanded that. Obviously, different people have different intolerances and autoimmunities, etc., etc., and for those people, or even those that suspect that they have the problem, obviously, I’m not telling people to swallow the diet that I have in there, which has wheat and etc. An important point is to figure out your specific needs are, and then adopt the diet to your needs with the help of your doctor.
What science says about wheat and gluten
Ari Whitten: On that point, let me just ask you directly. Since you’re including wheat and gluten in this diet, which, as you’ve just pointed out, are very commonly demonized by a lot of health authors and so on that are popular now, someone might say that this is very surprising. Sort of, “Don’t you know that wheat and gluten are very bad because I read it from someone else?” But you’re saying in the overall body of evidence, you don’t believe wheat and gluten consumption is in any way at odds with longevity or disease prevention?
Dr. Valter Longo: No, no, I absolutely do not. The longest lived people in the world, most of them eat lots of products grown from wheat. Now, again, like I said for lactose intolerance, you could be tolerant, you could be intolerant. If you’re intolerant and you drink milk, you’re going to have a problem, and that problem is probably going to shorten your life. If you’re gluten intolerant … Now, keep in mind that in the book I talk about the 50 grams and of course there are now pasta and bread, etc., that have low gluten or very low gluten. I didn’t specify which kind, so I certainly didn’t say go pick the one that has high gluten content.
A lot of the problems we’ve seen when the gluten content in these ingredients went way up and people started having these big dishes of it. In the book, I’m absolutely against that. It’s, stops having these dishes of rice and pasta that you see everywhere. Go down to 50 grams. That, I think, will solve the problem for the great majority of people that have gluten intolerances, because we didn’t use to see this in the past. This is why I also talk about eat at the table of your grandparents, because now by having all these new components, say gluten at very high levels, all of a sudden, the immune system doesn’t understand why you have all this gluten, and starts attacking it, because it’s worried that it’s some invading organism.
Ari Whitten: Do you think on that note, just to digress really quick, do you think GMO’s and glyphosate has any role in why so many people are intolerant to wheat and experience negative effects from it, or believe they do, at least?
Dr. Valter Longo: Nobody knows. My suspicious is, it’s got a lot to do with endobiotics. It’s got to lot to do with drugs people are taking. It’s got a lot to do with eating disorders, and so once you now start an inflammatory process in the intestine due to antibiotics or whatever, and now all of a sudden, you combine it with an antigen, a lot of gluten or whatever else, now you have a recipe for disaster. Now the immune system is very active, and it’s very alert, and it’s going to look for anything that may look like an antigen, so an invading bacteria or virus, and it’s going to attack it. That’s my suspicion.
The evidence for it, we don’t have it, but certainly, this is starting to build up that the microbiota, of course, is very, very important, having a good one to prevent immunity problems, and not just immunity, many, many other things, so I suspect that when you destroy a lot of it by antibiotics, and these we’re using them like they are candy, that you’re going to set up the system for a mismatch with the food or starting attacking some of the food you take in.
Ari Whitten: My final question, if you have one more minute. Do you have to run right this second?
Dr. Valter Longo: It’s okay, you can ask.
What Dr. Valter Longo typically eats I a day
Ari Whitten: Okay. My final question is, can you take us through a typical day of your eating habits, and feel free to do this very quickly without details since I know we’re very short on time now.
Dr. Valter Longo: Yeah, so in the morning, I have usually green tea and black together. Why? Because I don’t like green tea and the black tea covers it, but green tea is healthier. And one lemon, I use a whole lemon in that tea, and then I have a toast, cinnamon raisin toast with blueberry on it. Then lunch, if I’m starting to gain weight, I skip lunch. I usually have some almond milk or something like that, but normally, like right now I’m at a normal weight, so I have lunch. I might have a salad with anchovies or a little bit of anchovies or something like that.
Then dinner, what I told you earlier, that’s my very typical dinner. 50 grams of pasta or rice or whatever, and then 300 grams of legumes, and then 100, 150 grams of vegetables. Actually, this allows me to eat more, so people always think I preach eating less. I never have. Eat more, because these are big dishes, and they serve many purposes, nourishment, and also sending the brain the signal that your stomach is full, meaning don’t overdo it. I think to eat enough-
Ari Whitten: Eat more, not just in terms of calories but in terms of volume of foods and volume of [crosstalk].
Dr. Valter Longo: Yeah, not in terms of calorie, because what I just told you is actually very low calorie, 800 calories. It’s a big dish with 800 calories. Yeah, you can have a much smaller dish that’s going to have a ton of empty calories. I’m against the Japanese saying of always get up a little bit hungry. I think it’s much better to always get up full of the right ingredients.
Ari Whitten: Beautiful, well, for everyone listening, you’ve now heard the sample diet of one of the world’s top longevity scientists, so Dr. Longo, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute honor and a privilege and so much fun to do this interview with you.
And for everyone listening, go to Amazon and get a copy of this, The Longevity Diet. It’s by far one of the best nutrition books I have read in a very, very long time, and lots of important information in this book to prevent disease and extend your lifespan. Dr. Longo, is there anywhere else you’d like to direct people to, your website or ProLon or anything like that?
Dr. Valter Longo: Yeah, so @ProfValterLongo, P-R-O-F Valter Longo Facebook page, that’s where we update people on the research and also on new studies that are coming out, and also createcures.org is the foundation that I started that is sponsoring a lot of these studies, so createcures.org.
Ari Whitten: And can people go there and make donations? Is it like a charity?
Dr. Valter Longo: Yeah, yeah. It’s a foundation, it’s a charity, it’s a non-profit. People can make donations.
Ari Whitten: Wonderful. Dr. Longo, thank you so much. It’s been an honor, and have a wonderful day.
Dr. Valter Longo: My pleasure, thanks a lot, Ari.
Ari Whitten: Yeah.
Why the fasting mimicking diet increases your health and longevity with Dr. Valter Longo – Show Notes
The Longevity Diet book (0:44)
The benefits of fasting and the fasting mimicking diet (3:26)
The optimal length of fasting (6:21)
Why five continuous days of the fasting mimicking diet is better for your health than one day a week (21:21)
The five pillars of evidence (27:50)
The problem with the vegan diet (29:17)
The macronutrient ratio of the FMD Diet (35:30)
How the protein needs change as you age (40:28)
How to modify your protein intake to your individual needs (44:30)
What the fasting mimicking diet is and how it differs from other diets (46:21)
The difference between a continuous ketogenic diet and a periodic fasting mimicking diet (55:09)
How the fasting mimicking diet can slow down the aging process (57:37)
How often you should follow the fasting mimicking diet (58:58)
What science says about wheat and gluten (59:59)
What Dr. Valter Longo typically eats in a day (1:03:50)
If you want to stay informed with the work of Dr. Valter Longo you can follow him on Facebook
Check out the foundation started by Dr. Valter Longo that carries out health and longevity related research
I would also highly recommend that you get your own copy of The Longevity Diet here.