Recently there was a New York Times article highlighting the Italian scientist and longevity guru, Dr. Valter Longo. I have been following Dr. Longo for years, and I’m happy to see that his work is finally getting more attention from the mainstream press.

If you don’t know of his work, I’ve written about it several times here on this website (particularly his Fasting Mimicking Diet) and I’ve also discussed it on my Eat Like an Italian podcast.

Basically, his philosophy promotes an updated formulation of the Mediterranean Diet, coupled with periods of fasting. However the fasting protocol that he champions is a kinder, gentler version; the aforementioned Fasting MIMICKING Diet, which allows you to consume a 5-day menu of his design while gaining all the benefits of a complete water fast. “Fasting with food,” as it were…

Below is a summary of the New York Times article, with a link to the full article at the end, for those who subscribe to the paper and have access to the online version.

Promoting Longevity with Valter Longo

Valter Longo, once a guitarist in a grunge band, is now a renowned scientist in the field of longevity. He’s based in Italy, which is known for its high number of centenarians and is considered a great place to study aging. Longo advocates for a healthier lifestyle through a diet he developed, called the ProLon diet, which mimics the effects of fasting without the need to actually starve. This diet is plant-based and includes supplements, soups. olives, and kale crackers, among other ingredients. It’s designed to help cells rejuvenate by getting rid of damaged cellular components and replacing them with new “younger” ones.

Longo’s research has shown that periodic cycles of this fasting-mimicking diet (FMD) can reduce biological age and prevent diseases related to aging. He’s also a big proponent of the Mediterranean diet, although he notes that it’s not as commonly followed in Italy as it once was. Many Italian children these days, especially in the south of Italy, are facing obesity due to a diet high in pizza, pasta, potatoes, and bread.

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Longevity Beyond the Mediterranean Diet

Longo’s work extends beyond just diet. He’s interested in the genetic factors that contribute to longevity. He has noticed that in some Italian towns with many centenarians, there might be a “super-longevity genome” that has developed over generations. He theorizes that this could be due to a combination of factors, including a period of starvation early in life followed by a diet rich in proteins and fats, along with modern medicine.

Obviously physical activity plays a role, too. Traditionally, Italians, like other Europeans, incorporate a lot more natural movement into their day than their American counterparts. And there are the social structures, too, where multi-generational Italian families provide emotional and financial safety nets not as commonly found in the U.S.

The scientist’s fascination with aging began in his childhood when he witnessed his grandfather’s death in Calabria, a region known for its long-lived residents. After moving to the United States, he observed the health problems faced by his relatives due to their poor diet, which motivated him to study aging and nutrition.

Today, Longo’s research is gaining attention worldwide, especially as concepts like longevity and intermittent fasting become more popular. However, he’s concerned about the future, where advancements in longevity might lead to a divided society: one group living long but disease-ridden lives, and another following fasting diets and scientific breakthroughs to live even longer in good health. Longo himself aims to live up to 130 years old, emphasizing the importance of a healthy lifestyle to achieve such a goal.

Full article: To Live Past 100, Mangia a Lot Less: Italian Expert’s Ideas on Aging

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Rick Zullo

Former doctor, current science teacher, and life-long food lover, Rick's passion for Mediterranean cuisine was ignited while living as an expat in Rome, Italy. 


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