Book Review (4/5) – The Longevity Diet (Valter Longo)
Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews.
Originally published on Goodreads.
I waited to write my review of this because I wanted to try out the fasting mimicking diet as recommended in the book. I’ve now done that so I now I feel informed enough to comment.
The book itself is written like many other self-help and diet/health related titles in that it is based around a narrative of the author’s scientific journey. I suppose telling the story of his background and how he got into the field allows him to build his credentials and explain the context of the book. It must work because it’s a common format but adds quite a lot of what I see as unnecessary fluff to what I consider to be more of a scientific work.
Of course, this book is not a scientific paper. The author has published many of those and they have the proper technical language – they’re not telling a story. This is the mainstream version for the public to transmit the idea in an easily digestible way. Pun intended.
The main standout from his proposed diet is that it isn’t really a specific list of things to do and not do. There are certainly elements of that but the prescription is broad: exercise, sleep, eat mostly plants and fish. The more radical element is the fasting. Crucially, this is “mimicking” because it is designed to be safe at home whereas a true fast should be done only under medical supervision.
The evidence backing up the results of this diet is compelling, but many of the trials are in mice. There are promising results from full human trials which mean this is not just pseudoscience but there are many more needed in the future. This is the challenge of nutrition – we really don’t know much about it so any recommendations need to be moderate and adopt the precautionary principle.
I purchased the £200 fasting kit sold by the company he has set up to formulate the perfect approach (he takes no profit or salary). It’s a little absurd to pay x4 what my normal weekly shopping cost me to eat significantly less, but it is also much easier than trying to precisely craft the correct nutritional content needed to mimicking 5 days of fasting.
The most surprising thing was that it wasn’t too difficult. The hardest part was in the evenings when I was very hungry, but it’s a good test of willpower when it’s very easy just to grab something from the fridge or shop! I didn’t have any side effects but also didn’t notice any benefits. Another problem of these dietary recommendations – they’re mostly preventative. That’s certainly a good approach, but only if it’s been proven they do actually prevent what is claimed!
The more interesting effects are the trials being conducted in seriously ill patients e.g. those undergoing chemotherapy, where the fasting mimicking diet is being seen to have major benefits. There is a different kit to buy in those cases, and must be administered by your oncologist. I hope I never have to test that.
At the end of the 5 days I had lost about 1kg of weight. Transitioning from what is essentially a 5 day liquid diet back to normal food was also a challenge. In the week or two afterwards I found I wasn’t as hungry. My weight has now returned to slightly below my previously steady baseline, where it is remaining.
It will be interesting to follow the research as this field continues to develop. Hopefully the full benefits will be proven and it won’t turn out to be another fad.