Evidence suggests that fasting could help cure disease
and prevent aging, though a number of fasting interventions
sound difficult and unpleasant.
One researcher has developed the fasting-mimicking
diet, which he says could provide the benefits of fasting but
only requires eating a specific way for five days at a time
once every few months.
Still, eating healthily and exercising are important
for people who want to reduce disease risk and prevent
Most of us don’t just want to live longer. We want stay healthier
at the same time — an extra 20-30 years lying in a sickbed sounds
Valter Longo, the director of the Longevity
Institute at the University of Southern California, believes that
by eating in a specific way, people might be able to live past
100 without developing debilitating diseases.
There’s solid evidence that suggests periodic fasting could
prolong lifespan and prevent disease. Longo has designed a diet
that he says provides the
benefits of fasting while still letting people eat
normally most of the time.
Longo explains his fasting-mimicking diet (FMD) in his new book,
Longevity Diet.” It’s designed to provide the benefits of
fasting while only having people cut back on food for five days
at a time. These fasts can be done as often as once a month or as
infrequently as once every six months. Most people could
theoretically reap the benefits by doing the fast three or four
times a year.
Studies — including at least one
clinical trial with 100 participants — have found that this
diet can significantly alter signs of disease, reduce weight and
body fat, lower blood pressure, decrease levels of biomarkers
associated with cancer, and improve blood-sugar levels.
The fasting-mimicking diet
People on the FMD eat normally for 25 days, but the five-day fast
On those days, participants eat a specific blend of nutrients
that amount to 1,100 calories on the first day and 800 calories
per day on days two through five.
Nutritionally, most of these calories come from complex
carbohydrates (like vegetables), healthy fats (olive oil), and
plant-based protein (from nuts).
Although it’s still far too early to say whether doing the FMD
every so often will actually prolong life in the long term, the
basic idea is appealing.
Fasting is known to trigger physical changes that seem to be
associated with longer life and disease prevention. Early
clinical trials indicate that restricting calorie intake
seems to trigger similarly promising physical changes in people,
which is why it’s sometimes discussed as a potential anti-aging
But as Longo explains in the book, calorie restriction usually
involves reducing caloric intake by 20-30%, which sounds kind of
miserable in the long term. And animal and human studies suggest
that many of the physical changes associated with fasting start
during a shorter fast.
Longo used that data, along with other anti-aging studies,
examinations of how centenarians eat and live, and the clinical
trials conducted so far, to design the FMD to provide “the
benefits of fasting without the deprivation and hunger” (except
for that five-day period).
Longo also created a
company that sells the meals people consume while on the
fasting portion of the diet, though he says 100% of his shares in
that company and all profits from the book go to a non-profit foundation he created
that’s dedicated toward research on treating and preventing
Living a healthy life
The studies conducted so far have allowed people to eat whatever
they pleased for the 25 non-fasting days, but Longo emphasizes in
the book that science supports certain eating plans regardless.
Most research indicates that the people who live longest and stay
healthy tend to eat a largely plant-based pescatarian diet that’s
relatively low in protein. Longo thinks this is ideal — a mostly
vegan and fish-based lifestyle, though one in which moderate
consumption of wine and coffee are permitted.
For someone in good health who is eating like this and getting
regular exercise, he thinks the FMD might be beneficial to do
twice a year.
For healthy people eating a more “normal” diet, he wrote that the
FMD might be beneficial once every four or five months. People
with at least two risk factors for cancer, diabetes, or heart
disease who are overweight could consider doing the FMD once a
month, Longo says.
You should talk to your doctor before any major diet or lifestyle
change, especially since intense fasting can be dangerous for
people who are pregnant or have diabetes or other health
Dietary interventions can have powerful effects, and a way to get
the benefits of fasting without having to drastically cut
calories all the time could be promising. But people who really
want to become supercentenarians should probably pay attention to
all aspects of your lifestyle.