The things we do for Kale & Cocoa! Annabel and I see ourselves as human guinea pigs, testing out (as far as we can) the latest recommendations for healthy ageing. Which means we end up trying all sorts of things on your behalf. So, recently, I have been VERY VERY HUNGRY. AND ANGRY. SO HANGRY (AND A BIT SHOUTY).
I’ve been testing out the Fasting-Mimicking Diet, created by Dr Valter Longo. We first wrote about this last summer here, but his new book has just been published in the UK so it seemed like the perfect time to try it. Dr Longo is the director of The Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California – and his book is called The Longevity Diet. So he’s our kind of guy.
The basic premise of the book is that we all eat too much, and too much of the wrong kinds of foods but if we ate less, and better foods, we’d live longer, healthier lives. Dr Longo recommends a low-ish calorie diet: around 1700 -1800 a day for a sedentary woman of average height and weight, under the age of 50 – or a moderately active one over the age of 50. This is divided into breakfast, one light, low-protein meal and one more calorific, high protein meal. The Longevity Diet is mainly plant-based, although fish and a tiny bit of cheese is allowed. It’s based on Mediterranean principles (Dr Longo grew up in Italy) and is not that different to a standard Medi diet – high in vegetables, olive oil and pulses, with small amounts of wholegrains and fish.
Where the diet is new, however, is in The Fasting Mimicking Diet which Dr Longo suggests everyone should undertake at least twice a year, more for people who are struggling with their weight and/or have risk factors for diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease or neurodegenerative disease. The five-day diet is simple: 1100 calories on day one, 800 calories on days two – five. The calories come from nuts, vegetables and olive oil. It sounds very straightforward but I have to tell you it is pretty hellish. It’s a long time since I’ve been as grumpy as I was on the diet! 800 calories really isn’t very many, and trying to work out how many calories are in a small handful of walnuts when you are really REALLY hungry is not much fun. Although, I did get used to it and, weirdly, almost missed it when it was over. The day after the fast should be plant-based, with lots of whole grains. I have to tell you that the vast bowl of porridge I made for myself after the diet was over was one of the best I have ever tasted. (I was so happy I posted a pic on our Instagram @kaleandcocoa). I lost three pounds on the diet, and – once I started eating again – felt calm and focussed. For obvious reasons I won’t know if it has increased my longevity for some time. Will I do it again? I’m not sure.
Dr Longo believes that the diet gives all the benefits of a full fast, while still allowing some food. The diet is so extremely low-carb and low-protein that insulin levels don’t rise, allowing the body to go into a state of autophagy. At its simplest, this is the body spring-cleaning itself – clearing up damaged cells and proteins in the body and brain. The term ‘autophagy’ literally means ‘eating of self’ and was coined by a scientist 40 years ago to describe the processes he saw in the livers of rats. This process ramps up when the body is in a fasted state and provides energy to other cells. Dr Longo refers to it as ‘rejuvenation from within’.
In the book, Dr Longo credits the combination of the Longevity and Fasting-Mimicking Diets as a panacea for almost all age-related degenerative diseases – linking them to the prevention and treatment of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune diseases. He’s open and honest that in some cases, the research is at an early stage. And the book is not always that easy to read – I found it repetitive. But we applaud any scientific research that promotes simple preventative measures for the major causes of age-related illnesses.
No Kale & Cocoa recipe today – I couldn’t allow myself to think about food too much while I was on 800 calories a day! (But I have shared some lovely pancake recipes on social media this week so check out our Instagram, Twitter or Facebook – kaleandcocoa)