Food. 

In all our research into longevity so far, from quantifying how we sleep to exploring the science behind whether human life extension is possible, nutrition has remained the most controversial and confusing subject that we’ve covered. For example, when we surveyed 101 of our readers on their longevity diet, we got 101 very different answers. There is little consensus on what the perfect life extension diet should look like.

We decided that in addition to looking at what our newsletter subscribers eat, we should also investigate what leading figures in the spanner movement are putting into their mouths.

What Longevity Diet do Experts Eat

By the time August ended, we’d interviewed four people who are active in the life extension community: Elena Milova, Dr. Michael Lustgarten, José Luis Cordeiro, and Nils Osmar, about their longevity diets.

Below, we’ve included our questions and their answers. We’ve lightly edited their responses for concision and clarity.

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1. Elena Milova

Elena Milova is the Chief Operating Officer of the Lifespan Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) and a board member for the Lifeboat Foundation. She’s a longevity advocate and is involved in establishing ethical standards for longevity journalism and running LEAF’s annual conference: Ending Age-Related Diseases

She’s also an intrepid self-experimenter and active on Facebook sharing her health lessons based on her own biomarker data.

What does a typical day of eating look like for you? (When do you eat, how much, and what primarily do you eat?)

Elena: 4 meals: breakfast, lunch, 5 o’clock tea, dinner. My identified calorie need is around 1,300-1,400 kcal per day and I am trying to stay within this range as otherwise, I put on weight. (I increase this on the days when I exercise.)

Primarily I eat raw vegetables (way over 500 grams per day), in each of my meals except for the tea (which includes them). I eat chicken, fish, seafood, eggs, legumes, green salad and herbs, sour cabbage, seeds, and nuts. I eat gluten-free grains. I also eat olive and linseed oil regularly. I avoid dairy as it has negative effects on my health. I also avoid sweets and cakes, but I do eat fruits in moderation.

Occasionally I add protein complexes to make sure I get all the necessary amino acids. I drink coffee, tea, nut-, grain- and soy-based beverages. I also drink mineral water.

My most common meal is what I call a complex salad: it is a pile of raw vegetables + oil + slices of some protein-based food added to it.

What is your favorite longevity-promoting food or nutrient source?

Elena: Nuts. Luckily, I don’t have allergies to nuts, so I alternate different kinds of them. I like walnuts and Brazil nuts the most.

One has to be careful with Brazil nuts though: they contain a lot of selenium, so between two and three servings per day is the recommended maximum.

What would you consider a diet “hack” that you take to promote healthy life extension?

Elena: Avocado. When I started eating avocado on a regular basis, my good cholesterol went up. I observed the same effect in my father. Since good cholesterol can regulate the lipid profile, there is a possibility that eating avocado in my case lowers the risks of atherosclerosis and heart disease. 

What do you think is the biggest misconception about diet and longevity?

Elena: That there is something that works for everyone and that that diet always works. 

In reality, what I observed when doing my regular diagnostics, is that the biomarkers can change very fast in response to health issues, nutrition, lifestyle practices, and the environment. One has to keep an eye on those biomarkers and give the body what it needs NOW, not what it is expected to need in general, or what the rest of the people around find beneficial. 

I identified that my way to be healthier includes taking additional calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron, and replenishing my B-vitamins from time to time. I eat healthily but my body can’t get all it needs from the food. It goes in line with the absolute necessity of regular check-ups, at least one large panel of tests per year, to know what changed. We can’t sense the deficiency of calcium or vitamin B, or tell them from one another. To take the right measures to improve health, we need to get this data from bloodwork.

Also, it’s a misconception that diet can solve all your problems with metabolism. Nope, it can’t—you still need physical activity and good sleep. 

If you were to give an additional single piece of advice to anyone interested in changing their diet for longevity, what would you suggest?

Elena: Start with a large diagnostic panel (including bloodwork, ECG, ultrasound of veins and internal organs, or MRI) and after getting the data, discuss it with your medical advisor. Only then you can pick the interventions that will likely be useful to you. 

2. Mike Lustgarten

Dr. Michael Lustgarten is a scientist at the Jean Mayer Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, studying the gut microbiome and its effect on aging (a topic he’s also written a highly-rated book about). 

But where most people in the longevity community know Mike from is as the proprietor of michaellustgarten.com and the producer of a longevity-focused YouTube channel where he takes a very scientific approach to maximizing longevity through diet, exercise, and rigorous self-measurement.

Mike answered our questions over video chat (the whole episode of which we’ll release soon!), and his answers here have been transcribed and slightly edited for clarity.

What does a typical day of eating look like for you? (When do you eat, how much, and what primarily do you eat?)

Mike: My protocol is based on how I like to eat, when I like to eat, and also the blood test data.

I wake up between five and six, and my daily diet schedule looks something like:

  • 6am-7am: 
    • 5-6g Brazil nuts
    • 80g almonds (sometimes substituted for cashews or peanuts)
    • 50g dates (mixed with raw cacao beans 2-3 days a week. Some days I’ll also cut the dates out and then I just have the equivalent amount of calories in avocados, so, for example, 3 avocados)
    • 1 little can of sardines
    • Loose leaf Japanese green tea (in terms of all cause mortality risk, there’s a whole bunch of studies and data on green tea, especially Japanese green tea) with lemon juice, and turmeric, licorice root, and ginger powders
    • 8oz of frozen mixed berries: blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries
  • 8-9ish: 
    • 1lb of raw carrots
    • 200g red bell peppers (which I’m cutting down on—I can eat pounds of that stuff but for whatever reason too many red peppers are associated with worse blood biomarkers for me)
    • “Pizza” without flour (white flour’s literal nutritional garbage): I put 200 grams of baby spinach on the bottom of a bowl and then I put some cherry tomatoes on top, about three ounces of cheese (from a real fresh mozzarella ball) on top of all of that and then some fresh oregano and basil. Depending on the day, maybe one gram of salt, and then I’ll microwave that for a couple minutes and mix it together, and I am telling you it’s like pizza.
  • 12:30-1pm: 
    • 220g of low-fat yogurt (for whatever reason high, regular full-fat yogurt has my biomarkers going in the wrong direction)
    • 8oz berries (I eat a lot of berries on a daily basis—two pounds or more)
  • 2-2:30pm: 
    • 80g pickles (I’m not sponsored but Grillo’s pickles are pretty delicious) 
    • 8oz berries
    • 50-60g raw cherry tomatoes
    • Then a smoothie: 12oz frozen mixed berries, 50g of raw curly parsley, six ounces of raw purple beet, and then 1g of vanilla beans (because for whatever reason vanilla beans are also associated with my blood biomarkers going crazy in the wrong direction. So I’ve actually cut that down), 10g whey protein (Naked Whey protein brand; just grass fed whey, no taste or additives)

So I’m at 2,600 calories today, which is a super active day. That’s everything I eat, and now I try to shut it off; I try to not eat or drink for the rest of the night until I wake up in the morning. I usually try to stop eating by 2:30.

What is your favorite longevity-promoting food or nutrient source?

Mike: I’d say fiber. There are published data showing that we evolved eating lots of meat, but also lots of plants. The problem is, though, the RDA for fiber is 20-30 grams, but on a 3,000 calorie diet, evolutionarily we ate about 100 grams of fiber per day. When you do that math, it’s 3.3 grams of fiber per 100 calories. So for someone consuming a 2,000 calorie diet, they should be eating 65 grams of fiber per day, not the 20-30 recommended by the RDA.

Also, most people are neglecting the role of the gut microbiome on health. Most people don’t eat nearly enough fiber to optimize their gut. Microbiome function also declines during aging and one way you can kind of resist that is by giving them the food that they convert into short-chain fatty acids, which is soluble fiber. I’m sure people 20-30 years from now are going to call me the fiber promoter.

In terms of a favorite whole food fiber source: Vegetables.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m eating a pound of carrots a day. When I eat a salad, it’s a pound and a half of lettuce and spinach.

And I’ve actually cut my veggie intake down because I may have some adverse effects from cruciferous vegetables. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism in my 20s and cruciferous vegetables can impact thyroid health. I was originally married to the idea of just going high fiber and adding lots of vegetables into my diet. I was eating literally a kilogram of broccoli, cauliflower, in addition to the carrots and peppers and everything else per day. And I’d wake up in the morning feeling exhausted and horrible, even with a normal night’s sleep.

And then, because I tracked heart rate variability and resting heart rate with a wearable, I started to see a trend for about 20% lower values for my heart rate variability. So I was like, alright, I’m going to cut the cruciferous vegetables out. And sure enough, it’s been easier to get my heart rate variability back up 20% and have better sleep quality. So whether that’s causation I don’t know, but if I could, I’d still eat 1,000 grams of broccoli, or cauliflower every day. It’s got favorable effects on other biomarkers like kidney function for me.

What would you consider a diet “hack” that you take to promote healthy life extension?

Cut out junk food. I mean, that’s the easiest thing. If it doesn’t grow or it doesn’t walk on Earth, if it’s made in the lab somewhere, don’t eat it.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about diet and longevity?

Mike: There isn’t a one-size-fits-all.

Even if you showed me a study with 16 million people that said “this diet is best for health,” I’d still have to do the experiment on myself to see if it works for me.

Just because something’s published in a large study, you still have to do the experiment at the individual level and see if it works for you. And taking that a step further, if you’re taking NMN, or rapamycin, or the senolytic fisetin, or whatever the hot senolytic of the moment is, if you don’t actually have blood test data or some objective markers of health that actually shows it’s beneficial or at worst neutral, it could potentially be detrimental. Just because something works in mice, or just because something works in a giant epidemiological study, doesn’t mean that it will work at the individual level. You’ve got to take that extra step and actually measure it.

If you were to give an additional single piece of advice to anyone interested in changing their diet for longevity, what would you suggest?

Mike: In terms of getting on the right path it has to do with goals.

The core of all is doing the individual testing, even if it’s not blood testing, even having some kind of a tracker that tracks something—it could be blood pressure, it could be heart rate variability and resting heart rate, it could be a CGM—is better than nothing. 

Imagine health is a 500 piece puzzle, and you have 3 pieces and you think, “Well, that’s the whole story.” But while you want to have as many puzzle pieces to get as much of the story as possible, even just having a few pieces can be more instructive than having none.

3. José Luis Cordeiro

José Cordeiro is an author, futurist, and life extension evangelist whose face will be familiar to most spanners for his indefatigable work promoting longevity advances and his prodigious number of appearances at longevity conferences and events. 

José has an MBA and PhD and has led and served on life extension foundations and organizations like The Millennium Project, Humanity Plus, The Lifeboat Foundation, and the World Transhumanist Association, as well as been visiting faculty at related institutions including Singularity University. His recent Spanish-language book La Muerte de la Muerte (“The Death of Death”) is an exploration of the scientific possibility of radical human life extension and a philosophical defense of the morality of immortality.

What does a typical day of eating look like for you? (When do you eat, how much, and what primarily do you eat?)

José: I have been following, or trying to follow, the OMAD (One Meal A Day) diet for over 20 years. I avoid all red meats, but I eat fish, and sometimes chicken when eating with friends, but I don´t ask for it, only if there are no other choices. Thus, I try to be as “fishetarian” or pescetarian as possible.

What is your favorite longevity-promoting food or nutrient source?

José: I love fruits, nuts and avocados. Since I am now living in Spain, the Mediterranean diet is a great opportunity.

What would you consider a diet “hack” that you take to promote healthy life extension?

José: I like to take Metformin, CoQ10, Quercetin, Fisetin, NAD+ and other vitamins and supplements. Looking forward to seeing the first clinical trials on humans with Rapamacyn to see if we should take it too.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about diet and longevity?

José: Diet alone will not take us to Longevity Escape Velocity (LEV) or the Methuselarity. Diet is only part of Bridge 1 towards indefinite longevity, according to my friend Ray Kurzweil in his bestseller Fantastic Voyage. Diet is a necessary but not a sufficient condition, we need to cross Bridge 2 in the 2020s and Bridge 3 in the 2030s to reach radical life extension and to live long enough to live forever.

If you were to give an additional single piece of advice to anyone interested in changing their diet for longevity, what would you suggest?

José: Eat less food, and eat fewer meals. Every month I do a 2-or-3 day water fast to induce autophagy.

4. Nils Osmar

When it comes to self-experimentation, Nils Osmar does it right. He tracks what he does and why he does it both on his website and on his top life extension Facebook group: Life Extension and Anti-Aging (of which J.P. and Rachel are both active members).

From advice on how to start hacking aging yourself to leading discussions on whether specific interventions are working, Nils does a great job balancing what he does know, what he doesn’t know, and keeping discussions science-based and on topic. His YouTube channel is another great source of down-to-earth discussion on longevity interventions.

What does a typical day of eating look like for you? (When do you eat, how much, and what primarily do you eat?)

Nils: It depends on whether I’m feasting or fasting.

Fasting days: I’ll either eat nothing the entire day or eat nothing until dinnertime. If I do end a fasting day with a meal, it’ll be small, less than 750 calories. I usually fast two or three days a week.

Feasting days: If it’s a workout day, I get up at 5 (usually); work out; then have a high-protein breakfast such as eggs and fish or yogurt and whey. I eat ample protein, fat, and carbs (from plant and animal sources) as the day moves along. The following day, I eat largely plant-based. On the third day, I eat nothing or eat a small dinner.

What is your favorite longevity-promoting food or nutrient source?

Nils: Too many to choose one food; sardines and avocados would both make the list.

What would you consider a diet “hack” that you take to promote healthy life extension?

Nils: Start doing three-day rotations, as I do.

On Day 1, work out in the morning, then eat a high-protein animal-based diet to activate mTOR.

On Day 2, eat a largely plant-based diet to activate AMPK.

On Day 3, fast the entire day or fast until dinner (also an AMPK day). Two out of three days and three out of three nights will be for AMPK activation.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about diet and longevity?

Nils: I think it’s good to keep challenging the notion that veganism is the best path for everyone.

Vegan diets do have some benefits, such as promoting autophagy, AMPK, and reducing mTOR activation. But plant-based diets which include some animal foods do the same good things. And vegan diets can also (in my experience) lead to nutrient deficiencies.

I was vegan myself for a few years. My health improved for a while, then went downhill. I also came to question the notion that it’s better morally, to eat plants rather than animals. Plants and fungi don’t appear to “want to be eaten” any more than animals do; the key difference really is that plants and fungi can’t run away, but I don’t think this makes it ethically better to eat them.

I realize some people will disagree with this, but it seems to me that diets which are plant-based but include some animal-based nutrients are likely to be a better choice for most people.

If you were to give an additional single piece of advice to anyone interested in changing their diet for longevity, what would you suggest?

Nils: Start with an understanding of the Rekindle Protocol.

There is no single “expert longevity diet”

While there’s certainly some similarity in diet patterns among the longevity experts we interviewed, we found it striking the amount of differences between them.

Some are mainly plant-based, while others encourage meat-eating. Some eschew supplements and non-whole foods while others find a supplement and pharmaceutical stack essential. 

That said, almost all of them practiced some form of fasting (a result also replicated in our longevity diet survey).

But diet (and, presumably, other longevity interventions) overall seems to be very individualized. The ideal longevity diet may vary widely based on a person’s genetics, environment, and lifestyle. In fact, two of our experts—Elena and Mike—pointed out the necessity of measuring your body—whether through blood tests, wearables, or other tracking methods—to inform what, how much, and when you should be eating.

As Mike Lustgarten said above, “There isn’t a one-size-fits-all….Just because something works in mice, or just because something works in a giant epidemiological study, doesn’t mean that it will work at the individual level. You’ve got to take that extra step and actually measure it.”

How about you? Any favorite longevity meal hacks or foods? Any interesting food discoveries based on your own biomarker data?

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5 Comments

  1. Gabriel

    This comes to show that someone has to learn and make his own decisions about nutrition based on the more general principles rather than blindly following someone else’s. But it really baffles me Mike’s diet, why so many raw vegetables?

    1. J.P.

      Yup totally agree! As to Mike’s diet, I know he’s big on getting his nutrients from whole, unprocessed foods instead of from supplements or processed forms, so my guess is he does so many raw vegetables to ensure he’s getting the right quantity of nutrients (like beta carotine or albumin). Plus he’s big on fiber and raw veggies are a great source of that (https://michaellustgarten.com/2015/08/25/if-your-goal-is-optimal-nutrition-which-is-better-carrots-or-sweet-orange-potatoes/)!

      It also looks like he’s concerned with AGE formation if cooking food (see: https://michaellustgarten.com/2014/07/25/advanced-glycation-end-products-theres-more-to-health-than-counting-calories-protein-fat-and-carbs/).

  2. Chia-Cheng KIng

    The most important thing in longevity is detox. I do 16:8 fasting everyday.
    next: do not eat meat, eat fish, shrimp, nuts, seeds.
    next: drink at least 8 cups of liquid without sugar everyday.
    next: do games, I play Sudoku several times every day.
    I am 95 years old, live alone, I take care my self. I drive, shop, cook, I take care my yard.
    I am very healthy,
    I feel like I am only 30 years old.

  3. Reuben

    Great article! I definitely agree there is no one size fits all when it comes to diet. Though there are some out there that push this idea, but you will find it is for financial interests and not so much health.
    What we can take away is a good nutrient dense diet and regular exercise definitely goes a long way to improve your health and longevity.

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