The error of eating five times a day

Valter Longo.
Valter Longo. / Camagna
  • Italian researcher Valter Longo says only about ten per cent of the population eats a “genuine” Mediterranean diet

Molochio is a small village in southern Italy. It has a population of 2,000 and there is something unusual about it: it has the highest number of centenarians in the world. Until recently, there were four; now there are two, but it is still one of the most significant statistics on the planet.

Valter Longo's parents come from this area. He has become one of the top experts in the world on the study of longevity, and not only in the south of Italy: his research has also taken him to Okinawa in Japan, Russia and Ecuador. However, it was in his parents' village that Valter started his research, together with the University of Calabria, to find out why some people live for over 100 years.

He has published the results of his research in a book 'The Longevity Diet'. The profits from the book are being donated to the Create Cares Foundation.

“Someone whose weight is correct should eat three times a day, and if they are overweight they should eat twice, although they can have a snack as well,” he says. He also advocates a fasting-type diet for four days at least twice a year, to readjust the immune system, and says people should return to eating the most natural products, including vegetables, fish, olive oil and dried fruits. Never red meat. “The protein content of any meat is linked to an increased mortality, cancer and cardiovascular illnesses,” he insists.

Of course, all types of sugar should be eradicated from the diet. Longo, who is also the director of the Institute of Longevity at the Gerontology faculty of Southern California University, says that everything he proposes has been passed by a laboratory and tested by a trial group.

“People invent diets because they make money. And some are excellent. In Italy we have one which was designed by a pharmacist. The way this person has become famous is by saying “eat what you fancy”. Is there any scientific basis for that? No. You have to identify the real professionals from those who aren't. When someone is going to have a knee operation, they don't go to just any surgeon, but for some reason when anyone talks about eating, people believe them,” he says.

In 'The Longevity Diet', Longo also destroys some myths, such as that people should eat five meals a day. “Nobody can recommend that. If someone eats five times a day they will ingest five per cent more calories a day and by the end of a year we are talking about three or four kilos. What I propose is that if someone's weight is normal they should eat three times a day and if they are over weight they should have two meals and a snack,” he explains. “What we do is ask the patient what they want to eat, and then tell them that they can have 70 per cent of it and not the other 30 per cent. We ask them not to eat certain foods.”

Longo also raises doubts about the Mediterranean diet. “It only reduces the risk of some illnesses by between six and 13 per cent,” he says. Much less than, for example, the normal diet of the people of Okinawa. Also, few people are really eating a Mediterranean diet. “In Italy, and in Spain it is about the same, 60 per cent of people believe they follow a Mediterranean diet, but only 10 per cent of them are doing it properly,” he says.