Diet and nutrition are among the more important contributors to healthspan and lifespan. In this post, I illustrate this with an example of how a single, commonly neglected nutrient deficiency can wreak havoc on your health and longevity, which diets and foods I make a point to avoid, and discuss the specifics of my diet and its logic.
The post includes a high-level summary of my diet habits from my teens to the present, along with the specifics of my current diet.
If you want a quick summary of what I eat, scroll down to the section “My Diet: A Typical Week“. If you have the time, I encourage you to read the entire article.
Even as a lifelong exercise fanatic I’ll admit, diet and nutrition (and by extension, supplementation to fill in the gaps) are more complex, important to get right, and in certain instances, more impactful on overall health and longevity than activity.
It makes sense: nutrition involves far more interdependent variables than physical activity and is a lot easier to get wrong. When it comes to activity, simply walking briskly for twenty-five minutes every day can get you quite far (in both senses!) for general health and longevity. Add in some strength training for 20 minutes three times per week, and maybe a HIIT session or two of cardio, and you’re probably already approaching Pareto’s principle, at least when it comes to longevity.
While there’s no denying that physical exercise is a powerful tool to extend one’s lifespan beyond the norm, as Dr. Peter Attia cogently points out in his 2023 New York Times Bestseller, Outlive, the sad reality is that the vast majority of people shorten their lives because of how they eat. And while Dr. Peter Attia focuses on macronutrients (types and amounts of alcohol, fat, carbs, proteins) and total caloric intake (caloric restriction) in Outlive, I’m afraid he downplays the significance that specific foods – and their constituent molecules – play in healthspan and lifespan.
Specifically, in Outlive Dr. Peter Attia states, “Almost all ‘diets’ are similar: they may help some people but prove useless for most. Instead of arguing about diets, we will focus on nutritional biochemistry—how the combinations of nutrients that you eat affect your own metabolism and physiology, and how to use data and technology to come up with the best eating pattern for you.” While there are truths in this statement, the subtleties are crucial: while many diets are similar, many of the most popular diets are not (e.g., vegan vs. carnivore vs. ketogenic vs. mediterranean vs. standard American), and there’s a lot more to nutritional biochemistry than just calories and macros.
Nutrient Deficiencies and Inadequacies
What Dr. Attia does not acknowledge are the innumerable micronutrients, for which a deficiency can be detrimental; phytonutrients, which hold the potential to extend healthspan and lifespan beyond baseline; and the role that a diversity of plant based foods and probiotic foods play in quality of life (the nine gut-organ axes) and disease (90% of all diseases can be traced back to the health of the gut microbiome, (Ahlawat et al., 2021)). Different diets can have vastly different outcomes for each of these considerations.
Let’s just focus on deficiencies and inadequacies for now. The 1937 recipient of the Nobel Prize, Albert Szent-Gyorgi, who first isolated vitamin C, once said, “The medical profession itself took a very narrow and wrong view. Lack of ascorbic acid caused scurvy, so if there is no scurvy there was not a lack of ascorbic acid. Nothing could be clearer than this. The only trouble was that scurvy is not a first symptom of a lack but a final collapse, a premortal syndrome and there is a wide gap between scurvy and full health.” Unfortunately, the medical profession still doesn’t seem to assign the proper weight to micronutrients in relation to optimal health and disease.
Of course, one may say “I eat healthy, so I don’t have any nutrient inadequacies.” However, it’s not so easy to achieve. Even with my strict diet, I run short on some nutrients – as does the overwhelming majority of the US population.
The US NHANES national survey of 16,444 individuals reported a high prevalence of inadequacies for multiple micronutrients (see table below). Nearly 100% of people have at least one nutrient inadequacy.
Nutrient deficiencies or excesses of specific molecules can cause a multitude of health issues in the short to mid term (scurvy, metabolic syndrome, fatigue, psychological disorders, depression, high susceptibility to infections, etc.), and can have seemingly unlimited long-term consequences, most important of which is a substantial shortening of both healthspan and lifespan.
Timing also has a major impact on your health and longevity. That is, the time of day that you eat your meals and for how long you don’t.
Nutrition, and by extension, our metabolisms, fundamentally and significantly impact the aging process and the occurrence of diseases of aging, including cardiovascular disease, neurocognitive impairment (Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s), cancer, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, macular degeneration, and innumerable other conditions. Nutrition impacts the likelihood and age at which these diseases take hold, the pace at which they develop, their severity and their ultimate outcome.
Put simply, not all diets are the same, and if we’re going to focus on nutritional biochemistry, we must include micronutrients.
The Impact of a Deficiency: Choline
Let’s explore one simple example. The nutrient choline, found most readily in egg yolks and also known as “the forgotten B vitamin,” serves multiple functions in the body. For example, choline is the foundation for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is the most prevalent neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic (restful, calming) nervous system. This neurotransmitter contracts smooth muscles, dilates blood vessels, increases bodily secretions, and slows heart rate.
In the brain, acetylcholine plays a critical role in mood, memory, motivation, attention and arousal. I personally notice that my focus and motivation increases by an order of magnitude when I consume adequate choline (via four whole eggs or phosphatidylcholine, which doesn’t increase TMAO). But choline doesn’t stop there.
Choline can be phosphorylated (addition of a phosphate group to the molecule to form the aforementioned phosphatidylcholine) for the synthesis of neuronal membranes, which can modulate plasticity in neuronal cells. And not only your brain’s membranes, choline is used by your whole body’s cells to form and repair their membranes, too.
Choline is a methyl donor used by your epigenome, a process by which genes are turned on and off, and one of the 12 mechanisms of aging. A significant portion of the population, myself included, have reduced methylation and therefore require more methyl donors than others for proper function (for genetic reasons; more on MTHFR C677T in a future post. The CDC estimates that more than half the US population has at least one MTHFR gene polymorphism [heterozygous]; I’m homozygous [double whammy!]) and to prevent stuff from going wrong in the long term and short term (migraines, allergies, sleep disruption, mood regulation, memory problems, depression, and schizoaffective or bipolar disorders).
If you subscribe to the information theory of aging, popularized by Dr. David Sinclair, then you believe that your epigenome is the (or at least, one of the) most powerful influences on your aging. If you don’t have adequate methyl donors, you will hypomethylate and your genes will not be able to react to your environment as well as they otherwise would. Choline helps address this (along with other required nutrients that people are often deficient in, like the B family of vitamins).
Choline is also used to break down lipids – fat and cholesterol – for your body to be able to utilize as intended. This is largely done in the liver and choline is critical for proper liver function.
In the 1930’s at the University of Toronto, Charles Best discovered that choline prevented fatty liver in dogs and rats. It wasn’t until the 1990s that choline was determined to be an essential nutrient for human health and liver function. (See how long it took? This is why we need to be proactive and use critical reasoning to evaluate research and carefully apply it to our health before the medical establishment is eventually forced to adapt.)
Diets that are chronically deficient in choline will result in fatty liver (though it’s not the only cause), regardless of how healthy the remainder of the diet is. At least 25-30% of the population has fatty liver – probably more – and the rates skyrocket in the later decades of life. Even young people aren’t spared. A 2021 study found that 13.2% of 12 to 17 year olds have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), 18.7% of 18-24 year olds, and 24% (!) of 25-30 year olds.
Although NAFLD can be caused by factors other than choline deficiency, like obesogenic diets, missing out on this single piece of the puzzle – choline – will significantly increase the chances for a diseased state, poor mental performance and motivation, and more. Yet, how many people have ever heard of choline and understand its impact on our health,longevity, and quality of life? Very few – including medical doctors. In fact, odds are that you are deficient, with 90% of the US population not consuming the government’s minimum RDA. And RDAs are the absolute minimum we want to consume, not the ideal.
Choline is only one nutrient. How certain are you that you’re taking in an adequate amount of all of the required nutrients for optimal short-term and long-term health?
The opposite is true, too. Excesses of specific chemicals, macronutrients and foods, like sugar, trans fats, certain forms of saturated fats, protein (especially when high in methionine, and possibly even tryptophan and BCAA’s), dairy, calories, certain food additives, frequency of eating, etc., can accelerate aging and lead to metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, increase the risk of Alzheimer’s (“type 3 diabetes”), heart disease and cancer.
In today’s society, even the adage “everything in moderation” no longer applies, as the large majority of food options are overwhelmingly processed, calorie dense, nutrient starved, not intended for long term human consumption and overall, killing us slowly. In other words, today’s “moderation” is yesterday’s extreme excess
To my earlier point about nutrition being complicated, when it comes to diet, people are no less passionate than they are about religion and politics. Why? It all seems silly to me.
Different diets serve different purposes and work for different people for different reasons. For example, I wouldn’t recommend a longevity diet to a Mr. Olympia bodybuilder. Nor would I recommend a vegan diet to someone who doesn’t want to have to supplement.
As with most things in life, diets are not black and white. Of course, when you get to the extremes, aspects of them are, but generally speaking, they are predominantly shades of gray. For example, is an occasional indulgence in a juicy filet mignon acceptable on a longevity diet? Sure! Is it the most ideal choice? Not likely.
My Diet & Low Carb vs. High Carb
I follow a diet that is founded on the concepts shared in the NOVOS Longevity Diet, but has tweaks to fit my lifestyle and goals.
By today’s American standards, my diet is low in carbohydrates. To my earlier point about today’s vs. historical definitions of “moderation,” by human evolutionary standards my diet is probably on the lower end of average carb intake.
This is a contentious topic. Researchers like Dr. Valter Longo, who examines diets of Blue Zones (regions with concentrations of the world’s longest lived people) and runs studies of his own, maintain that medium to high carbohydrate intake from non-refined sources is ideal. Yet for others, diets once popularized by longevity practitioners like Dr. Peter Attia, ketogenic and very low carb diets are best, because of their similarities to fasting and hypocaloric diets when it comes to insulin release, IGF-1, mTOR stimulation, etc. (note that Dr. Attia acknowledges that he no longer follows this line of reasoning).
The verdict is not yet in. With the overabundance of processed carbs, I find myself avoiding them and defaulting to a lower carb diet than most. However, I also make a point to intake moderate to high levels of healthy carbs multiple times each week, typically on the weekends or on days of intense workouts.
I began experimenting with diets when I was 13, from high protein, low fat in my early teens; to 40:30:30 in my late teens; South Beach Diet and similar diets in my early and mid 20’s; Paleo in my late 20’s; keto for much of the first half of my 30’s; until I eventually resolved to follow a diet based on the most scientific evidence for overall health and longevity, and that also happens to make me feel my best.
Clearly, it took me a while to arrive here. I kept a log of my blood markers and biometrics from my late 20’s through my 30’s and found what worked for me and what didn’t. I spent more than three years trying to make the keto diet work over the long term, but I couldn’t, in terms of my blood metabolic biomarkers, subjective mood, hormones, and energy levels. In retrospect, I can see why.
Ketogenic diets are popular with the longevity community because they activate multiple biological pathways and reduce growth pathways like mTOR, which is associated with longer lifespans and healthspans. That’s exciting and what originally drew me to the diet. However, the diet is also largely experimental for healthy people over the long term. Ketogenic diets (note: not ketosis) have not been followed by large populations over lifetimes to see what such a heavy intake of fats–oftentimes, saturated–and lack of carbohydrates, will do in the long term (especially today’s “keto friendly” highly processed foods).
For example, while on keto, my LDL cholesterol shot up (as well as my LDL-to-HDL ratio), counterintuitively along with my fasting blood glucose and HbA1c, exactly what the keto diet is expected to reduce.
Whenever I went off of keto, these biomarkers came back down, only to rise again in lockstep with the ketogenic diet.
I’ve also found that my hormones and mood changes unfavorably after approximately two weeks of a strict ketogenic diet, and does not abate regardless of how many months I religiously follow the diet.
I spent a lot of time digging into the controversies over cholesterol (e.g., it’s about the HDL-to-LDL ratio, LDP-P, some centenarians have high cholesterol, factors other than cholesterol leading to cardiovascular disease, etc.), but for such a potentially life threatening outcome, I find it best to remain conservative and shoot for low LDL, low total cholesterol and triglycerides, and a high HDL-to-LDL ratio.
For this reason, I use a ketogenic diet intermittently, for example, for one week once every three to six months, as it tends to be a good segway into an effective prolonged fast.
To that point, I more frequently tap into the benefits of ketosis via fasts. You can experience nearly all of the benefits found from a keto diet and more via 24-hour or longer fasts, without the costs.
For some, a ketogenic diet might be ideal for a host of reasons. However, compared to another diet, I find it difficult to believe it’s generally superior for longevity purposes.
To my earlier point about the long term consequences of a lifelong ketogenic diet being largely experimental, a diet that isn’t theoretically healthy, but actually proven to be with more evidence than any other diet, is the Mediterranean diet (R,R,R,R,R,R,R,R). Most experts agree that if you consider all of the evidence, this diet has the best health outcomes compared to any other diet to date.
So, this is a great place to start, but it doesn’t mean we can’t further improve it by making some tweaks.The NOVOS Longevity Diet is predominantly inspired by the Mediterranean diet and makes some adjustments based on our current understanding of nutrition and longevity. For example, potatoes and grain products like pasta, bread and rice are reduced in favor of low starch vegetables, mushrooms and additional legumes. This is especially important because, for example, the types of bread eaten in Blue Zones like Sardinia are quite different from the bread we consume in the US.
My Diet: A Typical Week
I maintain a relatively simple routine that may bore some, but makes it that much easier for me to remain focused on work – a byproduct of both the simplicity, the nutritional density and timing. As I like to say, “I eat to live, I don’t live to eat.”
As mentioned, my diet is low in carbs by today’s standards (100g to 200g, depending on the day), low in starch and very low in added sugars.
I tend towards being hypocaloric most days, eucaloric one or two days per week and hypercaloric one or two days per week. I have done this by design since I was a teen. Back then, the goal was to be lean and fit and I found that this was the best way to achieve a low body fat percentage, build muscle, maintain my metabolism and still feel good (back then I was probably hypercaloric three days per week, rather than once or twice).
After learning what I have about longevity, this approach has been further solidified, but with a new goal in mind: slowing down aging. The hypothesis is that by being hypocaloric (signaling famine: biological adversity) four to five days per week, my body perceives stress and taps into many of the longevity-promoting biological pathways like AMPK, mTOR, SIRT1 and PGC-1α. Then, by being eucaloric one to two days and hypercaloric once (feasting: biological abundance), my body repairs, rebuilds and hormones normalize.
While life extension from severe hypocaloric diets (25-40%) is controversial and likely has a genetic component (works for some, not for others), mildly hypocaloric diets (10-20%) are more likely to be healthy for most people.
I don’t count calories, nor do I track my days, but I do tend towards always feeling a little hungry and never eating until I’m full (except occasionally on holidays). I also know that if I burn 3,500 calories in a day from activity and have my typical meals, that even without calorie counting I’m hypocaloric.
The primary food type is a wide range of vegetables (large majority by volume), followed by (mostly fatty) fish, legumes, mushrooms, whole eggs, lean chicken, berries, healthy grains or starches (quinoa, sweet potato), fermented foods, very dark chocolate, seeds (I have a food sensitivity to nuts), herbs, spices, crushed garlic, followed by healthy snacks and an occasional “treat.”
Here’s the overview (note, supplements will be covered in a separate post):
- I start my day with 24 ounces of water and mix in ~1/4 teaspoon of mixed potassium (~60%) and himalayan sea salts (~40%) or Morton’s Lite Salt.
- After my workout or about 90 minutes after waking, I have a regular black coffee (I’ve been doing decaf lately, which ironically seems to help me focus better) or add about 5 grams of powdered C8 fat (caprylic acid, a medium chain triglyceride).
- I follow a low carbohydrate diet on weekdays (not keto), and have a moderate amount of healthy carbohydrates on weekends and intense workout days.
- On weekdays, I’m able to maintain a strict, regimented diet because of my work routine:
- On workout days, I have a post-workout shake at about 12 or 1 pm, then “lunch” at around 3 or 4 pm and dinner around 7 pm. On these days my time restricted feeding is 16:8 (16 hour fast, 8 hour eating window)
- On non-workout days, I have my first meal between 12-2 pm, a snack around 4-5 pm then dinner around 7
- Note that shifting my eating window to earlier in the day would likely be more ideal for longevity purposes, but I compromise for lifestyle purposes
- I have done a 24 hour fast 1x per week every few weeks on a non-workout day, but I’m currently not doing this
- On workout days, I consume additional protein in the form of a protein shake that contains:
- Whey + Vegan protein (hemp + pea, 33 g protein combined)
- Hemp milk (8 g protein)
- Collagen protein (10 g)
- Chlorella and/or spirulina (7-10 g)
- Unmodified potato starch (2 tbsp)
- Mixed mushroom powder containing maitake, lion’s mane, cordyceps, reishi, shiitake, turkey tail and chaga (1/4 teaspoon)
- Celery (2x)
- Carrot (1x large)
- My first meal is very low in carbohydrates and consists of:
- A lot of steamed vegetables (~3 cups, e.g., spinach, broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, carrots, peas, collard greens, tomatoes, beets, asparagus, pepper, onion, etc.). I strive for a diversity of species, for the favorable effects on the microbiome and mortality (cancer, heart disease, digestive issues & respiratory disease)
- Mushrooms (about 1/4 to 1/3 of meals)
- Topped with olive oil and/or guacamole, herbs, spices, garlic and 50% sodium/potassium salt
- Protein typically comes in the form of eggs (for the choline and vitamins in the yolks), fatty fish (bone-in sardines, smoked or lightly baked salmon), chicken breast, beans, and seeds. I’ll also occasionally consume organ meats, like liver or liverwurst (this is the extent to which I typically consume red meat)
- I consume 1/2 of a pack of NOVOS Core in 12 ounces of water with this meal as well as a low sugar green veggie drink (<6 g sugar, >700 mg potassium). I add 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar (ACV) to the veggie drink or NOVOS Core to improve glucose control.
- Every so often I’ll sub out the veggie drink and ACV for 1/2 a bottle of kombucha.
- There are times that I want a snack or I need more calories immediately after my typical meal. In those instances, I might eat berries (polyphenols), a greenish banana (resistant starch and potassium) and sunflower (vitamin E) + pumpkin seed butter (vitamin K & minerals). Or, hummus + vegetables. Or, when on the run or excessively busy, a convenient, minimally processed protein bar, like R.E.D.D., which contains prebiotics, vegan proteins, mushroom powders and minimal sugars. I typically follow any of these options with 1/4 bar of 85%+ dark chocolate, like Taza’s 95% Wicked Dark chocolate and a decaf espresso (I don’t have caffeine after 12pm).
- When I’m very hungry but want to wait until dinner, I have a black decaf coffee or espresso, which holds me over for a couple hours.
- Final meal is moderate in carbohydrates:
- 3+ servings of vegetables
- On workout days, a bowl of lentils, quinoa, baked sweet potato or sometimes, RightRice (rice made from lentils, chickpeas and peas)
- Fish 80% of the time, otherwise white meat chicken
- Herbs, spices, garlic, olive oil, and 50/50 potassium/sodium salt
- Kimchi (prebiotics, probiotics and blood glucose control) or fermented sauerkraut (prebiotics & probiotics)
- I consume the other half of the NOVOS Core packet in 12 ounces of water with a squeeze of lemon
- If I have a craving for sweets, I’ll add flavored protein powder to a bowl of non-dairy kefir or hemp milk, and combine with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, ceylon cinnamon, 1 tbsp sunflower lecithin and might “cheat” with a serving of Catalina Crunch chocolate cereal.
- I try to fast for 48 to 72 hours once every ~3 to 6 months.
- For multi-day fasts, I precede with a ketogenic diet, and kick it off with ketone salts (magnesium, sodium, potassium, calcium; I make my own blend for ideal ratios).
- Whenever I drink water at home, I add electrolytes to my filtered water for absorption: a little Lite Salt (50% sodium, 50% potassium) and a couple drops of trace minerals.
- I drink a fair amount of tea and decaf coffee (2 to 4 cups)
- I am not as strict on weekends, especially if it’s my hypercaloric day. Yes, I indulge (sushi rolls, pizza, pasta, dessert) – but not to the same degree as most people’s definition of indulgence.
To find out more my exercise routine, check out my article in Insider.
Chris Mirabile, Founder & CEO of NOVOS, is a serial entrepreneur and longevity expert. Chris’ interest in health began when he was 12, and evolved into a passion after he was cured of a brain tumor when he was 16. Chris has researched and integrated longevity practices and interventions into his life for more than ten years, has achieved a biological age 13.6 years younger than his chronological age (37% reduction), and according to epigenetic tests like DunedInPACE, is aging 31% slower biologically than chronologically.
In 2019 Chris founded NOVOS, the first nutraceutical company that targets the 12 biological causes of aging to increase longevity. NOVOS includes a Scientific Advisory Board and Medical Advisory Board of seven of the world’s top biologists and geneticists who study aging from Harvard, MIT, The Salk Institute, and more.
With NOVOS, Chris created much more than a supplement company—he built the first-of-its-kind consumer biotech platform that leverages the latest science to help people take control of their healthspans and lifespans.