A five-day calorie-restricted diet that mimics the effects of fasting on the body could reduce risk factors associated with heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other degenerative diseases, according to recent studies.

The “fasting mimicking diet” was developed based on research conducted at the Longevity Institute, part of the USC Davis School of Gerontology. The diet consists of plant-based foods, including nuts, olives, kale crackers, and vegetable soups. The foods are low in carbohydrates and protein but high in unsaturated fats, a combination that helps trigger repair and rejuvenation throughout the body, according to biochemist Valter Longo.

As the Director of the Longevity Institute, Longo has studied the biochemical processes of aging for more than 20 years. He believes that controlling protein intake is the key to longevity. “Proteins and their amino acids regulate the two major pro-aging pathways,” he says. By activating those pathways, a high-protein diet could lead to higher rates of disease and death. Longo’s research indicates that individuals who get 20% of their daily calories from protein have nearly a 400% increase in cancer rates, compared to people who get just 10 percent of their calories from protein.

Much of Longo’s initial research was conducted on mice. Two years ago, he and his team reported that mice on a similar version of the fasting diet lived significantly longer and experienced other positive health benefits, including fewer tumors and better blood glucose control.

Now, researchers have completed clinical trials using humans, in which 71 people followed the five-day low-calorie diet, once a month for three months. Participants in a control group continued to eat their regular diets. After three months, people in the fasting group experienced reductions in blood pressure, waist circumference, and body fat.

Participants in the the low-calorie group also had lower levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, a hormone that contributes to aging. They also saw reductions in other risk factors associated with age-related disease, such as total cholesterol and C-reactive protein, which is a marker associated with internal inflammation.

Longo says that the diet “treats” processes related to aging, the biggest risk factor for degenerative diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Researchers hope to follow up the study with one using people who already have an age-related disease — most likely diabetes.

Longo’s fasting mimicking diet can be purchased for at-home use. The five-day kit — sold under the brand name ProLon — consists of 1150 calories the first day and approximately 750 calories the remaining four days. Breakfast each day is a high-fat nut bar, while lunch and dinner are dehydrated vegetable soups. The ProLon kit includes everything needed for the five-day program, including herbal teas and concentrated fruit-flavored electrolyte beverages. The kit is produced by a company called L-Nutra, which Longo founded but from which he receives no financial benefit.

According to Dr. Joseph Antoun, CEO of L-Nutra, the kit “is intended for use by individuals who want to optimize their health and wellbeing, by overweight or obese individuals who want to manage their weight in an easy and healthy way, and by people who have abnormal levels of biomarkers for aging and age-related conditions.”

Individuals who are significantly overweight or have other risk factors associated with age-related disease are advised to follow the five-day regimen once per month. People who are generally healthy may choose to follow the diet three to four times per year to reduce their risk of disease.

ProLon should not be used by certain individuals, including people under the age of 18, women who are pregnant or nursing, or people with certain liver and kidney diseases. It should also not be combined with glucose-lowering drugs, such as metformin or insulin. Learn more about ProLon and find out if it’s right for you.