Here’s What You Need To Know About Intermittent Fasting
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One of the world’s most popular health trends today is intermittent fasting. This is a eating pattern that cycles between periods of fasting and eating. But is it beneficial or actually harmful?
The Idea Behind Intermittent Fasting
According to Monique Tello, MD, MPH, a contributing editor of the Harvard Health Blog, “The food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut and eventually ends up as molecules in our bloodstream. Carbohydrates, particularly sugars and refined grains (think white flours and rice), are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. If our cells don’t use it all, we store it in our fat cells as fat. But sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas that brings sugar into the fat cells and keeps it there. Between meals, as long as we don’t snack, our insulin levels will go down and our fat cells can then release their stores of sugar to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. The entire idea of Intermittent Fasting is to allow the insulin levels to go down far and long enough that we burn off our fat.”
What Does The Research Say?
Initial human studies that compared fasting every other day to eating less every day shows that both worked just about the same for weight loss. But it seems that new research is suggesting that not all intermittent fasting approaches are the same, and that some can actually be very reasonable, effective and sustainable.
In a study conducted by researchers from the University of Alabama, a certain type of fasting called “early time-restricted feeding” was tested with a small group of obese men with prediabetes. All meals were fit into an early eight hour period of the day (7 am – 3 pm), or spread out over 12 hours (between 7 am and 7 pm). Both groups maintained their weight (did not gain or lose) but after five weeks, the eight-hour group had dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity, as well as significantly lower blood pressure. This group also had significantly decreased appetite.
In another study published in the journal Metabolism, data shows that intermittent fasting helps reduce pancreatic fat, which contributes to the development of type 2 diabetes. Researchers report that the diet approach may soon be used as a non-invasive, easy-to-integrate way to reduce unnecessary fats from the body.
What Do Our Experts Say?
According to Amanda Williams, MPH, Director of Nutrition for InVite® Health, “There is some strong scientific evidence that intermittent fasting, when combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle, can be effective in weight loss. But there are a few tips you should know if you are going to begin fasting. Other than speaking with a certified nutritionist or your doctor, make sure to avoid sugars and refined grains. Turn to fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains and healthy fats. Try not to snack and be sure to be active throughout your day. If this is your first time fasting, consider starting a simple method – limit the hours of the day when you eat. Aim for earlier hours like between 7 am and 3 pm but avoid eating in the evening before bed.”