Dietitian discusses 4 health benefits of fasting By Zoey Sky for Prevention
According to a dietitian, fasting offers health benefits such as promoting gut health and promoting weight loss. Read on to learn more about the four health benefits of fasting.
Marcela Fiuza, a registered dietitian, explained that when you are fasting, you don’t consume calories within a certain time frame.
Fiuza, who is also a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, added that fasting can be “intermittent,” where you switch between eating and fasting, or “prolonged,” where you fast from two days onwards.
Intermittent fasting, especially time-restricted eating like the 5:2 or 16:8 method, has gained popularity in recent years. According to Fiuza, if you are intermittent fasting you have to eat “within a time-restricted window each day, usually eight to 10 hours.” (Related: Intermittent fasting helps reduce inflammation, scientists find.)
Fasting isn’t just good for weight loss. Fasting can help boost your gut health and heart health, but it doesn’t guarantee these results.
When you are fasting, your body makes several metabolic adaptations to keep functioning optimally without food or external fuel.
In the first few hours of fasting, your body uses its glycogen stores for energy. Once these are depleted, a metabolic switch takes place and your body starts breaking down fatty acids into ketones that are then used as a source of energy.
Fiuza explained that the timing for this metabolic switch depends on several factors, like what your last meal was, how much energy you use and the amount of glycogen stored in your liver. On average, the switch can take at least 12 to 26 hours without food.
Below are the four health benefits of fasting.
Fasting triggers autophagy
Fasting triggers autophagy. This process is your body’s cellular recycling system.
Autophagy acts as a sort of quality control for your cells and it lets your body break down and reuse old cell parts so they can work more efficiently.
This means autophagy is your body’s way of housekeeping and getting rid of mutated cells that could turn into cancer or neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s.
Autophagy begins after a period of fasting. Fiuza noted that the process may be an evolutionary throwback to the hunter-gatherer days when humans would go longer without eating due to how hard it was to find food.
Scientists are looking into autophagy’s role in potentially preventing and fighting disease. A study published in the journal Science Direct suggests that fasting may help enhance autophagy.
Another study published in Autophagy Journal has found that regular fasting could “reset” the body and help it run more efficiently by getting rid of cellular debris.
Fasting helps improve heart health and blood sugar levels
Fasting may also help improve your body’s response to insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels.
When your blood sugars are regulated, it can help lower the risk of weight gain and diabetes, two risk factors linked to heart disease and other heart-related health problems.
Additionally, intermittent fasting may help boost your heart health by reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. While more research is still needed, data suggests that fasting may be beneficial since it exerts positive effects on blood pressure regulation” and reduces inflammation.
Fasting boosts gut health
Research has also found that a radical change in diet like fasting could change your gut’s microbial makeup and change what gut bacteria are doing.
According to Fiuza, certain forms of fasting may be beneficial to the gut microbiome, “which has been linked to a range of health benefits from improved metabolic health, reduced risk of cancer, heart disease and obesity.”
Studies have also shown that alternate-day fasting, where you eat normally for 24 hours and then fast for another 24 hours, promoted “bacterial clearance” that could support gut microbiome health.
Fasting helps promote weight loss
Many people have tried fasting because they want to lose weight, and Fiuza acknowledged that fasting can potentially help some people lose weight in the short term.
However, she added that it’s not superior to other types of calorie-restricted diets for weight. To lose weight, Fiuza said that you need to be in a calorie deficit.
The results of a systematic review in the peer-reviewed journal Canadian Family Physician revealed that in all 27 trials examined, intermittent fasting resulted in weight loss, with participants losing 0.8 percent to 13 percent of baseline body weight.
But Fiuza advised that, like all extreme eating plans, fasting also has disadvantages that will subside over time. The main side effects of fasting include headaches, irritability and lethargy.
Additionally, there is a risk of disordered eating for people with a predisposition to eating disorders.
Fiuza also mentioned that prolonged fasting is more intense than intermittent fasting. If you are interested in trying prolonged fasting, she recommends consulting a healthcare professional before you start.
Additionally, intermittent fasting may not be appropriate for everyone, such as those with Type 1 diabetes, eating disorders, pregnant women, children and the elderly.
What to eat while intermittent fasting
If you’re going to try intermittent fasting, you should stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water and eating the nutritious foods listed below:
Because of their high unsaturated fat content, avocados will help you feel full longer even while fasting.
Beans and legumes
Studies have found that foods like black beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas may help decrease body weight, even without calorie restriction.
Berries are full of essential nutrients, which will be crucial to your diet if you are fasting.
Vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are all full of dietary fiber that can help promote regular bowel movements.
One large egg provides 6.24 grams of protein, which is essential for staying full and building muscle, especially when you’re fasting.
Fish and seafood
Fish is full of healthy fats and protein, along with vitamin D.
Nuts are full of calories and “good” fats.
Potatoes are very filling, which is important if you’re fasting and are looking for foods that will help you feel full longer.
Probiotics are essential for your gut health.
Whole grains are full of dietary fiber and protein, so eating a bowl of oatmeal will help you avoid hunger pangs for a long time if you’re fasting.
Follow a balanced diet and try fasting to boost your gut health and promote weight loss.