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Is fasting good for you? All you need to know about intermittent fasting

Credits: Dick Talens

In the last few decades, the nutritional dogma has been about emphasising small & frequent meals throughout the day. Recent research shows that those who eat less are generally healthier, with improved metabolic health, cognition and live longer than those who eat more. Intermittent fasting is based on the principle of alternating between periods of eating and fasting. Intermittent Fasting is practiced in several ways  including periodic multi day fasts to skipping a meal or two on certain days of the week. Most of us already fast every day, while we sleep. Simply extending this fast is referred to as Intermittent fasting. One way of doing this is by having your first meal at noon and last meal at 8 p.m in the evening, thus going on an 18 hours fast every day.

The beneficial effects of Intermittent fasting have been chronicled in numerous animal and human studies


    1. Regulates blood glucose levels
    2. Improves brain health
    3. Can reduce cancer risk
    4. Improves brain health
    5.  Improvement in life span and longevity

 

From an evolutionary perspective, fasting and food deprivation is one of the factors that could have attributed to the optimal performance of the human brain. Evolution favoured the selection pressure of those individuals who were adept in acquiring food from the limited food sources. Recent research demonstrates the beneficial effect of intermittent fasting and vigorous exercise on brain health. The fact is, until recently, humans did not have guaranteed food supply and may have had to struggle to obtain food for survival. During the course of thousands of years, we have developed the “genetic” ability to use calories wisely and to survive for periods of time without food. This genetic ability is what enables “slow” calorie burning and calorie storage for long periods of time in most people. This is why most people have a tendency to become obese upon consuming excessive food. Our bodies were not built in an environment of excessive food, rather the lack of it.

From that point of view, “simulated” fasting acts to prime the body to a state of calorie deficit, which has been shown by many studies to have several beneficial effects, some of which are listed above. Intermittent Fasting can be performed in a number of ways and it is controversial whether one way is better than others. In some forms, some foods are allowed while some others advise complete fasting. The duration and timings also differ. Given this, one can experiment with a schedule that works best for them. Some suggestions are given below.

  1.  You can try this once or twice a week, a 24 hour fast, for instance, don’t eat anything from dinner one day, until dinner the next day.
  2. Try to eat only about 500-600 calories during the 2 days of the week, this is commonly known as 5:2 diet.
  3. Eat only during an eight- hour window, essentially means, fast for 16 hours each day, for example by only eating between noon and 8 pm. This is most popularly know as the 16/8 method.

 

 

Janani Thiru
Janani Thiru
Janani is a Nutrigenetic Counselor at Xcode, Freelance Writer, Food Scientist and Nutritionist by academics. She received the prestigious Erasmus Mundus Award by the European Commission for her post graduate program in Food Science and Technology in 2010. She worked with Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations in Rome and Cambodia previously. Her latest project is an e-book of nutrigenetics she is compiling that will be published next year.