Here comes the new year, and with it hordes of folks looking for ways to fulfill resolutions to eat healthy.
Intermittent fasting is a legitimate option they might want to consider, claims a new review in the Dec. 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
“The state of the science on intermittent fasting has evolved to the point that it now can be considered as one approach, with exercise and healthy food, to improving and maintaining health as a lifestyle approach,” said senior author Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist with Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.
There are two main ways to adopt intermittent fasting into your life, Mattson said:
- Daily time-restricted feeding gives you a narrow window during which you can eat, usually 6 to 8 hours each day.
- 5:2 intermittent fasting requires that people only eat one moderate-sized meal on two days each week.
When people are fasting, they are slowly burning through the glucose stored in their liver, Mattson explained. The liver holds about 700 calories of glucose.
“It takes 10 to 12 hours to use the liver’s energy stores,” Mattson said. “Then what happens is, fats are used for energy.”
This process is called “metabolic switching,” and the three-meals-a-day eating pattern favored by Americans doesn’t allow their bodies to run through their liver’s energy stores and make the switch to fat-burning, Mattson said.
In the new paper, Mattson and colleagues summarized the current scientific evidence. Studies show that intermittent fasting can:
- Stabilize blood sugar levels, increase resistance to stress, and suppress inflammation.
- Decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and improve resting heart rate.
- Improve brain health and memory.
“If you’re thinking of intermittent fasting as a fad diet, I think it’s actually a pretty legitimate option,” said Hannah Kittrell, a registered dietitian and manager of the Mount Sinai PhysioLab in New York City, a nutrition and exercise physiology clinic.
“The reason for that is it’s not completely cutting out any food groups,” said Kittrell, who wasn’t part of the study. “It’s not telling you don’t eat carbs, don’t eat fat. It’s just modulating when you’re eating food.”