Intermittent fasting has risen in popularity as an effective diet and fitness tool. It has gotten a lot of attention during the pandemic as an accessible at-home diet option for people who usually spend their workdays in an office.
Surprisingly, intermittent fasting has been around since the early days of humans. Hunter-gatherers didn’t always know where their next meal would come from, and they were unable to rely on a steady breakfast, lunch and dinner. “The “feast or famine” reality created a positive response to intermittent fasting,” says St. Elizabeth Healthcare cardiologist Darek Sanford, MD.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting establishes a pattern between fasting and eating — typically a 16-hour fast followed by an eight-hour eating window. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the nutritional window, the more rigorous the restriction. Many people compress their meal schedule from three to two meals on fasting days to get the maximum benefit of their fast.
A fasting period is defined as “zero caloric intake,” limiting your intake to zero-calorie items like water, black coffee, tea, diluted apple cider vinegar and bone broth. For those who love adding milk or cream to your morning hot beverage, know that it comes with the price of breaking your fasting period.
The three most common intermittent fasting options include:
- Alternate-day fasting — fasting for 24 hours followed by a non-fasting day.
- Daily time-restricted feeding — fasting 16 to 20 hours/day and non-fasting for 4 to 8 hours/day.
- Periodic fasting — fasting for 24 hours followed by two or three non-fasting days.
“It’s important to maintain a healthy diet and sensible caloric intake,” says Dr. Sanford. “Fasting alone will not compensate for overeating or poor dietary choices.”
Does intermittent fasting work?
If you follow the intermittent fasting guidelines and make healthy meal choices, intermittent fasting will help you achieve weight-loss results. This is based on body chemistry. After a 12-hour overnight fast, insulin levels drop because the energy glucose available in your body has been depleted. At this point, your body shifts into a fasting state, where fatty acids or ketones from fat cells are utilized as fuel instead of glucose.
“When done regularly, intermittent fasting has shown to decrease abdominal fat, improve glucose metabolism and reduce inflammation in the body,” says Dr. Sanford.
Intermittent fasting packs an additional punch — studies show that consistent intermittent fasting can reduce the risk of developing diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurogenerative diseases.
Is intermittent fasting effective towards good heart health?
From a weight-loss perspective, it’s important to note that regular dieting can be just as effective as intermittent fasting.
“Intermittent fasting is not more effective for weight loss than standard calorie-restrictive diets,” says Dr. Sanford. “However, it does appear to enhance cardiovascular health even in those already at a healthy weight.”
The bottom line? Intermittent fasting can be a beneficial way to lose weight and boost your cardiovascular health at the same time. As always, before starting a new diet program, make sure to check with your primary care physician first.
Learn more about intermittent fasting
If you’d like more information on heart health and how diet changes can impact your heart, call 859-287-3045 or schedule an appointment with a St. Elizabeth cardiac expert.