Health: When you eat may be as important as what you eat

By Stephanie Vilendrer

Think twice before you make that late-night phone call for a Jimmy John’s delivery. A new study published in the May edition of Cell Metabolism has found that frequent grazing could sabo­tage your efforts to control weight and prevent disease, whereas intermittent fasting (12 to 15 hours daily) could be a key tool for health. Researchers at the Salk Institute performed a study in which mice were either given free access to high-fat food over a 24-hour period or had restricted access to the same diet for a period of eight hours daily. Unlike the mice with free access, those mice with a restricted eating time frame were protected from obesity, diabe­tes and liver diseases. They had stronger circadian rhythms, lower levels of inflammation and improved motor coordination. Despite the fact that both groups ate the same number of calories and type of food, the mice that ate within a limited time period were far healthier overall. Assuming this would also hold true for humans, such evi­dence goes against the current “calorie in – calorie out” theory to weight loss. But why? Digestion is an energy-intensive process. When we eat, the body releases digestive enzymes and stomach acids and stores glucose and fat for later use. These energy resources aren’t utilized until some hours afterwards. When you frequently snack (such as during all-nighters), your body doesn’t tap into its fat stores. Over time, insulin resis­tance and/or weight gain can result. Fasting forces the body to uti­lize these energy stores, replace digestive acids and focus on other important body processes. Have you ever wondered why you don’t feel like eating when you’re sick? Fasting allows the body to temporarily expend energy on other functions such as fighting off infection and performing detoxification and cellular renewal. An interesting aspect of this study was that the mice in both groups were given a high-fat diet (about 60 percent of calories came from fat), which is already known to cause obesity and diabetes in mouse studies. Still, the mice with 16 hours of fasting time re­mained healthy. One shouldn’t use this fact as an excuse to become a fast-food junkie, however; obviously, eating cheeseburgers and ice cream too frequently would eventually lead to health problems. The key takeaway is that fat alone is not the enemy. Being conscious of how often you eat may actually prevent the harmful effects of fatty foods. Another important research trend shows that different types of fats have differing effects on health, and that their ratios matter. A diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids—found in raw nuts and seeds, avocado, fish and coconut and flax seed oil, for example—is nec­essary for optimum health. Unfortunately, most Americans are lacking these essential fatty acids (a standard American diet consists of a 16:1 Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio). Choosing healthy fats in addition to restricting eating times could be of great benefit to your health. Fasting before exercise may also be helpful. Exercise and fasting each stimulate the sympathetic nervous system to break down energy stores (glycogen and fat). Your body will use up whatever resources are immediately available, which include blood glucose and glycogen stores in the liver and muscles. However, in a fasting state, these levels are lower since the body is already utilizing them in the absence of food intake. Normally, it takes about 40 minutes of aerobic exercise before fat stores are utilized. If you exercise in a fasted state, you will burn through re­serves far more quickly than you would immediately after eating. If you feel that you need to eat before working out or have hypo­glycemia, an excellent alternative to fasting is to drink high-quality whey protein 20 to 30 minutes before a workout. Whey protein provides essential amino acids and nutrients that are highly benefi­cial for muscle repair, and it will stabilize blood sugar. If you do choose to fast before a workout, eating protein or drinking whey protein within the hour directly following a work­out is essential in order to provide the metabolic resources that your body needs to repair and grow muscles. These growing muscles will then use up additional calories throughout the day, thereby improving your metabolism. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes intuitive sense that fasting could be beneficial. When our ancestors were hunt­ing and gathering, fasting would have been a frequent occurrence in times of food scarcity. Yet today, food literally arrives on our doorstop whenever we want it, even if it’s 4 a.m. As the mouse study shows, our habits of snacking at odd hours throughout the day, especially in combination with poor food choices, are likely contributing to modern-day rates of obe­sity, diabetes and chronic disease. Please remember that the point of fasting is not to starve yourself, which would only sabotage your efforts by lowering me­tabolism. Rather, the goal is to eat on a consistent schedule and to give the body ample time to digest and rejuvenate in between meals. You just may be pleasantly surprised that giving up those late-night Turkey Toms and Meat Lovers’ Supreme pizzas will make you feel and look better than ever. refresh –>