When you think of fasting, you might first think of a religious or spiritual fast. However, fasting has gained popularity recently for weight loss and other health reasons. In fact, some forms of fasting can improve your gut health and reduce symptoms, which will be worth any hunger you may feel when at first trying such an eating regimen. Let’s learn about a special kind of fasting known as intermittent fasting, how it can improve gut health, and how you can get started on this regimen today to help your gut feel its best.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting comes in many forms, depending on how long you want your fasting period to be. When you first start out with this diet regimen, it’s recommended to just fast for 12 hours and have a 12-hour eating period. You can typically fit in 4 -5 small meals during this time. This fasting day is usually done 2 days a week.
Once you are used to this fasting period, some people may want to try 16-hour fasts or 24-hour fasts twice a week. Some common intermittent fasting trends are listed below:
- The 16/8 method: This method involves skipping breakfast and restricting your daily eating period to eight hours with 16 hours of fasting in between.
- Eat-Stop-Eat: This method of fasting involves fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week.
- The 5:2 diet: This method of fasting involves eating only 500-600 calories on two non-consecutive days, but eating “normal” the other 5 days.
Fasting and gut health
Research shows that short-term intermittent fasting can elicit some healthy changes to the gut. A 2018 study looked at the effect of intermittent fasting on fruit flies. Although this is a far step from a human study, results did show that the fasting regimen improved gut barrier function and gut health was improved by reduced relative bacterial abundance.
Another study looked at the impact of intermittent fasting on rats fed a high-sugar, high-fat diet. Study results show that intermittent fasting helped reduce body weight, blood fat levels, and restored normal gut microbiota. These early studies show promise that such positive gut health changes could also occur to humans following this eating regimen.
How to start fasting the right way
Start off by trying a 12-hour fast to see how your body responds. During the fasting periods, you can consume non-calorie beverages like coffee, water, and broths, like the low FODMAP vegetable stock by Casa de Sante, to help stave off any hunger you may feel. During the non-fasting hours of such regimens, it is recommended to consume a healthy, balanced diet. This means lots of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, little to no processed foods, and plenty of low- to no calorie beverages like water to stay hydrated.
Disclaimer: Those with conditions like diabetes or other chronic conditions where you are taking daily medications will want to contact their healthcare provider before starting intermittent fasting to be sure it is safe to try.
Take home message
Fasting may give the impression of feeling deprived and hungry, but sometimes just a bit of this behavior each week can help heal the gut. Intermittent fasting allows your body to reap the benefits of fasting while still allowing you to consume nutrients during a portion of your waking hours. So, when you do intermittent fasting, be sure to make those hours of eating as nutrient-dense as possible to help feed the healthy bacteria in your gut by providing your body with antioxidant and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Also, during your fasting (and non-fasting) hours, be sure to stay hydrated with plenty of low to no calorie fluids. For more information on gut health as well as gut health resources, recipes, and products, then be sure to visit Casa de Sante’s website.
-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD of LighttrackNutrition.com