Have you been thinking about changing things up and trying a new approach to your diet? Whether you’re considering going keto or plant-based, giving a flexitarian approach a try or want to eat to improve certain health conditions, you might want to try fasting first.
Fasting, specifically intermittent fasting, is trendy right now. And that’s for good reason; it’s a way of eating that offers promising results for weight loss, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other health concerns. And it can also be a challenge to try for the first time. However, you may not need to practice intermittent fasting for very long to see the benefits. Even short periods of fasting can be surprisingly beneficial – especially if you’re about to adopt a new diet.
Here’s what new research has to say about the potentially huge impact of fasting before switching up your eating habits.
Fasting intensifies the benefits of healthy eating habits
Fasting alone is known to have plenty of health perks. But thanks to a recent study published in Nature Communications, it’s now clear that fasting can have even more of an impact when used in specific ways.
The study’s researchers examined 71 participants, all of whom had metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions like high cholesterol, excess belly fat and high blood pressure that increase a person’s risk for heart disease. The participants were going to give the DASH diet a try for three months – but before they started this diet, half of the group fasted for five days.
The fasting group ate no solid foods during that five-day period. All other participants stuck with their typical eating habits. After switching to the DASH diet for 12 weeks, researchers saw that everyone benefitted. But those who gave fasting a try first saw even better results once their new healthy diet began.
The participants who’d fasted lost more weight and saw a bigger decrease in blood pressure levels compared to those who didn’t fast. Additionally, fasting gave participants a long-lasting advantage. Researchers noted that fasting led to positive changes in blood pressure in particular. And, after three months of stopping the fast and starting a new, healthier diet, those positive changes continued. The fasting group saw lower BMIs, blood pressure, and need for antihypertensive medicines than their counterparts throughout the entire study.
Essentially, a healthy diet alone can offer benefits. But, when that change is paired with a short fasting period, the effects can be intensified.
Why fasting works so well
It turns out that the big benefit of fasting is tied to your gut – and your gut’s microbiome.
Researchers found that fasting ahead of a healthy diet changed the participants’ microbiomes. Those changes were significant too, with researchers discovering a significant difference in the types of bacteria present. Participants who fasted had more “good” types of bacteria, and they specifically had more of the bacteria associated with lower blood pressure. It appeared that fasting actually multiplied protective microorganisms in the gut, acting like a catalyst.
But a boost in beneficial bacteria wasn’t the only reason fasting seemed to have such a significant effect. It turns out that the five-day fasting period also changed participants’ immune cells.
During the fast, participants’ individual numbers of regulatory T cells increased, while numbers of proinflammatory T cells fell. This decrease in proinflammatory T cells, which encourage inflammation, likely also plays a role in the increased advantages fasting brings. Lowering inflammation throughout the body can help an array of ailments, from joint pain to autoimmune diseases to digestive issues.
Give fasting a try to improve your health
Before you make any changes to your eating habits or start a new diet, put this news to work for you. Fasting for a short period of time could give you a boost, helping you see even more success as you work towards better health. Whether you’re looking to lose weight, improve heart health, balance your gut’s microbiome or achieve another goal, fasting can help you accomplish it.
Worried about going without solid food for up to five days straight? Fasting can be beneficial, but it’s important to make sure it’s the right choice for you. Check with your doctor before starting a fast of any kind. Fasting for more than a day at a time can come with health risks, so you’ll want to verify that doing so is okay for your health.
You can also give intermittent fasting a try. While the effects might not be as significant as those discovered in the research study discussed here, it’s a more flexible option that can offer similar benefits. Intermittent fasting still limits your eating, cycling between periods of fasting and periods of eating. This fasting approach can reduce body fat, boost your immune system and help your resistance to certain illnesses.
No matter how you choose to fast, pairing a fasting period with a healthy diet can potentially lead to even more benefits than expected. Discover more ways fasting can improve your health and wellness: