What Can and Can’t I Eat When Fasting?

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Fasting is an ancient practice that’s still widely followed in various forms. Modern methods of fasting, such as intermittent fasting, can provide significant health benefits. Although fasting typically means consuming no calories, there are some healthy fasting foods and beverages you can have while still gaining the benefits of the fast.

Fasting is far from a new trend. People have been fasting for thousands of years for reasons such as conserving food or practicing religious rites. Some scientists think that our bodies evolved to fast as our hunter-gatherer ancestors often had to go for long periods in between meals.

When you eat a meal, you take in calories and nutrients that your body can use for energy. Eating consistently throughout the day means that there are always calories readily available for the body to use.

When you go for a period of time without eating, such as during a fast, those available calories get used up. Without eating another meal, the body has to turn to burning fat to meet its energy needs.

The prevailing advice has long been to eat three square meals a day. However, regular fasting can provide many health benefits, including losing weight and improving the body’s response to stress.
Types of fasting
There are numerous types of fasting, many of which are considered “intermittent fasting.” Intermittent fasting involves choosing a window of time during each day when you eat and a window of time when you don’t.

There are several different windows that are used with intermittent fasting. Popular windows of time include:

16:8: fast for 16 hours and eat during 8 hours of the day
18:6: fast for 18 hours and eat during 6 hours of the day
20:4: fast for 20 hours and eat during 4 hours of the day
23:1: fast for 23 hours and eat during only 1 hour of the day
Another method of fasting is the 5:2 method, although the numbers in this method refer to days instead of hours. With this fasting method, you normally eat five days a week. On the remaining two days, you consume a significantly reduced number of calories, typically between 500 and 600 calories each day.

There are other methods including more extended fasting periods, such as fasting for 24 hours or longer. These methods do not necessarily provide greater benefits than intermittent fasting, and can even be dangerous. Additionally, if your goal with fasting is weight loss, extended fasts can be detrimental — your body may begin to store fat in response to starvation instead of burn it.

There are other potential benefits of fasting that haven’t been as well-researched. Some studies suggest that fasting may improve nervous system health and optimize brain function. Other studies have found that fasting may improve endurance during exercise or improve working memory. More research must be done to confirm these effects.

What can I eat or drink during a fast?
Technically, a fast occurs when no calories are consumed over a period of hours. Breaking a fast happens when you consume anything with calories.

During a fast you can drink plain water and other zero-calorie beverages like black coffee and tea. In fact, it’s important to continue drinking water during a fast in order to stay hydrated.

Although consuming anything with calories will technically break your fast, there are some healthy fasting foods that you can have during a fast that will allow you to still reap the benefits of fasting.

Bone broth
Bone broth, which is made by simmering animal bones for long periods of time, can be a good choice if you want to have a small number of calories without eating a full meal during your fast. Bone broth also contains vitamins and nutrients that may provide some other health benefits.

Healthy fats
Adding some creamer to your black coffee during a fast isn’t the end of the world. One benefit of fasting is that your body enters ketosis, in which you begin to burn fat instead of stored carbohydrates.

Consuming small amounts of healthy fats during a fast, such as heavy cream, coconut oil, or avocado, won’t kick your body out of ketosis.

Artificial sweeteners
Although there are many zero-calorie beverages on the market, not all of them are ideal during a fast. Many of these beverages contain artificial sweeteners that can induce an insulin response.

If your main goal while fasting is weight loss, then these beverages should be okay to consume, but be aware that they may induce an insulin response.

 

Some vitamins and supplements
Some vitamins and supplements contain additional ingredients, such as sugars and artificial sweeteners, that will break a fast. However, the number of calories in these supplements is typically low and the benefits of getting enough vitamins and minerals may outweigh the downside of breaking a fast.

During a fast it’s important to listen to your body and decide what’s best for you. It’s better to consume a small number of calories and ensure that you’re getting appropriate nutrition than to keep a strict fasting regimen that you can’t stick to.

What should I eat to break a fast?
Another important aspect of fasting is what you eat outside of the fasting period. Although fasting reduces your overall calorie intake, it’s still important to eat a well-balanced diet if you’re using fasting to lose weight or improve your overall health.

Staying hydrated, exercising, and eating appropriate portions of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein are all important steps for maximizing the benefits of fasting.

Should I try fasting?
Short fasting periods, such as those used in intermittent fasting methods, are generally safe. When starting a new fasting regimen, it may take a few weeks for your body to adjust. In the meantime, you may experience symptoms such as hunger or irritability.

However, you should avoid fasting if you:
Are pregnant or breastfeeding
Are under 18 years old
Have a history of eating disorders
Have diabetes or other blood sugar problems
Short fasting windows are typically safe, but fasting for 24 hours or longer can be dangerous and may even be counterproductive depending on your goals. Prolonged fasting can cause nutrient deficiencies and malnutrition. It can also force your body into starvation mode, which means you’ll start to store fat instead of burn it.

Be sure to consult with your physician before beginning a fasting regimen.

Fasting comes with numerous health benefits
Fasting, particularly intermittent fasting, seems to have numerous health benefits that can lead to weight loss, promote longevity, and improve your overall quality of life. When fasting, make sure you are staying hydrated with plain water and zero-calorie beverages. You can also enjoy certain foods like bone broth and healthy fats. Outside of the fasting window, it’s important to maintain a balanced diet and regular exercise routine.

 

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