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Q: Are there health benefits to fasting?

Jacqueline Ely

A: While traditional fasting will result in weight loss, most people avoid it and its associated feelings of extreme deprivation. However, a new approach to fasting - called alternate day fasting - seems to be more sustainable and may come with additional health benefits.

Alternate day fasters cycle through a "feed day" and then a "fast day." On the feed day, individuals consume a liberal diet, and then eat less than 25 percent of their estimated caloric needs on each fast day. In general, alternate day fasters eat one meal on their fast days, consisting of about 300 to 500 calories eaten around lunchtime (12 noon-2 pm) .

A study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009 observed non-obese participants during a 10-week trial of alternate day fasting. Participants showed 5.8 percent weight loss after eight weeks. They also decreased total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure and triglycerides. Alternate day fasting has also been associated with decreased subcutaneous and visceral fat, along with decreased risk of diabetes and coronary artery disease. Dieters more often choose calorie-restricted diets, which yield similar weight-loss results in the short term but require the individual to restrict caloric intake every day. While more research is needed to determine if alternate day fasting is sustainable long-term, the findings from this study indicate it may be an option for someone interested in weight loss and other health benefits.

Varady, Krista A., Bhutani, Surabhi, Church, Emily C., and Klempel, Monica C. "Short-term Modified Alternate-Day Fasting: A Novel Dietary Strategy For Weight Loss and Cardioprotection in Obese Adults." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;90;1138-43.

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