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What to eat on intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting works without counting calories. But combining intermittent fasting with a healthy diet helps to maximize the benefits.
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Summary

Intermittent fasting provides many health benefits and it allows many people to lose weight without counting calories. Combining intermittent fasting with a healthy diet helps to maximize the benefits.

Written by
Christine Richardson, PhD
Clinical Project Manager at Becton Dickinson

Intermittent fasting is a very popular health trend because of its ability to help people lose body fat, improve overall health, prevent signs of aging, and maybe even extend their lifespan.


One component of intermittent fasting that makes it popular is that people claim you don’t have to count calories or watch what you eat in order to see any benefits. This claim, however, is only partially correct. You don’t have to watch what you eat so long as you’re eating nutrient-dense, whole foods. If your diet consists of mostly high-calorie and nutrient-deficient foods, you may not see any benefits while intermittent fasting…in fact, you may see some results you do not want.


Knowing what types of foods to eat while on this diet is important because this can help determine how effective this diet can be. In this article, we’ll discuss some beneficial dietary choices you can make to help you maximize the benefits you see during your intermittent fasting journey.


What To Eat 


Water

Water with mint and lime.

Yes, yes, we know water isn’t technically a food but it’s important to make sure you are hydrated, especially when trying intermittent fasting.


Regardless of what intermittent fasting method you choose, 16/8, 5:2, or alternate-day fasting, you will be refraining from consuming any calories for an extended period of time. 


When you choose to do this, your body starts to break down glycogen, your stored glucose (sugar), for energy (1). This can cause your body to lose a lot of water.

To put this into perspective, have you heard about someone trying an intermittent fasting or keto diet and losing 4.5 kilos (10 lbs) in the first week? Both intermittent fasting and keto diets cause your body to break down your body’s glycogen stores so people on this diet tend to lose a lot of water during the first week. This means that those lost 4.5 kilos was mostly lost water…and that’s a lot of water!


But don’t let this scare you. This isn’t something that’s dangerous because it’s a normal bodily response to these particular diets, but it does mean that you should be mindful of this and should drink more water than you probably would otherwise to make sure you stay hydrated.


Make sure to drink a minimum of 8 glasses of water each day you are fasting, but make sure to have more if you’re exercising, or you are fasting for more than 20 hours each day. If you aren’t a big fan of water, try drinking some herbal tea or add some cucumber or mint leaves to your water to make it easier. But don’t eat the cucumber or you’ll break your fast; flavored water contains no calories so don’t worry about that.


Fiber

Fiber is the part of plant-based foods that your body can’t digest. So, yes, fiber isn’t technically a food either, but this is a very under-rated nutrient that is incredibly beneficial for your health and shouldn’t be ignored. Even though humans can’t digest it, fiber plays a key role in optimizing your cardiovascular and gut health as well as digestion. It also helps to keep you fuller longer and feel more satisfied after every meal. 


There are two different types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber can be found in fruits and legumes and has the ability to absorb water and slow down digestion. Insoluble fiber can be found in whole grains, vegetables, and nuts and helps to bulk up your stool to help it pass through your intestines faster. Both types of fiber are important for your health and you should be consuming both types every day.


Try to consume a minimum of 20 grams of fiber each day and try to get a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber. 


Lean Protein

Chicken breast with salad.

Eating some lean protein once your fast is over is important. 


Foods like eggs, chicken, lean beef, and seafood are all great sources of protein and each one can provide you with nutrients you might be lacking otherwise. 


Eggs are great because they are so versatile. You can make scrambled eggs for a meal, a hard-boiled egg for a snack, and more! They also contain a lot of nutrients like Vitamin A, folate, Vitamin B12, zinc, and more (2).


Chicken is probably the most versatile protein there is. It’s also one of the highest in protein, providing a whopping 8g of protein per ounce! The chicken skin also provides one of the highest meat sources of the essential fatty acid, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). It is also a good source of iron, thiamin while also being very low in fat (3).


Lean beef is also a great source of protein. While it can be higher in fat, beef is a great source of iron. There are 2 different types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme is found in animal sources and is easily absorbed by your body whereas non-heme is found in leafy green plants and isn’t as easily absorbable. Eating beef, because it contains heme-iron, means you will be giving your body an excellent supply of easily absorbable iron.


Lastly, seafood can provide you with both protein and other essential nutrients. Fatty fish, like salmon, is not only a great source of protein, but it is an excellent source of the fatty acids EPA and DHA. Bivalves, which are sea creatures found in shells such as oysters and clams, are a great source of zinc. 


Fruits and Vegetables

If you are intermittent fasting, make sure you have a meal that includes some healthful and delicious fruit and vegetables. 


Fruit and vegetables are both great sources of fiber (like we mentioned), vitamins and minerals. They are also a great source of antioxidants.


Sometimes fruit gets a bad reputation because they contain sugar. However, studies have shown that consuming fruit on a regular basis can help decrease sugar levels and inflammatory markers while also decreasing your risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer (4, 5). 


While scientists don’t fully understand how fruit can help with blood sugar control long-term, there are some theories to explain this. One theory is that fruit sugar may be metabolized differently than refined sugars, allowing for a lower blood sugar response (6). Another theory is that the fiber and antioxidants in fruit may somehow work together to help with the body’s response to insulin (7). Another theory is that fruit may alter the gut microbiome, which has been shown to affect blood sugar levels (8). Hopefully, scientists one day will have a better answer for us!


Studies have also shown that regular consumption of vegetables can also decrease the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and more (5).


Even if you aren’t intermittent fasting, try to consume at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables each day.


One great way to accomplish this is to break your fast with a smoothie. Add a banana, some greens like spinach or kale, some berries, chia or flax seeds, some nuts, and some protein powder if you’d like. You’ll start the day with a delicious meal with a wide variety of fruits and veggies!


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Whole Grains

Whole grain bread with cheese and watercress.

Whole grains should be a regular part of your diet. Because so many whole grains are fortified, meaning that nutrients are added during the manufacturing process, they contain so many essential vitamins and minerals. 


Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber, folic acid, B vitamins, iron, potassium, and magnesium. 


Studies have also shown that regular consumption of whole grains can decrease your risk of heart disease, colorectal, pancreatic and gastric cancers while also helping to decrease body weight (9).


Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are a popular snack…and for good reason, they’re delicious! They’re also really good for you.


Despite being high in fat, they contain a lot of fiber, protein, and antioxidants. In addition, studies have shown that regular consumption of nuts can help decrease cholesterol levels, decrease inflammation, decrease risk of cardiovascular disease, and can help fight off harmful free radicals (10).


Eat some nuts for a snack, incorporate them (or nut butters) into a smoothie, or add some to your salads for some nice crunch! 


Legumes

Red lentils.

Legumes are also under-rated and sometimes get a bad reputation for being high in carbohydrates. However, they are a great source of fiber and a lot of other nutrients such as folate, calcium, phosphorus and zinc. They’re also a good source of protein and should be consumed daily if you’re vegetarian or vegan.


Studies have shown that regular consumption of legumes can help with weight management, lower blood pressure, and decrease risks associated with cardiovascular disease (11).


They are also very versatile. You can make main courses out of legumes, side dishes, or even sprinkle them in your salads for a nice nutrient boost!


Another nice thing about legumes is that there are so many different kinds! There are black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, and more so they’re a hard food to get tired of. Many companies are also making pasta out of legume flour and this can be a great alternative to the traditional wheat pasta.


The Theme

We know that you might have heard some (or all) of this information before but it’s important to eat nutrient-rich foods to maximize the potential of intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting should not be used as a strategy to compensate for otherwise bad eating habits.


Don’t get us wrong, we don’t want you to deprive yourself of anything you’re craving but developing healthy habits will help you in the long-run. 


Summary

In summary, if you try intermittent fasting, make sure you are consuming enough water while eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and nuts and seeds. 


If you do this while fasting, you should start to feel like a whole new you!


For support with intermittent fasting, please join our intermittent fasting community for women only!


References:

1. Kreitzman SN, Coxon AY, Szaz KF. Glycogen storage: Illusions of easy weight loss, excessive weight regain, and distortions in estimates of body composition. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition [Internet]. Am J Clin Nutr; 1992 [cited 2021 May 30]. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1615908/

2. Kuang H, Yang F, Zhang Y, Wang T, Chen G. The Impact of Egg Nutrient Composition and Its Consumption on Cholesterol Homeostasis [Internet]. Cholesterol. Hindawi Limited; 2018 [cited 2021 May 30]. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC6126094/

3. Marangoni F, Corsello G, Cricelli C, Ferrara N, Ghiselli A, Lucchin L, Poli A. Role of poultry meat in a balanced diet aimed at maintaining health and wellbeing: An Italian consensus document. Food Nutr Res [Internet]. Co-Action Publishing; 2015 [cited 2021 May 30];59:1–11. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC4462824/

4. Park HA. Fruit Intake to Prevent and Control Hypertension and Diabetes. Korean J Fam Med [Internet]. Korean Journal of Family Medicine; 2021 [cited 2021 May 30];42:9–16. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC7884895/

5. Slavin JL, Lloyd B. Health benefits of fruits and vegetables [Internet]. Advances in Nutrition. Oxford University Press; 2012 [cited 2021 May 30]. p. 506–16. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC3649719/

6. Du H, Li L, Bennett D, Guo Y, Turnbull I, Yang L, Bragg F, Bian Z, Chen Y, Chen J, et al. Fresh fruit consumption in relation to incident diabetes and diabetic vascular complications: A 7-y prospective study of 0.5 million Chinese adults. PLoS Med [Internet]. Public Library of Science; 2017 [cited 2021 Jun 2];14. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC5388466/

7. Weber KS, Simon MC, Strassburger K, Markgraf DF, Buyken AE, Szendroedi J, Müssig K, Roden M, Al-Hasani H, Belgardt B, et al. Habitual fructose intake relates to insulin sensitivity and fatty liver index in recent-onset type 2 diabetes patients and individuals without diabetes. Nutrients [Internet]. MDPI AG; 2018 [cited 2021 Jun 2];10. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC6024554/

8. Gérard C, Vidal H. Impact of gut microbiota on host glycemic control [Internet]. Frontiers in Endocrinology. Frontiers Media S.A.; 2019 [cited 2021 Jun 2]. p. 29. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC6363653/

9. McRae MP. Health Benefits of Dietary Whole Grains: An Umbrella Review of Meta-analyses [Internet]. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine. Elsevier USA; 2017 [cited 2021 May 30]. p. 10–8. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC5310957/

10. Ros E. Health benefits of nut consumption [Internet]. Nutrients. MDPI AG; 2010 [cited 2021 May 30]. p. 652–82. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC3257681/

11. Polak R, Phillips EM, Campbell A. Legumes: Health benefits and culinary approaches to increase intake. Clin Diabetes [Internet]. American Diabetes Association Inc.; 2015 [cited 2021 May 31];33:198–205. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC4608274/


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