A key to life many of us aspire to is choosing foods to eat that foster optimal performance for the body. Eating well can be confusing and as frustrating as untangling wires. 

Let’s delve into a topic a Cleveland Jewish News reader posed to us: “Does intermittent fasting work to help reduce weight and keep it off? Is it healthy?”

You may opt for one fad diet or another – Paleo, Keto, Alkaline (New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s diet), or carb cycling – but none of the diets take into account an essential truth about your body: it uses calories, fat, carbs and glucose differently at different times of the day. 

Studies show eating the same amount of calories early or later in the day produces two very different results. Front load your food intake so you get 80 percent of your calories before 1 or 2 p.m. and you can lose weight. Eat more than 20 percent of your calories in the evening and you’ll have trouble losing weight and may even gain weight. Timing is everything – in music, in love and in nutrition, too.

Your body is made to consume food while the sun is shining – and not to consume food for long stretches of time while it’s dark. That aligns with the healthy choice of having at least

12 hours between dinner and breakfast.

How to Schedule Your Eating

One option that can help you cut out your late-night snacking or dinner-before-bed syndrome is to consider some kind of intermittent-fasting schedule – you eat so there’s a chunk of hours in the day when you don’t consume anything but water, coffee and/or tea. 

It can improve your nutrition, superpower your energy level, help you sleep, reduce your risk for Type 2 diabetes, promote weight loss, improve low density lipoprotein and high density lipoprotein cholesterol levels – that is, if you don’t overeat on non-fasting days. Yes, it really is healthy and does work to reduce weight from the same calories if you eat them before 2 p.m. The science in animals is overwhelming and pretty substantial in humans, too. 

How does intermittent fasting do that? Dr. Mark Mattson, senior investigator in the laboratory of neurosciences at National Institute on Aging said, “There is considerable similarity between how cells respond to the stress of exercise and how cells respond to intermittent fasting.” 

And although most studies have been done on lab animals, not humans, there is mounting evidence intermittent fasting is beneficial:

One study of overweight adults with asthma had participants eat just 20 percent of their regular caloric intake on alternate days for eight weeks. The results: They lost 8 percent of their initial body weight, reduced levels of markers of oxidative stress and inflammation and saw asthma symptoms and quality of life improve.

Multiple studies indicate intermittent fasting may help stimulate production of adult stem cells, particularly in the intestines and skeletal muscles, which are essential to counter the decline in bodily functions associated with aging. 

So what are your choices? The guidelines are:

• Fast each night with at least 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. Want more benefits? Extend the fast to 14 hours and then 18. This creates a daily pattern of intermittent fasting that causes your body to burn up most circulating glucose and stabilizes insulin levels. Then your body burns stored fat. Bye, bye belly!  

• Your body is naturally more insulin-resistant at night, so avoid all simple carbs after midday and opt for fiber-rich vegetables and protein.

• Breakfast and/or lunch should contain lean and plant-based protein (think whole grains, legumes, salmon) and fats (healthy fats in salmon or the use of extra virgin olive oil with grains and veggies). Dinner should be plant-heavy (think salad and other green, leafy veggies) and calorie-light of about 400 calories, if you need 2,000 a day to maintain a healthy weight.

Other patterns for fasting

You may want to try eating for eight hours – from about noon to 8 p.m. daily – and fasting for 16. Or try the two-five routine, in which you restrict your calorie intake to 500 calories a day, twice a week. Then, after five days, you eat a healthy, full complement of calories (1,800 to 2,400 for most folks). And then there’s the Warrior plan – eating during four hours a day and fasting for the remaining 20. The best data (from the Valter Longo Foundation) for optimal health recommends reducing calories to 1,000 for one day, then to 750 for four days, then resume a Mediterranean diet and follow the guidelines; that is 15 hours between your last food in the evening and first food the next day, eating only while the sun is out (or supposed to be out) and eating earlier in the day. 

Dr. Michael Roizen writes about wellness for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. 

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