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Alternate Day Fasting Update

March 24, 2010 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

There’s a common perception out there that academics live in “ivory towers”. The papers and studies they publish often seem distant from the realities of life outside of the halls of academia. However some researchers clearly don’t fit this mold. An example can be found in the most recent edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Within the pages of the journal resides a paper written by a staff member of the University of Washington. The topic revolves around a guide referred to as The Nutrient Rich Foods Index, a “formal scoring system that ranks food on the basis of its nutrient content”. The author of this particular paper set out to identify the most affordable, nutrient rich foods.

When examining the candidates for the most frugal protein sources, eggs turned up at the top of the list. But this observation will ultimately fall on many deaf ears because “eggaphobia” (ovaphobia) is still alive and well in the field of 21st century nutrition. I’m personally trying to dispel the myth that eggs are an unhealthy food. My hope is that a recently published study in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry will contribute to this cause. (1)

Researchers from the University of Connecticut set out to investigate the effects of a carbohydrate restricted (CR) diet or a CR diet + eggs on antioxidant and lipids levels. The subjects involved in the trial ate a diet that provided no more than 15% of calories from carbohydrates. In addition, the experimental group included a total of 640 mg/day of added cholesterol via egg consumption. Essentially, we have two diets that are high in cholesterol and fat, moderate in protein and low in carbs. Many health experts believe this is a recipe for cardiovascular disaster – especially the diet with the added eggs. However, that’s far from what the evidence shows:

  • Reducing carb intake generally resulted in several positive shifts in cardiovascular risk markers.
  • A decline in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and an increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol was recorded.
  • There was a dramatic rise in apo C-II (a component of HDL cholesterol) and a significant decrease in apo C-III (found in LDL cholesterol).
  • Those eating eggs, in addition to a carb-restricted diet, demonstrated a tendency toward the larger/safer variety of LDL cholesterol subclasses.
  • The egg eating group exhibited a higher proportion of beneficial HDL cholesterol than the low-carb only dieters.
  • The participants eating the eggs were also found to have higher levels of antioxidant carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) in their plasma.

The changes provoked by both diets are considered desirable in terms of protecting the cardiovascular system. But it’s clear from this research that the addition of eggs makes a carb restricted diet even healthier. The larger, “fluffier” LDL cholesterol molecules are considered protective, whereas the smaller variety are thought to be more threatening. Likewise, higher levels of HDL cholesterol is something that many cardiologists believe to be beneficial. Just the other day, I cited a study that drew a link between larger plasma concentrations of carotenoids and a reduced risk of heart attack incidence. Taken as a whole, it would seem that limiting carbohydrates and the fear of eggs could very well improve heart health considerably. (2)

Eggs Are An Excellent Source of the Heart Healthy Nutrient Choline

Selected Food Sources of Choline (milligrams per serving)

Food Choline
Chicken, liver, cooked (3 oz) 247
Soy flour, defatted (1 cup) 201
Salmon, sockeye, smoked (3 oz) 187
Egg, whole, raw, fresh (1 large) 125
Quinoa, uncooked (1/2 cup) 60
Chicken, broilers or fryers, meat and skin, roasted (3 oz) 56
Turkey sausage, cooked (3 oz) 55
Wheat germ, toasted, plain (2 tbsp) 50
Milk, nonfat, fluid, with added vitamin A (8 ounces) 38
Cauliflower, cooked, boiled (1/2 cup) 24
Peas, green, frozen, cooked, drained (1/2 cup) 22
Bacon, pork, cured, cooked (2 pieces) 20
Almonds (1 oz) 15
Broccoli, cooked, boiled, drained (1/2 cup) 15
Frankfurter, beef (1) 15
Oat bran, raw (1/2 cup) 15
Pecans (1 oz) 15
Tomato paste, canned (2 tbsp) 12
Flaxseed (2 tbsp) 11
Source: USDA Database for the Choline Content of Common Foods, Release Two, January 2008; USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 20. (link)

What’s one of the best ways to lower your risk of heart disease and save quite a bit of money in the process? This may come as a shocker but – you may need to eat less. However reining in your appetite and pushing away your plate is only part of the picture. It’s how you implement your reduction of food intake that matters the most.

A recent trial conducted in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition at the University of Illinois at Chicago investigated the consequences of alternate day fasting (ADF) in a group of 16 obese men and women. The study design was quite complex and involved three dietary phases: the first part was a 2-week baseline period that established the typical diet of the participants; the second portion of the study involved the use of a carefully controlled diet which yielded 75% fewer calories on alternate days for 4 weeks; the final phase allowed the volunteers to select their own food while still maintaining a 75% calorie deficit every other day. A variety of blood tests and body measurements were conducted throughout the course of the 10 week trial.

  • After 8 weeks of treatment, participants had an average 12.5 lbs reduction in body weight and a 4 cm decrease in waist circumference. Total fat mass declined by about 12 lbs while lean body mass remained relatively constant.
  • Plasma adiponectin, a protein hormone that is elevated in obesity and associated with heart disease, dropped by 30%. As did LDL cholesterol (25%) and triglycerides (32%).

The researchers involved believe that the reduction of body fat and waist circumference may be responsible for the protective changes found in the cardiovascular blood markers that were measured. The concluding remarks of the study state that, “these findings indicate that reducing energy intake by implementing ADF (alternate day fasting) may decrease the risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) in obese individuals”. Two recent animal studies from the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Torino, Italy have come to similar conclusions. In fact, the Italian study went so far as to say that ADF may even slow the aging process via antioxidant and anti-inflammatory pathways. This is in line with previous findings that examined more severe forms of caloric restriction. (3,4,5)

Alternate day fasting appears to be a legitimate way to support healthy weight loss while improving overall health. But I wonder how much better the results of ADF would be if the diets used in the cited research emphasized healthier, whole foods. For instance, I’d love the see the results of an ADF study that utilized a carbohydrate restricted menu plan. Even better, perhaps they could add some eggs to the mix. The University of Illinois trial I highlighted employed a rather conventional menu which provided roughly 55% carbohydrates, 25% fat and 20% protein. Flipping those figures around *could* possibly yield some very interesting results. Hopefully that type of research will one day be conducted as well.

Be well!

JP

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16 Comments to “Alternate Day Fasting Update”

  1. Nina K. Says:

    Good Morning, JP :-)

    most people around me are still scary about eating “too much” eggs ;-) i always try to explain that they are not a poison.

    The alternate fasting thing is very good, also good is dinner canceling :-)

    Greetings
    Nina K.

  2. JP Says:

    Good day, Nina. :)

    It’s the same around here more or less.

    A dinner vacation sounds like a good way to enact ADFing. I hope to interview one of the researchers involved in the study I cited. If that works out, I’ll ask her about the best ways to implement this dietary strategy.

    Be well!

    JP

  3. Iggy Dalrymple Says:

    Although I’m not a low carber, I think eggs are good for you. My near vegan Dr friend has now added eggs to his diet. Previously, the only animal product he ate was sockeye salmon. At age 75, he consumes 5,500 calories/day and burns it up biking over 200 miles/week.

    I’ve tried alternate day fasting and I like it. It’s easier that “cutting back”. There’s less hunger pangs than when cutting back.

  4. Mark Says:

    My grandparents were voracious eaters of eggs, bacon, things cooked in lard and lived to their late eighties and early ninties. I love them as well but in moderation, maybe two to three days a week. Nothing better than a spicy veggie omelet.

    I fast one day a week, sometimes two. I have my reservations about alternate days. My concern be getting the nutrients needed on feed days to give the body the energy it needs on fast days, especially if one is a dedicated exerciser, so you don’t sacrifice muscle

  5. JP Says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Iggy. I think Mrs. Healthy Fellow may give ADF a go in the near future.

    I’m a big egg fan. I was just reading Dr. Jonny Bowden’s latest book last night and he states that he has at least 2 raw eggs just about every day. I may experiment with a similar strategy as well.

    I’ll hopefully have some additional information about ADfing coming soon.

    Be well!

    JP

  6. JP Says:

    Mark,

    I’m trying to set up an interview with one of the leading ADF researchers. If I’m successful, I’ll incorporate your concerns into my question set.

    Until then, here’s my personal take on what you brought up:

    I think eating eggs and bacon is probably fine for most people provided that the sources are healthy – clean (no nitrates) with few additives. The fat in bacon doesn’t concern me but it’s often high in (added) sodium which isn’t a great thing. This is why we often eat avocado slices when we include bacon in our breakfast – to balance out the sodium/potassium ratio of the meal.

    Avoiding unhealthy sources of carbohydrates and eating plenty of antioxidant-rich foods also renders fatty foods relatively harmless, IMO. It’s the combination of carbs/sugar and a relative lack of protective nutrients and phytochemicals that can be problematic.

    re: ADF and exercise

    Just because you cut calories by 25% doesn’t mean you need to decrease nutrients by 25%. On ADF days, I would think that emphasizing nutrient-dense foods would be all the more important. In fact, it might be wise to consider ADF days as being “low-calorie but super nutrition days”. That would seem to be ideal from my perspective.

    Be well!

    JP

  7. Cheftometrist Says:

    I’m a big egg fan! Thanks for the info!

    The other advantage that eggs have–if you buy the kind from hens that are grass-fed or have a supplemented diet–is that you can increase your consumption of omega-3′s.

  8. JP Says:

    Thanks for adding that, Cheftometrist.

    We generally use free-range, organic, omega-3 eggs in our household. In all likelihood, the added DHA found in such eggs will only add to their health benefits.

    Be well!

    JP

  9. Mark Says:

    Since I raise chickens, fresh eggs are always on my diet. Due to articles like this and continuing research, hopefully Eggphobia will decline and people will realize they deserve a prominent place in healthy eating.

    I would to see more information or research done on the uses of ADF for those who may need to some small amounts of body fat but are not overweight and in good overall health. Seems ADF is geared more towards an obese individual.

  10. JP Says:

    Mark,

    I’d like to see those types of studies as well. Part two of the interview gets into that a little bit. I even incorporated a question you asked here a few weeks back – about exercising/muscle building while on ADF. Stay tuned for Dr. Varady’s answer!

    PS – It’s too bad we don’t live closer. I’d love to have a source for fresh eggs.

    Be well!

    JP

  11. Gina Thornton Says:

    Alternate day fasting is the easiest way to lose weight! I love the little buzz I have all day on my 500 calorie day. When I am hungry, I remind myself that I am giving my body time to cleanse and heal any areas that need to be cleaned and healed.

    I am excited to try just eating a meal at lunch, instead of 500 cals throughout the day. I just read about this idea as part of Krista Varady’s study. Normally, I have 2 hard boiled eggs, 2-100 calorie Muscle Milk Lite protein drinks, 3 cups of veggies (such as cucumber slices, brocolli and cauliflower bites) and one large can of V-8 during my “down” days. This takes planning and although it is easy to do, I am excited to just have lunch and then fast through dinner and breakfast. If you read the QOD book on alternate day fasting, he explains why you need the V-8 everyday-no more headaches!
    Have fun with this healthy way to eat.

  12. JP Says:

    Thank you for sharing your experience and insight with us, Gina! Much appreciated! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  13. Jason Whyte Says:

    The best implementation of this diets is to incorporate the fast into your sleep schedule rather than taking a full day off food.

    Example
    Monday: Eat normally with dinner around 6pm.
    Fast 24 hours
    Tuesday: Eat a dinner around 6pm.
    Wednesday: Eat normally with dinner around 6pm.
    Fast 24 hours
    Thursday: Eat a dinner around 6pm.
    Friday: Eat normally with dinner at 6pm.

    Continue this cycle.

    This is super easy to follow, because even on fasting days you get to look forward to an awesome dinner.

    I became a vegetarian 5 months before starting this way of eating, and have been dropping about 1 lbs a day. I feel great, my skin even looks better. This diet also seems to affect insulin reaction because on days that I eat and take in 1500+ calories per meal, I have no sugar crash or feeling of “food comma”. And yes, I just said 1500+ calories per meal on eating days, and still dropping weight.

    All of this makes sense because biologically, we are the same as we were when we didn’t have constant access to food. Eating every day, as it turns out, is a lifestyle, and is not biologically optimal.

    I didn’t believe this at first, but then I thought long and hard about anyone whose ever “told me how to eat.” Who taught them? What do they have to gain from me agreeing? That’s when I realized that the science of eating has thus far been limited by the confines of our lifestyle demands. In a society that demands to eat all the time, 6 to 8 small meals a day will work to a certain standard of life expectancy and quality of health. The question becomes, why not try to expand that standard?

  14. JP Says:

    Jason,

    Thank you for the your thoughtful comments. They’re much appreciated.

    I vary the timing of my meal on fast days. The reason has more to do with practical considerations. For instance, I often have business dinners or lunch meetings on my ADF days. I can’t very well sit there and sip water while those around me dine. That would be awkward for all involved. :)

    So, I adjust my eating schedule based on what’s required of me. If anything, I would think this is more in line with the original style of alternate day fasting – back in the hunter gatherer days. Some days you might catch your meal in the afternoon and other days in the morning and so on.

    I wish you continued success in your wellness program. It sounds like you’re doing great! Well done!

    Be well!

    JP

  15. Catherine Gordon Says:

    Hi JP, Back when I won the TT transformation contest, I was following carb restriction with one fast day a week. I lost 14 pounds in 12 weeks, and the drop in my waist circumference was astonishing. I have avoided fasting lately because I perceive it as politically incorrect. I am so grateful to see top level research that shows that it works for weight loss and improved blood profiles. I am seriously considering one fast day a week to help me reach my body fat goals. Thanks for your efforts!

  16. Ciaran Says:

    Hey folks,

    I am 28 and new to ADF. I must say I fins the concept fascinating. At first I was sceptical but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. No other animal in the world I can think of has a regular diet. They are all hunter gatherers in their own way. Most are use to feeding, using energy to grow, and storing energy for their next hunt. All the greatest spiritual leaders went on very long fasts, so it can’t be bad for you. Right?

    I am only on week 2 but I must say I feel fantastic. On my fast days I will consume < 300 calories through high nutrient foods. On my feast day I eat more but still eat healthy. Bran flakes in the morning followed by a banana and a protein shake with creatine. For dinner I usually have whole grain rice with tuna(olive oil, not brine). And if I feel peckish at all in between I snack on baby carrots or have an apple. In between meals I exercise and work-out. I tend to stop eating entirely by 6.00 and by then I feel really full, almost looking forward to a day-off from food.

    Sometimes I find it difficult on fast days as I can get quite hungry if I am active, but eating nuts and fruit intermittently really helps.

    Although it is an ADF I have consistencies in that every day take a multi-vitiman tablet every morning, and drink lots of water and green tea throughout the day.

    I am really excited to maintain this diet and feel I have the discipline to do so. If anyone has any advice in areas I can tweak the diet for the better I am all ears. I wan't to lose body fat but not enough that I look skinny which is why I take protein and good carbs after a workout on my feast day. I am doing it to lower blood-pressure and cholesterol levels for improved quality and longevity of life. Which is a much better incentive than just wanting to look good.

    Good to read the other comments, some were helpful.

    C

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