Intermittent fasting—more an eating pattern than a diet, science says it can help you lose weight (a smaller eating window means less calories consumed), but even better, research has linked it to improved blood sugar levels, decreased risk of heart disease and cancer, and, according to neuroscientist Mark Mattson's research, it might just help your brain ward off neurogenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's while improving mood and memory.
First reported in 2003, the idea of using a form of the Atkins diet to treat epilepsy came about after parents and patients discovered that the induction phase of the Atkins diet controlled seizures. The ketogenic diet team at Johns Hopkins Hospital modified the Atkins diet by removing the aim of achieving weight loss, extending the induction phase indefinitely, and specifically encouraging fat consumption. Compared with the ketogenic diet, the modified Atkins diet (MAD) places no limit on calories or protein, and the lower overall ketogenic ratio (about 1:1) does not need to be consistently maintained by all meals of the day. The MAD does not begin with a fast or with a stay in hospital and requires less dietitian support than the ketogenic diet. Carbohydrates are initially limited to 10 g per day in children or 20 g per day in adults, and are increased to 20–30 g per day after a month or so, depending on the effect on seizure control or tolerance of the restrictions. Like the ketogenic diet, the MAD requires vitamin and mineral supplements and children are carefully and periodically monitored at outpatient clinics.
Understanding the potential adverse effects of intermittent fasting is limited by an inadequate number of rigorous clinical trials. One 2015 review of preliminary clinical studies found that short-term intermittent fasting may produce minor adverse effects, such as continuous feelings of weakness and hunger, headaches, fainting, or dehydration. Long-term, periodic fasting may cause eating disorders or malnutrition, with increased susceptibility to infectious diseases.
A systematic review in 2018 looked at 16 studies on the ketogenic diet in adults. It concluded that the treatment was becoming more popular for that group of patients, that the efficacy in adults was similar to children, the side effects relatively mild. However, many patients gave up with the diet, for various reasons, and the quality of evidence was inferior to studies on children. Health issues include high levels of low-density lipoprotein, high total cholesterol, and weight loss.
“Tahini is an oft-forgotten option for nut and seed butters, but it sits front and center in my fridge because it delivers major creaminess to sauces and smoothies and packs a powerful flavor punch,” says Willow Jarosh MS, RD co-owner of C&J Nutrition. “Although some advise against eating the spread because of its high omega 3:6 ratio, the super high intake of omega-6s in the average American’s diet isn’t due to things like tahini—it’s mostly from not eating a variety of fats or consuming the majority of fats from fried foods and packaged snacks. As long as you’re also eating foods rich in omega-3s, your end-of-day ratio should be nothing to worry about. Plus, tahini is loaded with tons of healthy nutrients like copper, which helps maintain anti-inflammatory and antioxidant responses in the body. It also provides 6 percent of the day’s calcium in just one tablespoon.”
Based on this, researchers from the University of Alabama conducted a study with a small group of obese men with prediabetes. They compared a form of intermittent fasting called “early time-restricted feeding,” where all meals were fit into an early eight-hour period of the day (7 am to 3 pm), or spread out over 12 hours (between 7 am and 7 pm). Both groups maintained their weight (did not gain or lose) but after five weeks, the eight-hours group had dramatically lower insulin levels and significantly improved insulin sensitivity, as well as significantly lower blood pressure. The best part? The eight-hours group also had significantly decreased appetite. They weren’t starving.
Perhaps most importantly, intermittent fasting is one of the simplest strategies we have for taking bad weight off while keeping good weight on because it requires very little behavior change. This is a very good thing because it means intermittent fasting falls into the category of “simple enough that you'll actually do it, but meaningful enough that it will actually make a difference.”
This principle involves eating low-energy-dense foods and can help you lose weight by feeling full on fewer calories. Healthy choices in each of the other food groups in moderate amounts make up the rest of the pyramid — including whole-grain carbohydrates, lean sources of protein such as legumes, fish and low-fat dairy, and heart-healthy unsaturated fats.