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Scientist praises intermittent fasting diet for longevity, health, weight loss

Should you fast?
Should you fast?
Creative Commons

When it comes to a diet that boosts weight loss and health while extending your life, a group of Australian scientists say they've discovered the answer: Intermittent fasting. The lead scientist of the new study explained the benefits in a March 22 interview with Fairfax Media.

Based on their research, the scientists determined that eating only occasionally, as called for on intermittent fasting weight loss plans, helps people have longer, healthier lifespans.

The rationale: Hungry animals recycle nutrients, which promotes cell repair while decreasing the risk of cancer.

''Wild animals don't often die of cancer and diseases of old age. They tend to die young as a result of environmental hazards and exposure to parasites,'' explained Dr. Margo Adler, a University of New South Wales evolutionary biologist and lead author of the study published in the journal BioEssays.

''People might be able to reap some of the lifespan and anti-cancer benefits from dietary restriction or interventions that mimic its effects,'' she added.

Dr. Adler lauded the intermittent fasting concept popularized by BBC host and doctor Michael Mosley, as well as his book "The FastDiet: Lose Weight, Stay Healthy, and Live Longer with the Simple Secret of Intermittent Fasting" (click for details).

''The 5:2 diet is the most promising popular diet around,'' she praised. ''Many of the popular diets are not based in science. But researchers have found that fasting can have long-term benefits similar to dietary restriction.''

The term "5:2 diet" refers to the schedule for intermittent fasting in Mosley's plan: Eat normally five days a week, then go on a highly restricted calorie plan (500 for women; 600 for men) on two other days. It's also been detailed in related weight loss books such as "The 5:2 Diet: Feast for 5 Days, Fast for 2 Days to Lose Weight and Revitalize Your Health."

But not all agree that semi-fasting two days a week is sufficient. Now a new diet is offering a different spin on dieting: You feast one day, then reduce calories the next, reported Marie Claire magazine recently.

It's sometimes called the 4:3 diet, and it's all detailed in a book: "The Every-Other-Day Diet: The Diet That Lets You Eat All You Want (Half the Time) and Keep the Weight Off" (click for more information).

Authors Dr. Krista Varady and Bill Gottlieb go into great depth about how and why to use this plan for health and weight loss. In a nutshell, however (and yes, you can have nuts and even dig deep into a jar of peanut butter on your feast day!), they recommend the follow guidelines for fast days:

  • 1. Eat a 400 calorie meal and a 100 calorie snack
  • 2. Drink lots of water
  • 3. Drink tea and coffee
  • 4. Chew sugar-free gum
  • 5. Eat pre-packaged meals with extra vegetables if you are too busy to cook

On feast days, eat as much as you want without deprivation.

So does it work, and is it safe? Studies say yes, with results indicating steady weight loss. Moreover, dieters lost fat, rather than muscle. Researchers are now evaluating how fasting may reset your metabolism, causing your body to burn fat as energy.

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