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Is Intermittent Fasting a Good Idea?

By Charlyn Fargo

Q: I have a client wanting to try intermittent fasting (where he has long periods of not eating) as a way to lose weight. Does it work?

A: First of all, a word of warning: It’s a diet strategy that can be dangerous for individuals who take prescription medication, those with diabetes or heart conditions and pregnant women. Before you try it, consult your physician.

Just what does it involve? It involves alternating periods of fasting with periods of eating. Some intermittent fasting involves fasting all but one meal; other intermittent fasting involves fasting for a specific number of hours each day.

The problem is – and my client found this out – you often overeat at mealtimes because you’re so hungry from fasting. That’s tough on your system – to go from not eating to consuming a lot of calories at one time. And, it didn’t result in any weight loss.

Research is limited and on small groups of people. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine investigated 100 overweight individuals for a year. They compared alternate-day fasting with a typical diet of restricting calories. A control group ate normally. Results showed that participants in both the fasting and restricted calorie groups lost weight. The control group did not. However, 38% of the fasting group quit before the year end, suggesting that it’s a hard diet to maintain.

Here’s the bottom line: There are lots of ways to lose weight – low fat, low carbs, counting calories. One particular way of losing weight may not work for everyone. Many people are successful tracking calories and activity. Others are successful fasting, and some are successful with programs such as Weight Watchers or a plan such as the Mediterranean diet. Do what works for you. However, the most important thing is to eat healthy. Include all the food groups – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy.

Q: Are fresh vegetables and fruit more nutritious than frozen?

A: Not necessarily. Recent studies have found frozen produce contains just as many vitamins and minerals as fresh produce; in some cases, the frozen produce may even be more nutritious than fresh produce. That’s because after fruits and vegetables are harvested, they begin to lose some of their nutrient content. By the time they make it to the grocery store, fresh produce may have a significantly reduced nutrient content compared to when it was just picked. Fresh produce may be picked when it’s not fully ripe so that it will survive transportation, while frozen produce may be picked at peak ripeness and then quickly frozen, preserving the nutrients.

Q: Should I weigh myself every day, or how often?

A: I weigh myself daily. That’s because it’s a useful strategy for weight loss and maintenance. (Aren’t we always trying to lose a few pounds?) The idea of weighing often is backed by research that shows regular self-weighing is more often associated with maintaining our weight, losing a few pounds and keeping pounds from creeping up. It’s a lot easier to do something about losing 5 pounds than to wait until the scale shows a gain of 15. For those just maintaining their current weight, a weekly weigh-in (at the same time and with the same amount of clothing) is effective.

Q: Should I buy whole flax seeds or milled flax seeds?

A: Both are good. The whole seeds are an insoluble fiber, and the milled seeds are a soluble fiber. We need both. Insoluble fiber passes through the digestive system and helps promote regularity and prevent constipation. Soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol and makes fiber, fatty acids and other phytonutrients more available. It’s best to store either milled or whole seeds in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent rancidity and to prevent the omega-3 fatty acids from breaking down. If you prefer to mill your own, a coffee grinder will do the job. Store leftover ground flax in the refrigerator or freezer as well.


Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at charfarg@aol.com or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD.

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