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Fasting and Your Health

Sunday, March 12 2017

So it’s fasting time! But there are huge misconceptions about the fasting process to begin with. I have friends who tell me they conduct intermittent fasting (great!) and only have coffee (great!!) with milk and sugar (that’s not fasting!) Then there are those that say they abstain from alcohol during Lent, or smoking, but then they’re doubling down on fast food.

So, what constitutes a good fast at this time of Lent and what does that mean for your body? We’ll get back to our discussion on antibiotics in the diet but we wanted to answer a few questions we got on the expectations from fasting, starting with abstaining from meat.

Abstaining from meat is glorious for your tummy and torture for your tongue. In Trinidad, a meal without meat is a snack. “Mammy, when you finishing the rest” is what you will hear at a Sunday lunch serving up rice, beans and potato salad. But abstaining from meat has several benefits. Let’s look at them in isolation.

Weight Loss Switching from meat protein to plant protein has the first benefit of leading to weight loss – and the good kind – the kind that sheds fat.

A study by the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences notes, “The take-home message is that a plant-based diet can help you lose weight without counting calories and without ramping up your exercise routine,” says Neal Barnard, MD, lead author of the study. This study reviewed 15 separate studies based in Finland, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United States with 755 participants varying between 4 weeks to 2 years and noted an average weight loss of 10 pounds over a 44-week period.

The best part was that no exercise was required, just the willpower and the benefits are extrapolated, “If you’re overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can slash the risk of both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” says Susan Levin, MS, RD, CSSD, a study author and director of nutrition education. The better part is that once you see that improvement in mind and body, you probably will actually want to exercise (and enhance the impacts further.)

Healthy Gut and Microbiome A 2014 study between vegans (no meat products at all), vegetarians (may include dairy, eggs, fi sh) and omnivores (meat, plants etc) revealed: “The vegan gut profile appears to be unique in several characteristics, including a reduced abundance of pathobionts (associated with chronic inflammatory conditions) and a greater abundance of protective species. Reduced levels of inflammation may be the key feature linking the vegan gut microbiota with protective health effects.” In some instances, these changes in the gut microbiome begin within a few days to a few weeks, and likely is also linked to the higher intake of dietary fibre and its positive effects on the gut. Dietary _ bre improves the intestinal environment by inhibiting pathogen adhesion, altering bacterial fermentation patterns and modifying microbiota community pro_ les. Sudden dietary changes can however cause bloating and discomfort so proceed with caution and note this: adding tons of breads and vegetarian pastas isn’t the solution – but rather one should add lots of steamed veggies, raw fruits and anything close to source (eg, your mango tree in the backyard!) Healthy Heart A pooled analysis of five studies involving 76,000 subjects found that both vegetarians and those who followed a “prudent” diet allowing small amounts of red meat benefited from a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Another study by the Lerner Research Institute in the US also showed that carnitine in red meat can also trigger gut microbiome reactions which contribute to the development of heart disease. Further to this, research of 45 vegetarians (longer than 15 years on that diet), found lower levels of stress in the body, as well as lower body fat and cholesterol levels in similar matched omnivores.

Reduced Cancer Risk The World Health Organisation published an alarming report in 2015, noting that 50g of processed meat a day - less than two slices of bacon - may increase the chance of developing bowel cancer by 18 per cent. You read that right. The report lists processed meat right up there with alcohol and cigarettes. This link may also apply to red meat which uses an organic pigment called haem, which may damage the lining of the gut.

Should you go vegan for Lent? Have you? More next week.

This advice is culled from dozens of books, medical studies, discussions with professionals and experience. Always consult your doctor, your nutritionist or preferred health advisor before starting any health changes. Most of all, listen to your body.

Sources: George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

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