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To Fast or not to Fast

What you eat matters. Many studies have shown that the types of food you eat affect your health. But what about the timing? Scientists are just beginning to understand that when you eat may also make a difference.

Throughout history, people have experienced periods when food was either scarce or completely lacking, says Dr. Valter Longo, an NIH-funded longevity researcher at the University of Southern California. “So, they were forced to fast,” he says.

But current technology—like refrigeration, transportation, and electric lighting—have made food more readily available.

“This has shifted our eating patterns,” explains Dr. Vicki Catenacci, a nutrition researcher at the University of Colorado. “People now eat, on average, throughout a 14-hour period each day.”

Studies suggest that this constant food intake may lead to health problems. Researchers have started looking at whether fasting can have potential benefits for some people.

About Fasting

Fasting is the abstention from eating and sometimes drinking. From a purely physiological context, “fasting” may refer to the metabolic status of a person who has not eaten overnight (see “Breakfast“), or to the metabolic state achieved after complete digestion and absorption of a meal.[1] Metabolic changes in the fasting state begin after absorption of a meal (typically 3–5 hours after eating).

diagnostic fast refers to prolonged fasting from 1 to 100 hours (depending on age) conducted under observation to facilitate the investigation of a health complication, usually hypoglycemia. Many people may also fast as part of a medical procedure or a check-up, such as preceding a colonoscopy or surgery, or before certain medical tests. Intermittent fasting is a technique sometimes used for weight loss that incorporates regular fasting into a person’s dietary schedule. Fasting may also be part of a religious ritual, often associated with specifically scheduled fast days, as determined by the religion, or by applied as a public demonstration for a given cause in a practice known as a hunger strike.

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