For Better Heart Health: Start and Break the Daily Fast

Posted on August 19th, 2013 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Break_Fast

There is much ado over a recent study released in the July edition of Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association. Entitled “Prospective Study of Breakfast Eating and Incident Coronary Heart Disease in a Cohort of Male US Health Professionals,” this study found that men who skipped their morning meal had a 27 percent higher risk of developing heart disease than men who ate breakfast. Once again, Western science proves what we have long known: breakfast is indeed the most important meal of the day.

But, largely ignored in the swirl of news reports is this even more startling fact: Men who ate late at night had a 55 percent higher risk of developing heart disease—twice as high as the breakfast skippers. This finding is not a surprise for those who study the relationship between lifestyle and disease. It has long been shown that people who snack before bedtime, or who work the graveyard shift and are forced to eat outside of usual daytime hours, are at far greater risk for obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes. And all of these, of course, are risk factors for heart disease.

These findings are of particular interest in light of the latest diet trend: intermittent fasting. As a nutritionally-minded doctor, I am frequently asked my opinion of this approach. Instead of adding a day or two of fasting, I remind people that our “normal” schedule already includes a daily fast—ideally, a 12-hour one that starts after dinner and lasts until breakfast. This is a critical time for the body to rest and digest, and when we eat during this time, in the form of late-night munching in front of the TV, or forget to “break the fast” in the morning, we are undermining our body’s ability to self-regulate appropriately. Eating late at night puts anabolic processes into overdrive. Continuing the fast into waking hours tricks our body into wanting to conserve. Both of these throw off the natural rhythm that humans have evolved to maintain a steady and functional metabolism that promotes health and a healthy weight.

So, as important as it is to begin the day with a balanced, whole-foods breakfast, don’t forget to start your fast as well, the night before. Your heart will thank you.

Things to do instead of late-night munching:

  • Read a book
  • Take a walk
  • Meditate
  • Start an art project
  • Watch a movie

To learn more about heart health, join us for Preventing and Reversing Heart Disease at Kripalu in October, 2013.

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About Lisa B. Nelson, MD

Lisa is a longtime advocate for community wellness. She serves as medical director of the nonprofit Nutrition Center in Great Barrington and Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and has led numerous public workshops that underscore the connection between food and health. She and her husband are practicing family physicians. Lisa Nelson received her medical degree from the University of Massachusetts in Worcester, and completed residency in family medicine at Boston Medical Center.