Fasting has long been acclaimed as an effective way to lose weight, improve the immune system and boost brain function. But doctors have been loath to recommend it because of the dangers associated with such extreme dieting.
However, scientists now say they’ve developed a five-day, once-a-month diet that mimics fasting, and more importantly, is safe.
A diet that helps our healthspan
This nutritional breakthrough was scientifically developed and clinically tested at the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California (USC), United States.
Led by Dr Valter Longo, the institute unites multidisciplinary ageing research approaches in order to enhance human healthspan, the healthy part of a human life that’s generally free from serious diseases.
If you think about it, if Alzhei-mer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, most cancers and cardiovascular diseases commonly appear at a later part in life, ageing would seem to be the catalyst for these ailments.
Therefore, optimising the way we age will help increase our health span.
So Dr Longo and his research team embarked on a journey to uncover an impactful intervention that slows or reverses biological ageing in order to delay the onset of age-related chronic diseases.
And he proved that periodic fasting, done for several consecutive days, is a very powerful intervention that our body learned to naturally cope with by protecting and rejuvenating itself – both anti-ageing measures.
Because it is difficult and risky nowadays to fast on only water, Dr Longo – under the sponsorship of the US National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute and National Institute on Aging – has developed a natural plant-based meal programme that imitates fasting while feeding the body.
He calls this the Fasting Mimicking Diet (FMD).
It is the first meal programme made of healthy natural ingredients that you consume for five days. During this time, your body doesn’t recognise, or realise, that it’s eating, so it remains in fasting mode.
In simple terms, it’s a fasting diet with food. And since the diet is only followed five days a month, you can return to your normal diet for the remaining 25 days.
The FMD will provide enough natural, healthy and scientifically tested ingredients that will sufficiently nourish your body while you “fast”.
Promising results from study
In the study, which was published in the journal Cell Metabolism and funded by the US National Institute on Aging, participants who intermittently fasted for three months had reduced risk factors for a wide range of issues, including ageing, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
While the number of participants who took part was small (only 19), the results were so promising that Dr Longo is already talking about trying to get approval from the US Food and Drug Administration so that it can be recommended for patients.
The differences between the FMD group and the control group include improved metabolism and cognitive function, gradual weight loss, muscle rejuvenation, higher bone density, 40% fewer malignant lymphomas, immune system regeneration, and a longer average, though not absolute, life expectancy.
How it works
The diet described in the study isn’t quite as extreme as actual fasting. For 25 days in a month, dieters would eat as they normally would – the good, the bad and the in-between.
And then for five consecutive days, they adhere to specific measurements of caloric intake.
Day One would see dieters consuming 1,090 calories (made up of 10% protein, 56% fat, 34% carbohydrates).
For Days Two through Five, only 725 calories are consumed (9% protein, 44% fat, 47% carbohydrates). The calories consumed are 54% to 34% of what a typical person might eat in a day.
A suggested meal plan would look something like this:
• Breakfast: Peppermint tea, a nut bar Argan oil capsule (helpful in lowering levels of harmful cholesterol).
• Lunch: Energy bar and lots of mineral water.
• Dinner: Tomato soup and a packet of kale chips. A second soup for later in the night.
Once you have completed the five days of your diet, allow for 12 hours to transition back to normal food.
To avoid indigestion, no binge eating right after your diet. Fruit juices are good for the transition, as well as small salads and smaller amounts of carbs like spaghetti.
In the study, participants ate a lot of vegetable soup, kale crackers and chamomile tea. After three cycles (or three months), researchers measured the participants and found decreased risk factors and biomarkers for age-related diseases with no major adverse side effects.
Reprogramming the body
This sort of fasting with a food meal plan is low in carbohydrates and proteins, and contains good fatty acids.
The FMD-patented recipe allows your body to remain under a fasting-like mode, which triggers a set of protectionist measures that the body developed during natural selection, when food was scarce and not easy to find and store.
It allows your body to optimise its performance, rejuvenate its cells and thrive under such circumstances.
Essentially, it’s about reprogramming the body so that it enters a slower ageing mode. But it’s not a typical diet because it isn’t something you need to stay on.
The benefits of this diet include promoting and maintaining healthy levels of:
• Fasting glucose
• C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation
• Insulin-like growth factor 1, a marker associated with increased mortality and DNA damage in human cells
• Stem cells and regenerative markers
The diet also promotes other benefits like weight loss, decreased abdominal fat, improved energy levels, softer skin, as well as conscious decision-making on healthier choices.
However, before embarking on the FMD, or any other diet for that matter, you should always consult your doctor first.
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist. For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.