Researchers at the University of Alabama Birmingham have demonstrated that a restricted eating schedule is much more beneficial than counting calories. Study participants who cut off eating at 3:00 p.m. everyday not only lost weight, but improved nearly every aspect of their health.
Recent studies have shown that fasting diets, cycling between regular food consumption and fasting, can lead to increased metabolism and weight loss. Periodic fasting has also been linked to remarkable health benefits including a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and aging.
In the current study, the researchers wanted to establish whether the benefits of a fasting diet can be attributed to calorie restriction or to a limited eating schedule. They focused their investigation on a type of intermittent fasting known as early time-restricted feeding (eTRF).
For five weeks, men with prediabetes ate breakfast between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m., and ate dinner no later than 3:00 p.m. The participants fasted for the remaining 18 hours.
The same group also spent five weeks on a typical American diet, consuming food over the course of 12 hours. The researchers controlled the intake of calories, protein, fats, and nutrients so that it was exactly the same for both trials.
The study revealed that the eTRF diet dramatically improved insulin sensitivity and stabilized blood sugar levels among the participants. The periodic fasting also led to lower blood pressure and oxidative stress levels.
The men reported that their cravings for snacks in the evening were substantially reduced as well.
Study lead author Professor Courtney Peterson explained that the success of eTRF is likely due to the fact that this particular fasting diet follows the body’s natural circadian rhythm. By midday, our metabolism is peaking, but it begins to slow down in the afternoon.
“If you eat late at night, it’s bad for your metabolism,” said Professor Peterson. “Our bodies are optimized to do certain things at certain times of the day, and eating in sync with our circadian rhythms seem to improve our health in multiple ways.”
“For instance, our body’s ability to keep our blood sugar under control is better in the morning than it is in the afternoon and evening, so it makes sense to eat most of our food in the morning and early afternoon.”
Professor Peterson said that the results of the study indicate that timing is more important than calories when it comes to our metabolic health. Furthermore, the research suggests that eating earlier in the day is an exceptionally beneficial fasting strategy.
The findings of the study may ultimately lead to new ways of preventing Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).