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Last Updated on February 22, 2021

Understanding Intermittent Fasting Benefits Beyond Weight Loss

Understanding Intermittent Fasting Benefits Beyond Weight Loss

Intermittent fasting benefits can offer a boost to many areas of life, including weight loss, muscle building, and increased energy. Intermittent fasting is a weight loss technique that involves limiting food and drink intake to certain hours of the day. While this can be challenging, the benefits are enormous once your body adjusts.

In this article, we will examine Intermittent Fasting (IF) from several perspectives, including physical health, mental health, and overall well being.

What Is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?

Simply put, intermittent fasting it’s restricting your food and drink consumption to a certain time of the day, which is called your “eating window.” This is also known as “time restricted eating.” The two basically mean the same thing; however intermittent fasting focuses more on longer fasting periods ranging anywhere from 14 hours to 48 hours.[1]

Typically, fasting periods of 14-18 hours are the most highly recommended, as more can be stressful on the body if you have not already established conditioning and patterns around fasting.

How Does It Work?

Intermittent fasting benefits focus on keeping your body in a catabolic state, where your body has no food or resources for energy, so it begins to source energy from excess fat.

This is the opposite of being in an anabolic state, which is when you have consumed food, and your body is actively processing and breaking down the nutrients and fats from that food and allocating those resources accordingly.

There is a large body of evidence suggesting that fasting can benefit both the body and brain, but almost all research has been conducted with animal studies, mostly on mice and rats. Researchers studying fasting, such as myself, have been calling for and awaiting more human studies to verify the results found while examining animals.

Myths About Intermittent Fasting

Myth #1: Starvation Mode

Over the years, I’ve heard terms like “starvation mode” thrown around with a lose relationship to IF, and this term is not accurately representing how the body handles fasting and time-restricted eating. Some people believe that your body will go into some sort of starvation mode, and by the time you actually do consume food, it will all be allocated to fat deposits, causing you to gain weight.

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Rachele Pojednic, Ph.D., assistant professor in the nutrition department at Simmons College and staff scientist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, points out: “There’s a difference between the popular perception of starvation mode with regard to diet culture and actually being starving.”[2]

Unless you are going through days or weeks without food on a consistent basis, your body has no reason to enter a true starvation state.

Myth #2: Extremely Low Energy

Another common myth is that energy levels are extremely low when fasting. This one spawns from the notion that your body needs food constantly for energy and to survive. Let me debunk this by stating that your body is much more resilient than that.

You can technically go several days without consuming food, as long as you are having adequate amounts of water. In my experience, over the years with time restricted eating, energy levels are sustained as long as the proper macro and micronutrients are consumed during each eating window.

If you leave yourself deficient from each eating window by way of not consuming enough calories or nutrients, then yes, of course energy levels will be down the next day.

However, if you are focusing on consuming high-quality nutrients and hitting all your “numbers” during your eating window, energy will certainly not be an issue.

How and When to Use Intermittent Fasting

All too often, I hear people pushing the limits right away and going for 18, 20, and 24-hour fasts within their first week of adopting the practice, and to be perfectly frank, this is not a good idea.

I understand some people get overly excited about the results and the hype around intermittent fasting benefits; however, the best practice is to condition your body by slowly easing into the process. I’ve suggested starting with 12 hour fasts, utilizing mostly sleeping time, for those starting intermittent fasting to reduce side effects as you begin.

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After a week or so of 12-hour daily fasts, gradually move to 14-16 hours the second week, then 18 hours the third week, and if you’re feeling really ambitious and seeing amazing results, move up to 20 hours fasts on some days. That means consuming all calories for the day within a 4-hour eating window!

Where many fall short with fasting is being able to consume the proper amount of overall calories, including adequate volumes of protein, carbs, fats, and micro-nutrients. Many do not consume the correct amount of food during the eating window, or they don’t space meals out correctly.

There are a few issues that can arise when one doesn’t consume proper nutrients within the eating window:

  1. The body lacking adequate energy to sustain multiple days, or long-term fasting
  2. The body is beginning to lose muscle weight because it does not have enough nutrients to sustain energy levels
  3. When not spacing out meals, the body doesn’t have enough time to digest food properly and is not fully absorbing nutrients

Another problem which arises from my experience is poor eating habits being carried-over to intermittent fasting. Someone has a poor diet and thinks that by implementing time restricted eating or IF, they’ll start leaning up like Hollywood movie stars. This is simply poor logic.

If you’re serious about getting results in a healthy way, the diet should be cleaned up. This is because your body only has a certain amount of time to consume food (eating window), and if that time is being clogged up with processing junk food, you won’t be reaping the benefits of IF.

Putting on weight and building lean muscle mass while doing intermittent fasting is a tricky endeavor, mainly because the nature of IF is one of weight loss, fat loss, and ramping-up metabolism.

IF does help with the production of new muscle tissue by way of improving the production of human growth hormone (HGH) and testosterone. However, it also burns up any excess fats very quickly, meaning you’ll need to eat more calories if you’re determined to build muscle on an intermittent fasting diet.

If your goal is to stick to an intermittent fasting diet plan, but you’re struggling to find motivation to do it, check out Lifehack’s Foolproof Guide to Reaching Goals This Year.

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Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

The benefits of intermittent fasting are wide ranging, from weight loss, to improved muscle development, to reduced stress levels, to clearer skin, and much more! Of course, this all comes if one is following the correct protocols for intermittent fasting.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the key benefits of intermittent fasting in this video first:

Fasting has been proven to improve biomarkers of disease, reduce oxidative stress, and preserve learning and memory functioning, according to Mark Mattson, senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging, part of the US National Institutes of Health. Mattson investigated the health benefits of IF on the cardiovascular system and brain in rodents, and like many others, has called for “well-controlled human studies” in people “across a range of body mass indexes”.[3]

Weight Loss

Mattson has contributed to several other IF studies on caloric restriction. In one, overweight adults with moderate asthma consumed only 20% of their normal calorie intake on alternate days.[4] Participants who adhered to the diet lost 8% of their initial body weight over eight weeks. The participants also saw a decrease in markers of oxidative stress, inflammation, and improvement of asthma-related symptoms and several quality-of-life indicators.In another study, Mattson and colleagues explored the effects of intermittent and continuous energy restriction on weight loss and various biomarkers (for conditions such as breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease) among young overweight women.

[5] They found that time restricted eating, or intermittent restriction, was as effective as continuous restriction for improving weight loss, insulin level sensitivity, and other health biomarkers.

Protect Memory

Intermittent fasting benefits also extend into protecting your mental health and memory. Mattson’s research has also leaned toward determining the protective benefits of fasting to neurons.

For instance, if you don’t eat for 10 to 16 hours, your body will burn fat deposits for energy, and fatty acids called ketones will be released into the bloodstream. This has been shown to protect memory and learning functionality, as well as slow disease processes in the brain[6].

Improve Digestion and Mental Clarity

Something that most won’t consider is the “detox” aspect to intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting is not a cleanse diet, but it will help you clean up the gut and digestive tract.

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You can do this with dry fasting[7], or water fasting. I would only recommend dry fasting for a maximum of 24 hours, and this is done by not even consuming water during your fasting period. There are two purposes to dry fasting:

1. You deprive the body of moisture which can clean-up the gut by not allowing moisture-thriving bacteria to form or sustain existence. Any unhealthy bacteria will, in essence, die-off when there is no food or water to sustain it.

2. Many claim that standard or dry fasting yields mental clarity, which can be beneficial for spiritual practices. Personally, I have had some experience with this, where during prolonged fasting periods I feel much more in-tune with my sense perceptions, and cognitive alertness.

When I perform my ritualistic meditations such as transcendental meditation in the morning, or any time of the day while fasted, I feel much more deeply connected and dialed-in with the meditation itself. This could be due to a lack of substances/external stimuli, such as food or water that the body needs to allocate resources to process.

Perhaps when the body isn’t breaking down nutrients and is left to rest, it has the ability to hone-in on any given task with much more clarity and efficiency. This is one of the most unexpected intermittent fasting benefits.

The Bottom Line

If you want to lose weight, improve mental health, and overall well being, consider intermittent fasting, but as mentioned, start gradually and work your way to longer fasting periods as time goes on.

The main benefit of fasting is arguable and varies depending on an individual’s goals. Do you want to lose weight, improve metabolic efficiency, or improve overall energy levels? Whatever your overarching goals, intermittent fasting can help.

More on the Benefits of Fasting

Featured photo credit: Ethan Sykes via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Adam Evans

BioHacker, competitive athlete, researcher in many fields including health and fitness, science, philosophy, metaphysics, religion.

10 Natural Brain Boosters to Enhance Memory, Energy, and Focus 12 Healthy Brain Foods To Improve Your Concentration What Is Brain Fog: Why It Happens And How To Get Over It Understanding Intermittent Fasting Benefits Beyond Weight Loss A Simple Muscle Building Workout Routine to Increase Strength

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Published on April 8, 2021

6 Health Benefits of Beetroot Powder (And How To Choose A Good One)

6 Health Benefits of Beetroot Powder (And How To Choose A Good One)

Beetroots are vegetables rich in nitrates, antioxidants, and polyphenol compounds that have a role in improved cardiovascular function and exercise performance.[1] However, beetroot juice has limitations with storage and taste preference, and so other more convenient forms have been investigated. One of these forms is beetroot powder.

What Is Beetroot Powder?

Beetroot powder is made by dehydrating or drying out thin slices of beetroot (to remove all the moisture) and then grinding them into a powder. If you don’t like the earthy taste of beetroot, then beetroot powder might be an alternative since it is more concentrated than fresh beetroot but with a relatively neutral taste. One fresh beetroot is the equivalent of approximately one teaspoon of beetroot powder.

Powdered beetroot can be added to sauces, smoothies, pasta, gnocchi, curries, cakes, muffins, or anything you choose to add nutrients and color to. Watch out that your urine may change color too! Due to the natural sugars in beetroot, it can also be used as a natural sweetener. Beetroot powder is even used in natural cosmetics.

Beetroot Powder VS. Other Beetroot Products

One study looked at the total antioxidant potential, phenol compounds, sugars, and organic acids in beetroot juice, cooked beetroot, powder, and chips. They found higher amounts of total antioxidant potential and organic acids in the chips and powder compared with the juice and cooked beetroot.[2] However, it’s important to consider that it is a lot easier to take larger quantities of beetroot when powdered or juiced than just eating it and this means ingesting much more sugar.

6 Health Benefits of Beetroot

While beetroot may have potential health benefits, it’s not clear if these are temporary or have long-term effects. More research is needed to answer this question and what the optimal dose is. Most studies have focused on beetroot juice, with only a handful of studies investigating beetroot powder. There hasn’t been evidence so far to support the benefit of beetroot powder on blood flow.[3]

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Despite that, beetroot contains several different compounds with different properties. Here are the six health benefits of beetroot powder.

1. Beetroot Powder Is Rich in Nitrates

Firstly, beetroot powder is rich in nitrates. Nitrates have important roles related to increased blood flow, gas exchange, mitochondrial efficiency, and strengthening of muscle contraction.[4] By causing relaxation of the smooth muscles that encircle arteries and veins, nitrate leads to the dilation of these blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure. Nitrate medications are used for people with high blood pressure, angina, and heart disease to relax blood vessels, widening them to allow greater blood flow.[5]

A meta-analysis that combined 22 different trials and analyzed the results together found that additional beetroot juice significantly decreased blood pressure.[6] However, there isn’t evidence to support the long-term effects.[7]

2. Beetroot Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Secondly, beetroot contains antioxidant polyphenol compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties. Antioxidants are molecules that have the ability to neutralize free radicals and protect against cell damage that can lead to chronic diseases. Eating a diet high in antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of chronic disease.[8] Different polyphenol compounds are different colors, that’s why you will often hear about eating a rainbow of fruit and vegetables.

3. Beetroot Has Anti-Cancer Effects

Beetroot also contains betalains that have been found to have anti-cancer effects in cellular models in the laboratory.[9] Clinical trials are now needed to assess if there are potential anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects and the nature of these effects. While the anti-cancer effects of beetroot in humans aren’t known yet, including them in your diet may help and is unlikely to risk harm.

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4. Beetroot Powder Is a Great Source of Vitamins C and Folate

Beetroots are also a great source of vitamins C and B9 (folate). Vitamin C and folate have many important roles in our bodies. Vitamin C is required for the biosynthesis of collagen, which acts as a scaffold in the skin and ligaments. It is also has a role in wound healing and protein metabolism. Folic acid is vital for the production of healthy red blood cells, and cellular growth. Inadequate intake of vitamin C over a 3 month period can lead to scurvy, and smoking can further reduce the bioavailability.[10]

5. Beetroot Contains Essential Minerals

Beets also contain the minerals iron, manganese, and potassium. Iron has a vital role in the transportation of oxygen by healthy red blood cells. Over 40% of children worldwide have iron deficiency anemia and women of childbearing age are also at increased risk because of menstruation.[11] Potassium may actually prevent the harmful effects of eating excess salt (sodium chloride). Manganese has several roles including metabolism, bone formation, and the immune system. Beetroots are a great way of including all these micronutrients in your diet.

6. Beetroot Powder Is a Great Source of Fiber

Fiber is such an important component of our diet, with most of us needing to eat much more to reach the recommended daily amount of 30g. For every 10g of fiber you eat a day, you may decrease your long-term risk of bowel cancer.[12]

Fibre also acts as a pre-biotic, providing food for the friendly micro-organisms in your gut called the microbiota. There are trillions of micro-organisms in your gut that are now known to play a key role in inflammation and both mental and physical health. Eating beetroots can help to increase your fiber intake and support a healthy gut community.

It’s clear that for relatively few calories, beetroot contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, nitrates, and antioxidants. For these reasons, beetroot is labeled as a “nutraceutical” and supplementation has become increasingly popular.[13] While most studies have looked at the effects of beetroot on blood vessel dilation, there are still many unanswered questions about other potential benefits.

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How to Choose a Beetroot Powder

Like all other supplements, there is very little regulation. Therefore, it is very difficult to be sure exactly what is included in the supplement or assess the quality. My recommendations for choosing a supplement are to check for a product license and always buy from a reputable company.

There are, however, no agreed benchmarks for quality or efficacy. How much and how often are also unknown at this time. Try to avoid powders that have added preservatives, sweeteners, or artificial flavorings. Consider whether an organic powder is worth the extra money to you. I would avoid powders that have added silica to avoid clumping. Some supplements now use 3rd party companies to verify the contents.

There isn’t an agreed dose of nitrate or beetroot powder, so while some powders do contain nitrate content, it is difficult to know exactly what this means in practice. The higher the nitrate content, the more likely it is to have a beneficial effect on raised blood pressure. But if you don’t have high blood pressure, it’s difficult to know if more nitrate is beneficial.

In summary, look for:

  • organic beetroot powder
  • tested for quality by a 3rd party company
  • is free from preservatives, sweeteners, and artificial flavorings
  • avoid powders containing silica
  • buy from a reputable company
  • look at the nitrate content

How to Make Your Own Beetroot Powder

First, wash, peel, and grate your beetroots by hand or using a food processor. Then, place them on a tray, spread them out, and cover them with parchment or grease-proof paper to protect them from direct sunlight.

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Leave to dry until there is no moisture left and shake intermittently so that it dries evenly. When it snaps instead of bending and feels dry, it is ready for the next stage.

The drying stage can take up to four days depending on the air temperature. To speed up the drying process, you can do this on low heat in a saucepan for 15 to 25 minutes or in the oven at no higher than 180 degrees Celsius or in a dehydrator. If you use the oven or on the hob, just be careful not to burn the beetroot.

The final step is to grind the dried beetroot using a grinder. It can then be stored in an airtight container, avoiding sun-light for up to one year.

Should You Try Beetroot Powder?

Beetroot is a great vegetable that contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, nitrates, and fiber. The nitrates present in beets may lower your blood pressure in the short-term, but the long-term effects are not yet known. More research is needed to know about other potential benefits such as the effect on cancer.

So, while beetroot powder may have health benefits unless taken in excess, it is unlikely to have significant side effects. Large doses of beetroot, however, are associated with an increased risk of kidney stones.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, taking beetroot supplements is best avoided as there isn’t sufficient safety information. Beetroots do also contain fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols or FODMAPS for short. These are types of carbohydrates that are hard to digest and can cause symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome in some people. FODMAPS are thought to act as prebiotics, feeding the friendly micro-organisms that live in your gut (microbiota). So, for those people who can tolerate them, they are beneficial for a healthy gut.

More Resources About Beetroot

Featured photo credit: FOODISM360 via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: Vascular effects of dietary nitrate (as found in green leafy vegetables and beetroot) via the nitrate‐nitrite‐nitric oxide pathway
[2] SpringerLink: Comparison of total antioxidant potential, and total phenolic, nitrate, sugar, and organic acid contents in beetroot juice, chips, powder, and cooked beetroot
[3] Maastricht University: Effects of Beetroot Powder with or without L-Arginine on Postprandial Vascular Endothelial Function: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial with Abdominally Obese Men
[4] PubMed.gov: Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review
[5] PubMed.gov: Nutraceuticals with a clinically detectable blood pressure-lowering effect: a review of available randomized clinical trials and their meta-analyses
[6] PubMed.gov: The Nitrate-Independent Blood Pressure-Lowering Effect of Beetroot Juice: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
[7] PubMed.gov: Medium-term effects of dietary nitrate supplementation on systolic and diastolic blood pressure in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis
[8] NCCIH: Antioxidants: In-Depth
[9] NCBI: Red Beetroot and Betalains as Cancer Chemopreventative Agents
[10] Healthline: Beetroot 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
[11] NCBI: The impact of maternal iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia on child’s health
[12] Cancer Research UK: Does a high fibre diet reduce my risk of cancer?
[13] PubMed.gov: The potential benefits of red beetroot supplementation in health and disease

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