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Is intermittent fasting heart-smart?

How timing your dining protects your ticker.

Article Author: Julie Dubin

Article Date:

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You exercise and eat right knowing heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. What if a healthy heart has more to do with your eating window than your calorie count?

A recent study in Endocrine Reviews suggests intermittent fasting may help prevent and manage heart disease.

“Intermittent fasting is restricted eating during a certain amount of time. Eating windows could be between 10 am and 7 pm, 11 am and 8 pm, or 8 am and 8 pm (a good 12-hour fast for starters),” explained Mona Shah, MD, a cardiologist with Baptist Heart Specialists, who is also a holistic medicine practitioner. “In general, intermittent fasting works best when we stop eating when the sun is setting (between 6 and 8 pm), and let our bodies go into recovery and rest mode.”

All you can eat

What about the buzz that you can eat what you want with intermittent fasting?

“It’s partially true, but the food quality is extremely important. In general, the caloric window is lessened so there is wiggle room to eat more during meals,” Dr. Shah said. “However, you want to focus on whole foods – less-processed foods like vegetables, fruits, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and not a lot of sugar.”

Backed by science

Intermittent fasting has often been viewed as a diet trend, but the eating method can help with cardiovascular wellness.

“There are not a lot of large, randomized studies with intermittent fasting and heart attacks, strokes or coronary artery disease; however, there are studies showing us that the markers that cause heart attacks and increased cardiovascular disease are reduced with intermittent fasting,” Dr. Shah said. “This manner of eating has been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improve diabetes and decrease inflammation.”

If intermittent fasting is something you’d like to try, Dr. Shah suggested some success strategies:

  • Start slowly with a 12-hour fast.
  • Break your fast with protein, fat and fiber.
  • Hydrate with water.

Dr. Shah said intermittent fasting should be avoided if you are:

  • Pregnant
  • Breastfeeding
  • Underweight
  • Diabetic
  • Under age 18

Sticking to it

Intermittent fasting can be a long-term way of eating, Dr. Shah said. It’s doable because you can strive for following it 80% of the time. If you want to go out socially to a family breakfast or dinner with friends, you can indulge a little and then resume the time-restricted eating the rest of the week.

“Almost 75% of Americans are either overweight or obese, which increases the risk overall of heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and this is only the tip of the iceberg,” Dr. Shah said. “Any method that is viable and still allows healthy nutrients and food choices is useful. Studies have shown that compared to eating all day and restricting calories, intermittent fasting is more sustainable and may be more beneficial for long-term weight loss and maintenance.”

Baptist Health offers the region’s most comprehensive cardiovascular care. If you have questions about preventing heart disease or are looking for a cardiologist visit baptistjax.com/heart.

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