For ages, health and nutrition professionals claimed “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and that “we must eat on a consistent interval throughout the day to keep our metabolism revved”… but is this actually the case? My answer: Not necessarily.
Intermittent fasting is something that has become popular in the media in the past couple of years and for good reason.
Intermittent fasting is a WAY of eating that focuses on how much time is spent each day or each week eating versus fasting.
Intermittent fasting does not require you to follow any rules around WHAT you eat and instead it focuses majorly on WHEN you eat.
Intermittent fasting can be done a number of different ways, including:
Your meals during your "eating window" can be spaced however you please - it can be 2 large meals with no snacks, 1 large meal with 3 snacks, etc.
People who follow an intermittent fasting eating style claim that this is a very traditional method of food consumption. Historically humans did not have access to food all year long. Throughout the year humans would go through periods of time where there was little to no food and other times of the year (after a kill or a summer of abundant fruit and vegetable growth) where there was a significant amount of food available.
Further research on the benefits of intermittent fasting is still needed, however current research is quite promising. The latest research on intermittent fasting suggests that this style of eating can potentially increase levels of human growth hormone and decrease insulin levels, both of which favor weight loss.
Levels of human growth hormone decrease as we get older (levels are highest in childhood as levels of this hormone are responsible for growth in children). However, some research suggests that if we can increase our levels of human growth hormone as adults we could potentially increase our muscle mass and decrease our body fat. Tip: human growth hormone is produced when we sleep, so make sure your sleep hygiene is on point!
Research also suggests that intermittent fasting can potentially slow the progression of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and aging.
Many people who choose to follow an intermittent fasting style of eating claim that it is easy to follow than a traditional lower calorie diet for weight loss. People following this diet often find that restricting your intake 1-2 days each week and then eating without restriction the remaining days of the week is easier mentally than following a slightly restrictive plan (aimed at weight loss) everyday.
Short answer, no. Eating 5-7 meals a day does not increase your metabolism any more than eating 3 larger meals a day. I typically recommend snacking between meals to clients who otherwise may be tempted to indulge between meals. Say for example, you have a staff meeting at 10:30 am everyday and your co-worker always brings donuts or muffins. This is a situation where it can be extremely helpful to have your own snack available. This way you have a healthier (and typically more filling) snack on hand so that you don’t feel like you’re missing out and you are much less likely to indulge in a treat “just because it’s there”.
It comes down to personal preference and what works best for YOUR body. Some people feel great eating two meals a day, and as long as those two meals include all of the nutrition your body needs and you don’t lack energy throughout the day, that is A-OK with me!
Before you go out and give intermittent fasting a try, I must touch on a couple of things. There are a few groups of people who I would not recommend long periods of fasting.
I wouldn’t recommend intermittent fasting beyond a 12-hour hours for women who are trying to get pregnant, women who are pregnant or women who are struggling with hormonal imbalances and irregular periods.
I would also not suggest intermittent fasting for people living with low thyroid function, particularly Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and people with adrenal fatigue.
And finally, although I am a big supporter of a non-traditional diet for diabetes, please do not try intermittent fasting if you have diabetes and need assistance adjusting your oral medication or insulin dosage.
What I recommend to my clients is to focus on a 12-hour fasting window and for most people, this is quite simple to maintain long-term! For example, if you finish your dinner at 6:30 pm then your first meal the following day should not be before 6:30 am. You can manipulate the hours however you’d like to fit your own schedule but just focus on the 12-hour window of fasting. If a 12-hour window sounds simple, maybe work up to a 14- or 16-hour fasting window.
If you try intermittent fasting and it impacts you negatively, stop. Like I always say, eating must be individualized and one method does not work for EVERYONE.
Do you naturally intermittent fast? Let me know in the comments below!
Yours in Health,
If you saw my post on the Grounded Health Facebook page earlier this week (follow me here), you know that changes in our basal metabolic rate (how many calories our body burns at rest) can make a significant difference in whether or not we gain or lose weight over time. So, if we can increase our basal metabolic rate (BMR), and as a result burn more calories throughout the day, we are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. This is great, but how can we do it? The major way we can increase our BMR is to increase the amount of lean muscle we have BUT we can also engage in activities to increase our brown fat to increase our BMR as well (I know, increase fat to burn calories, sounds backwards, right?).
Today I wanted to talk all about this type of fat - where we can find it and how we can possibly increase the amount we have.
Most of us think of fat as the storage tissue made up of any excess food we consume; however this isn’t necessarily the whole truth. White fat is the type of fat that is used to store the extra calories that our bodies don’t use over time. Brown fat is metabolically active, meaning it actually BURNS calories throughout the day. As little as 2 ounces of brown fat is capable of burning up to several hundred calories per day, which is the equivalent of about 30-minutes of jogging.
So what does this mean? If we can have more brown fat we don’t have to exercise? Not exactly – but it does mean that you are more likely to maintain a healthy weight.
The major role of brown fat is to generate heat, which is why it is found in higher amounts in newborn babies and in hibernating mammals. As we age, the amount of brown fat we have decreases. It is estimated that most adults have only 50-60 grams of brown fat, which is located mostly around the neck, collarbones and along the spine. In addition to increasing our BMR, higher rates of brown fat are also associated with improved insulin sensitivity, making this area promising for future research in blood sugar management.
Aside from burning calories, exercise also helps us convert white fat to brown fat. One study in the Journal of Disease Models and Mechanisms reported that working out triggers the release of the enzyme irisin in mice, which helps turn white fat into brown fat.
Human studies on exercise and brown fat also appear to be promising, suggesting that exercise increased the conversion of white fat into brown fat in men training on an exercise bike over a 12-week training period.
Literally chilling out can help to increase the activity of brown fat in humans. A published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation had 12 men with lower-than-average amounts of brown fat sit in a 63°F room for 2 hours per day over a 6-week period. The men burned an additional 108 calories in the cold compared to normal indoor temperatures. After the 6-week period, the men burned an extra 289 calories in the cold, causing the researchers to hypothesize that the lower temperatures increased the conversion of white fat to brown.
In another study, subjects took part in their normal daily activities but they slept in a private room where the air temperature was controlled. During the first month of the study, the temperatures in the rooms were set at 24º C, which was considered to be the temperature at which the body did not have to work to either gain or lose heat. For the second month, the temperature was decreased to 19º C, for the third month it was increased back to 24º C and for the final month it was increased again to 27º C.
Throughout the entire study, researchers measured the subjects’ brown fat using a cold-stimulated PET/CT scan. This method of measurement allowed them to detect changes in muscle and fat.
Results of the study showed that the cooler temperature (19º C) increased brown fat activity in the subjects by approximately 30-40% and the warmer temperature (27º C) decreased brown fat activity in the subjects below baseline.
If you want to start incorporating some form of “chilling out” in your life, you can lower your thermostat to the mid-60s or below, as this may be enough to stimulate some brown fat activity.
You could also try exercising in a cooler temperature (62-64°F). During this time make sure your skin is exposed to allow sweat to evaporate to help keep you cool. Refrain from turning up the heat when you’re exercising to increase the amount you sweat. Increasing the temperature when exercising will actually decrease brown fat activity.
Want to kill two birds with one stone? Enjoy an ice bath (I use the word “enjoy” very loosely here) after a tough workout to help with muscle recovery and with brown fat activation!
Eat More Apples
Apple peels contain a compound called ursolic acid, which was responsible for boosting brown fat in mice. Other foods that contain ursolic acid include cranberries, blueberries, plums, and prunes, as well as the herbs oregano, thyme, lavender, holy basil, peppermint leaves. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, the results of animal studies cannot be transferred directly to humans but they do warrant further research.
Develop A Healthy Sleep Routine
Getting enough high-quality sleep can help to increase the amount of brown fat we have, as proper melatonin production has an influence on the production of brown fat. Do you have a good sleep routine? Learn more about improving your sleep hygiene here.
Refrain From Eating Too Little
According to a study published in the journal Cell, not only does eating too few calories have many undesirable health benefits but it also prevents white fat from turning brown.
The exact impact these activities have on the amount of brown fat we have is impossible to know at this time, however any increase in brown fat activity will increase your caloric burn at rest.
Are you already engaging in some of the behaviors above? Which ones could you easily incorporate in your life? Leave your answers in the comments below.
Do you have questions that you’d like answered? Click here to ask the RD!
Yours in Health,
Part of the reason why people feel so confused when it comes to nutrition and what they should eat for optimal wellness is because there are SO many myths out there that just won't die. Today I want to go through 5 of the top myths I hear in my practice and discuss WHY they must be busted!
This belief has been engrained in us for a long time – too much protein is bad for your kidneys. A high protein diet is only bad for your kidneys IF you already have kidney disease. When our body metabolizes protein there is more waste product that must be filtered through the kidneys (compared to fat and carbohydrate) and this is where the strain on our kidneys comes from. However, if your kidneys are functioning normally you do not need to worry!
This is an important myth to bust because higher protein diets can be very helpful for people looking to lose weight. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein for adults is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, which in my experience with clients is far too low. Protein has the highest thermic effect (meaning we actually BURN calories digesting it) and it has the highest satiety factor (meaning we feel fuller longer). So doesn’t it make sense that we should capitalize on this and increase our protein intake when trying to lose weight (1)?
Current evidence is now suggesting that a range of 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day for adults is more of an ideal target in order to achieve optimal health. So unless you have kidney disease, forget about this myth and include a protein-rich food source with all of your meals and snacks to stay full, increase the thermic effect of your food and maintain your lean muscle mass while losing fat (2).
This is a myth that has come into the media spotlight in the last year. We have been brainwashed into thinking that consuming fat in our foods will turn directly into fat on our bodies, however this is not the case at all (so please stop ordering your skim milk latte – see more about dairy fat here).
This war on dietary fat started in the 1960s when a University of Minnesota physiologist named Ancel Keys published an analysis “proving” the link between dietary fat consumption and heart disease. The unfortunate truth about this analysis (that we later learned) was that Keys had selected the data for his study that supported his hypothesis rather than including all the available data (this worked out to be data from 6 countries instead of the 22 countries available).
In terms of fat intake and health we just need to look at the type of fat we are consuming. It is agreed upon by everyone that trans fats are not good for us. Trans fats on the label appear as “partially hydrogenated oil” – and I bet you’ve seen this in your peanut butter (along with icing sugar and some other not-so-healthy ingredients). If you replace your traditional oil and sugar-added peanut butter for natural peanut butter (ingredients: peanuts) you can avoid this nasty trans fat.
Saturated fats like butter and coconut oil have also been demonized in the past, however these fats are perfectly fine and I recommend using coconut oil and butter or clarified butter for cooking regularly.
The healthiest fats are omega-3 fats, which are very anti-inflammatory in our body. Remember – inflammation is the building block of many chronic diseases so including foods that can decrease inflammation in the body is extremely helpful (read more about inflammation and food here). Some great sources of omega-3 fats are fatty fish like salmon, herring, mackerel and trout. Tip: make sure your salmon is wild caught Pacific salmon – these fish are fed their natural diet (including omega-3-rich algae) versus farmed Atlantic salmon, which are often fed fish pellets containing genetically modified corn and soy.
Long story short, fat IS healthy for us and without adequate amounts of dietary fat we would run into many health problems. Dietary fat plays many key roles in our body, including:
I recommend including the right types of fat in every meal for optimal health and getting rid of any and all “fat-free” products in your home.
Weight loss is 80% nutrition and only 20% exercise. I recommend that my clients exercise for all of the great benefits exercise has on the body but weight loss is not one of them. Believe it or not, for some of my clients I don’t recommend exercising at all (leisure walks and gentle stretching not included).
Exercise can be helpful for so many people, however if we lead an already stressful lifestyle, exercise can do more harm than good. When we exercise intensely it puts stress on the body. If we are already stressed and our cortisol (stress hormone) levels are high then exercise can just drive our cortisol production even higher!
A chronic low calorie diet also puts stress on the body. Remember, the number one priority our body has is to keep us alive. When we restrict calories far below what our body needs to function optimally, it causes a great deal of stress and this can also raise our cortisol levels leading to more fat storage as a protection mechanism.
So let’s put the two together: let’s eat LESS and exercise MORE to achieve our goal weight. This sounds like a huge cortisol bomb to me. Instead, eat MORE of the good stuff that your body needs to function optimally and make exercise FUN and only do it when you’re in a relaxed state (hint: you are not relaxed at 5 am after 6 hours of sleep – don’t worry – I’ve been there and done that so you don’t have to).
The studies that we’ve heard outlined in popular news headlines are all epidemiological in nature (what the heck does that mean?). These epidemiological studies look at large numbers of people to determine whether or not there is any association between their diet and their risk of dying or developing a health condition after a certain number of years.
Epidemiological studies should only be used to form a hypothesis – they do NOT determine causation. If you were a participant in this study you would receive something that’s called a “food frequency questionnaire” every few months/years to fill out. Food frequency questionnaires look like this:
I don’t know about you, but I can hardly remember what I ate two days ago so I definitely couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve eaten something in the past 3-6 months or even worse, the last year! We are unable to perform a randomized controlled trial with a group of humans (half fed animal fats and half fed vegetable fats) in order to measure their health status long-term because this is extremely unethical. So at this time this is the best technique for determining whether or not a relationship exists between dietary patterns and various health conditions but it definitely does NOT determine causation.
What we have to remember is that the QUALITY of the animal fat matters and this adds another level of complexity to this nutrition myth. The saying “you are what you eat” really comes into play with the animals we eat. Animals are only as nutritious as the food they eat – meaning if the cows we eat are fed a feed of genetically modified corn it is not going to be nearly as nutritious as would be a cow fed its natural diet of grass. We will talk more about grass-fed versus grain-fed in a future post but for now just remember, grass-fed beef or pasture-raised animals are much healthier than conventionally farmed animals. Tip: If you are eating a good quality meat from a grass-fed cow, eating the fat is absolutely fine and healthy for us. If you're eating a piece of meat from a grain-fed cow, I recommend trimming off some of the fat. Again, we will discuss why in a future post.
It is true that eggs contain cholesterol, but the impact of the dietary cholesterol in eggs on our blood cholesterol is negligible and there is no legitimate link between dietary cholesterol and the incidence of heart disease.
The truth is, our liver makes 3-6 times more cholesterol than we can get from eating eggs.
Cholesterol has been demonized for so long and the reality of the situation is that we NEED cholesterol for optimal health.
Some of the major roles of cholesterol in the body include:
Worried about your blood cholesterol levels? Instead of worrying about eggs, take these steps to improve your blood work:
I hope our discussion today helps you bust some of these popular nutrition myths and you can make some changes in your diet today to start optimizing your health.
Yours in Health,