Different kinds of vegetables, including paprikas, zucchini and tomatoes, lie on display at a government stand that offers information on nutrition at the Gruene Woche agricultural trade fair January 18, 2008 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Gett
Only in an era of abundance could an industry—a particular mindset, really—churn out innumerable fad diets promising to be the silver bullet that will finally (finally!) offer perfect health, weight loss, and inner radiance.
At the moment the top sellers in diet and nutrition on Amazon promise you “total health and food freedom,” warn against “hidden dangers in ‘healthy’ foods,” guarantee “fast metabolism,” and declare a “revolutionary diet” that, among other things, helps you “combat cancer.” That’s a tall order for something that, for most of human history, was so scarce and difficult to procure that securing enough to eat was itself considered a blessing.
This is not your ancestor’s diet. Yet it appears that we can turn to our forebears for an important piece of nutritive advice: fasting. In one of the most in-depth pieces I’ve come across on this topic, it seems intermittent fasting is helping many deal with metabolic and immune functions.
Lest you think this a sales pitch—I’ve found the silver bullet!—let’s start at the conclusion. University of Illinois nutrition professor Krista Varady studies alternate-day fasting for a living. She readily offers up the fact that intermittent fasting—taking varied breaks from eating, either on a daily schedule or on alternate days—is “probably another nutritional fad.”
She has observed that every decade or so fads switch and rearrange. To declare fasting to be an end-all is ambitious; human psychology is generally not designed for the long-term. Novelty usurps integrity and discipline. That said, Varady concludes of fasting,
I still think that it can really help people out, and I think people who are able to stick to it really reap a lot of metabolic benefits.
The article opens with a 1973 case of a man who survived for 382 days ingesting only “vitamin supplements, yeast, and noncaloric fluids,” in what has to be a…
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