Intermittent fasting, which shouldn’t be confused with starvation diets, refers to the practice of restricting your eating into an 8 to 12 hour window over a 24 hour period. It has become increasingly popular as it can help with weight loss (simply because you are eating less when you don’t consume that second dinner before bed). It also helps to combat oxidative stress, because we are eating for less hours of the day, which means less free radicals from the process of breaking down our food into energy. Intermittent fasting can help slow the ageing process because it allows the body to focus on breaking down dead or senescent tissue (cells that can lead to tissue dysfunction) instead of constantly needing to break down an influx of fuel / food. However, some recent studies suggest that intermittent fasting might even help improve your gut health.
Gut health unto itself has been linked to everything from enhanced mood (as 90% of serotonin is made in our gut), improved immunity (because certain beneficial bacteria can help us fend off a variety of sicknesses), weight management, cognitive function and the list goes on.
We know that eating foods with beneficial bacteria like yogurt, kimchi, miso, cottage cheese etc. can help replenish the good bacteria in your body!
And eating foods that feed these healthy bacteria (prebiotics) can dramatically improve gut health. The key is to make sure you are getting enough fiber (25 grams/day for women and 38 grams/day for men minimum). Fruits, veggies, whole grains help do this, serving as prebiotics meaning they help to nourish not just your cells, but the good bacteria in your gut.
But how can intermittent fasting help improve the health of your microbiome? Research would suggest the answer lies in helping to regulate our sleep cycle.
Intermittent fasting has been shown to help improve sleep for many, perhaps because any digestive issues like heartburn, bloating etc. that might keep someone up are no longer disruptive to sleep if we aren’t eating several hours before bed.
Another thought is that because you’re giving your body a chance to rest and giving the digestive system a longer break period could be having a positive impact on our microbiome as well.
Regardless, the best practices to reap the overwhelming benefits of a strong microbiome are: a healthy balanced diet of fermented foods and foods high in fiber, hydration, a pre/pro biotic supplement, and a 12 to 16 hour overnight fast period.