Health experts caution against diet fads and intermittent fasting

The time between the major meals of the day should be more than three hours and never exceed six, Tanuja Nesari, Director, All India Institute of Ayurveda, said while discussing the preliminary results of a research paper on time-restricted eating, popularly known as intermittent fasting, which notes that this form of diet plan is linked to 91% increase in risk of death from heart disease. 

The report came from an abstract presented recently at an American Heart Association conference in Chicago. While the study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, health experts in India have also cautioned against intermittent fasting and new diet fads.

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Speaking to The Hindu, Dr. Nesari said that according to the traditional Indian system of medicine, the time at which food is consumed is vital.

“The ideal time to eat is between sunrise to sunset. This is when our digestive capacity is at its optimum. Additionally, we are advised not to have four to five small/big meals in a day. In fact, what is recommended is two nutritious and balanced meals. The time between these major meals should not be less than three hours and should not exceed six hours. Eating when hungry is also key,’’ she said, adding that the last meal of a day and the first meal of the next day gives people a rest of nearly 12 hours. “This is a natural fasting and at this time, if people get hungry, they should consume something easy to digest and light,’’ Dr. Nesari said.

Focusing on the right constituents and quality of food is vital, Ambuj Roy, cardiologist, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), added. “A low inflammatory diet, which is sustainable in the long run, is key to prevent heart diseases and several forms of cancer. Diets fads are best avoided,’’ Dr. Roy said.

Diets have taken the centre stage in both preventive and patient care with a recently released study by The Lancet indicating that, in 2022, more than one billion people in the world were now living with obesity. Worldwide, obesity among adults has more than doubled since 1990, and has quadrupled among children and adolescents (five to 19 years of age). The data also show that 43% of adults were overweight in 2022.

The medical journal had previously noted that cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the leading cause of death and disability in India. Also, India has the world’s second highest number of diabetic patients. Within the age group of 20-79 years, India has 74.9 million diabetics in 2021. Both CVD and diabetes are linked to food habits.

V. Mohan, chairman and chief of diabetology, Dr. Mohan’s Diabetes Specialities Centre and Madras Diabetes Research Foundation, said that ‘one diet fits all’ doesn’t work. “Besides this, the window for intermittent eating doesn’t mean we can eat whatever food in as much quantity [as we wish]. Those with health issues or those wanting to prevent health complications should take the advice and guidance of a qualified professional when embarking on diets,’’ he said.

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