It’s not just about what you eat but when you eat. Time to learn about time-restricted eating!
I’ll introduce some exciting new research on something called Time-Restricted Eating. But before I do, let’s first focus on diet. I mean the “what should I eat” kind, not the “how do I drop 20 pounds” kind. I’m talking about the kind that’s not discussed nearly enough in our weight loss-crazed society — the “I want to optimize my health” kind.
Diets That Optimize Health
Through decades of study, researchers have confirmed that eating foods that keep our blood pressure normal, provide antioxidants, and maintain our healthy gut flora helps keep chronic inflammation in check throughout the body and in the brain.
So what are these foods? Well, recently published longitudinal studies support the food choices of the Mediterranean Diet and Standard Nordic Diet Protocol. Both diets are heavily weighted towards plant-based nutrition. Notably, both the Mediterranean Diet and the Standard Nordic Diet are also similar in what they suggest you don’t eat. Avoiding sugar, fats, and processed foods is core to both diets. What’s most exciting is that the studies confirm that following these diets can lead to a massive reduction in the risk of dementia.
What You Eat Matters — But the Story Doesn’t End There
Having the right diet is a good start. However, there’s more to the equation.
The idea of being able to eat literally any time we like is relatively new in human history. Today, food is available for many of us at any time. Want a snack between breakfast and lunch? Raid the vending machine at work. Can’t sleep at 3am? Grab a pizza slice from the fridge.
Recent studies are focusing not just on what you eat but on when you eat. By following a Time-Restricted Eating (TRE) plan with no change in total calories or food types, the subjects in the studies significantly decreased fat mass, stabilized and reversed the progression of metabolic disease, and reduced risk for heart disease and dementia.
The growing evidence is stunning. In short, a TRE plan seems to produce results that lower levels of inflammation, the risk of developing cancer, the risk of developing diabetes, the risk of dementia, and the harmful effects of aging and stress. A TRE plan also seems to produce results that improve heart health, immunity, brain function, and better muscle recovery from workouts.
Why Does Time-Restricted Eating Work?
It’s pretty clear that our metabolisms didn’t evolve in an eat-anytime environment. Our bodies seem to be wired to fast for designated periods of time.
Why is that? Well, the bio-kinetics of Time-Restricted Eating (the “why it works” part of the science) are still being studied. One theory is that allowing the stomach to empty initiates an important hormone cascade. A second theory is that eating that occurs in sync with our circadian rhythm is simply better for our bodies. (We’ll keep an eye on the research and share more information in future posts.)
Regardless, it bears repeating — in the studies, the benefits of TRE were observed without calorie restriction and regardless of the foods being eaten.
Time-Restricted Eating in Practice
The idea of limiting the times when you eat is acknowledging the value of a behavior familiar to our ancestors who lacked the time and resources to graze between meals. Think of TRE as a throwback to an earlier time.
So what does Time-Restricted Eating look like in practice?
Obviously your schedule will influence the exact timing of when you eat. Generally speaking, however, consider starting with breakfast at 8am and then waiting to eat again at lunch 4-5 hours later. This 4-5-hour fast is important. Want a snack after lunch? That’s fine. But aim to eat dinner around 6pm and no later than 8pm.
The most essential element of Time-Restricted Eating involves a 12-15-hour fast from dinner to breakfast. That means no more ice cream right before bed or 3am pizza slices. Your morning meal should live up to its name and truly break your 12-15-hour fast.
The two key things to remember:
- 4-5-hour fast between breakfast and lunch
- 12-15-hour fast between dinner and breakfast
It’s Not Just What You Eat but When
You would do well to combine the two evidence-based diet plans (food from the Mediterranean Diet or Standard Nordic Diet Protocol AND Time-Restricted Eating). Eat a diet tilted towards plant-based nutrition — one that includes green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, seafood, poultry, olive oil, and wine. Avoid sugar, highly processed foods (and their overabundance of salt), and refined oils. Then adopt a time-restricted eating schedule.
To kickstart or augment your new eating plan, consider an herbal supplement that supports the body in decreasing general inflammation (Ocimum sanctum or Phyllanthus niruri). Or choose an herbal supplement that supports healthy metabolic function (Cistanche tubulosa). Using an herbal supplement to increase antioxidant availability (for example, Phyllanthus niruri and Paeonia lactiflora) is also a great step to take to improve your health span.
Our focus at Linden Botanicals is on helping you optimize your health. If you’re truly committed to optimizing your health, you’ll need to take active steps to pursue health instead of chasing sickness. You’ll also need to address every element of your health span (your health over your lifespan) — diet and time-restricted eating, herbal supplements, exercise, and sleep.