Cutting calories through intermittent fasting or daily, long-term calorie restriction can sound controversial, but it's a diet technique that's been around for awhile—and gaining steam lately. New research even shows that fasting intermittently makes you cognitively sharper (and that's in addition to reducing your risk of chronic disease and possibly even lengthening your life).
But if the thought of chronic fasting leaves you a little, well, hungry, there is some good news: You might be able to get some of those benefits from reducing your calorie intake just five days each month, according to a new study published in Cell Metabolism.
Researchers out of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) put 19 people on a diet for five days a month for three months. On the first day, the diet provided 1, 090 calories; days two through five gave them 725 calories. For the rest of the month, participants ate however they normally did. In the end, the people's blood sugar and inflammatory markers (signs of disease-promoting inflammation) improved—even after they'd started eating normally.
Before embarking on your own fasting adventure, keep in mind: These participants were being monitored by researchers and were eating a carefully-balanced blend of food that was prepared for them. Research into long-term calorie restriction and intermittent fasting is still new enough that experts don't yet recommend it as a "one-size-fits-all" intervention. (Find out The Truth About Intermittent Fasting.)
The diet participants followed was specifically designed for the study, but if you're not totally sold on intermittent fasting, you can still get a sense of the amount of food in a 725-calorie diet by looking at this one-day diet plan.
Breakfast: Layer two rye crispbreads (55 calories) with slices from 1/4 avocado. Top with a sliced hard-boiled egg and a sprinkle of smoked salt.
Lunch: A huge salad made with 2 cups lettuce, 3 ounces light tuna, 1 cup cherry tomatoes, 1/3 cup thawed frozen corn, 1 cup sliced cucumber, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar.
Dinner: Souped up black bean soup. Add 1 cup frozen spinach to 1 cup black bean soup (140 calories) with extra water and heat.