Food Can Be Powerful Medicine—and So Can Its Temporary Absence

Intermittent fasting is one of the biggest health trends in America right now—and its benefits seem to be as varied as its devotees.

From ultra-fit 20-somethings to baby boomers taking their first step toward better health, this approach to eating is accumulating research outcomes that go considerably beyond boosted metabolism and weight loss. “The health advantages cover the gamut from reduced blood sugar and inflammation levels to improved focus and sleep,” explains Megan Wroe, registered dietitian and manager of the Providence St. Jude Wellness Center.

Because inflammation is a significant factor in chronic diseases, from heart disease to cancer, intermittent fasting’s protective impact seems to be widespread—and research now shows it likely extends to the brain. Recent studies in animals have shown it protects against changes in memory and learning function, slows the progression of neurodegenerative disorders, and helps guard against the plaque that characterizes Alzheimer’s disease.

The most common version of intermittent fasting is something called 16/8: all your daily eating is done in an eight-hour period, say from noon to 8 p.m., and the remaining hours are spent drinking water, tea or coffee. Megan often encourages people to start out with something easy, like a 12-hour fast (most of which you spend sleeping), and then gradually increase it. While there are some benefits to a 12-hour fast, research shows there are quite a few more at 16 hours, including something called autophagy, the process where damaged cells are broken down and recycled into new cells. 

“This cellular repair—essentially a spring cleaning of dysfunctional cells—doesn’t start until digestion is complete, which means eating three meals and multiple snacks prevents the body from performing this critical function,” explains Megan, who says allowing the body to heal itself through autophagy is a game changer for disease prevention, energy levels and weight management. An extra benefit? Intermittent fasting is easy and uncomplicated: You don’t count calories, you just watch the clock and limit your eating window to whatever works for you.

Although the focus is less on what you’re eating and more on when, Megan urges people to fill those eight hours with nutrient-rich foods: “Eating something high in protein, healthy fats and antioxidants will not only amplify the health benefits but keep you full longer.”

Need help making Mediterranean, keto, or intermittent fasting work for your specific health goals and lifestyle? Our Wellness Center’s registered dietitians and nutrition experts can help. Go to to see all our nutrition and wellness services or call us at 714-578-8770. Before incorporating changes into your diet, it’s important to have a conversation with your physician, who can provide tailored advice based on your medical history.