These are the best foods to eat to break a fast—and a little overview of what intermittent fasting is all about in the first place.
If you live in North America, where there’s a meal delivery service for every niche diet you can imagine and it’s possible to do your grocery shopping from the comfort of bed, it’s hard to imagine a time in human history when food wasn’t so readily available. While there’s something to be said about being able to enjoy your favorite ramen whenever the craving strikes, some nutritionists believe that there are health benefits associated with restricting your eating to specific times during the day (or fasting altogether). Enter: intermittent fasting.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a pattern of eating that mimics how humans ate when we didn’t have 24-hour access to food. It’s exactly what it sounds like. “You eat and then fast for a period of time before you eat again,” explains Danielle Schaub, a Registered Dietitian and the nutrition and culinary manager of Territory Foods. In the case of intermittent fasting, timing is everything. It’s more about when you eat versus what you eat.
A typical intermittent fasting strategy could consist of daily 12-hour fasts (i.e., choosing not to eat between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. the next day) or 24-hour fasts a few days a week (note: it’s not recommended that you do a full 24-hour fast on consecutive days). Always speak with your doctor before embarking on any dietary change to determine what strategy is best for you.
The Complete Guide to Fasting by Dr. Jason Fung, $20.85 on Amazon
Lots more info on fasting for anyone who's curious, but always talk to your own doctor before making any changes.
How does it work?
Intermittent fasting is meant to help with hormone control and fat burning. “After eating, carbohydrates are digested into sugars which triggers the release of insulin. Insulin blocks fat cells from releasing fat. If we constantly snack, insulin never really has a chance to lay low, so our body simply cannot use fat for energy,” explains Schaub.
However, it’s important that you don’t treat the eating window as a junk food free-for-all.
So, what should you eat to break a fast?
Need some suggestions for easy snacks and meals? We spoke to nutritionists and dieticians to get their post-fast favorites.
“To break a fast, it’s best to not eat a meal that’s high in sugar or carbohydrates, such as a white bagel with jam. Instead, choose a high-fiber food along with protein to ease the body back into a fed state and minimize blood sugar spikes,” says Diana Gariglio-Clelland, a Registered Dietitian at Balance One Supplements. Gariglio-Clelland suggests eating something like oatmeal with chopped nuts (a whole grain and protein) for breakfast. If you’re looking to make use of your slow cooker, try our Slow Cooker Steel-Cut Oatmeal recipe —just ditch the brown sugar.
Jamie Hickey, a personal trainer and Nutritionist at Truism Fitness, recommends eating fermented foods such as unsweetened yogurt after breaking a fast. Yogurt is loaded with gut friendly probiotics and is incredibly versatile. Use it in smoothies, dips, or create a yogurt parfait by topping it with fresh fruit, seeds, and nuts. You can also make your own yogurt in the Instant Pot.
When it comes to versatile, protein-rich foods, you can’t go wrong with eggs. Not only are eggs inexpensive, they’re also great sources of selenium, vitamin D, B6, B12, and minerals such as zinc, iron, and copper. Try our Kale and Roasted Red Pepper Frittata or Frittata Lorraine recipe made with gruyere cheese, ham, and sage for an easy meal any time of day. If you’re on a tight schedule, make a batch of hard boiled eggs or breakfast egg muffins in advance so you have something ready to grab and go.
Several nutritionists we spoke to recommended vegetable soup as a great food to eat when breaking fast. A veggie soup allows you to eat a variety of different veggies while also using up produce and herbs that have been loitering in the fridge. We’re fond of this Easy Vegetable Soup recipe that combines carrots and potatoes with your choice of cabbage, asparagus, mushrooms, fennel, and/or peas. Garnish with a dollop of pesto to taste. Too hot to cook? Try one of our gazpacho recipes.
“Drinking juice or a smoothie is a good way to gently ease back into regular eating when breaking a fast,” shares Schaub. Not only do smoothies and fresh juices go down easily, they’re also a simple way to pack a bunch of nutrients into one dish. Try our Açaí-Blueberry Smoothie or this Babe Ruth Strawberry Pineapple Banana Smoothie from Modern Honey which includes unsweetened Greek yogurt, spinach, and chia seeds.
Nutritionists are also in unanimous agreement over the benefits of leafy greens like kale, spinach, cabbage, romaine, and collard greens. Add leafy greens to your salads, soups, and smoothies or enjoy them on their own. If all else fails, you can’t go wrong with our Easy Skillet Kale recipe.
Related Reading: The 7 Healthiest Salad Greens to Eat
Fish and shellfish are an excellent source of lean protein, rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Try pairing our easy Seared Salmon recipe with some leafy greens and Chevril and Butter New Potatoes for a healthy but filling meal. If you don’t readily have access to fresh seafood, keep cans of light tuna and Alaskan salmon on hand and use it to top wholegrain toast, salads, or to make salmon burgers.
As if you needed another excuse to eat avocados, the fact that they are chock-full of healthy fats makes them a great option for breaking fast. For a powerhouse meal or snack, top whole grain toast with avocado, an egg and your favorite seeds (we’re partial to sesame, chia, or hemp). Alternatively, use them in this delicious Avocado yogurt Dip recipe or to make hummus (yes, avocado hummus).
Another fermented food fave: kefir, a fermented milk drink similar to a thin yogurt that is made from kefir grains, a specific type of mesophilic symbiotic culture. Loaded with probiotics, kefir can be added to smoothies or enjoyed alone as a refreshing snack. Combine multiple powerhouse ingredients in this refreshing Chilled Avocado, Cucumber, and Kefir Soup recipe.
Many people consider sauerkraut an acquired taste, however this fermented cabbage dish has many health benefits, including improved digestion and immunity boosting properties. It’s also relatively easy to make your own sauerkraut. Add it to soups, meat dishes, or eat it on its own. We suggest frying it in a skillet with a little bit of butter or ghee, before topping it with seeds (caraway is a nice touch, but any of the seeds mentioned above work too).
Bone broth is a good source of L-glutamine, an essential amino acid (a building block of protein) necessary for the body and gut health. Buy it premade or learn to make your own (this easy Instant Pot recipe for bone broth is a great place to start). While many of the experts we spoke to suggested drinking a mug of bone broth first thing in the morning or as a snack, you can also add this nutrient-rich broth to your hearty stews, soups, and chilis.
Related Video: Try This Zero-Waste Gazpacho with Pickled Watermelon Rinds
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