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Why Paleo and Intermittent Fasting is a Powerful Combo

Are Paleo and IF a Match Made in Health? What the Research Says

Key Takeaways:
  • Combining IF with the Paleo diet may be ideal for regulating blood sugar levels and promoting adequate macro and micronutrients while fasting. 
  • The Paleo diet is an anti-inflammatory diet that prioritizes whole foods and restricts most grains, refined oils, and sugar while improving lipids, blood sugar, and weight loss. 
  • Intermittent fasting (IF) is the practice of restricting your caloric intake to a certain period of the day (or week), sometimes called the feeding window. 
  • IF has many overall health benefits, including weight loss, blood sugar regulation, lower inflammation, and gut regulation.
  • Those who are very old, pregnant or intending to become pregnant, and those with severe chronic illness should typically not attempt intermittent fasting.

I’ve had many conversations with colleagues and patients about intermittent fasting (IF) over the years, and I have practiced intermittent fasting myself for my gut health. But strangely enough, I’ve never discussed it on the blog until now. 

Today I’m going to change that by discussing the impact of two popular diet strategies: Paleo and intermittent fasting. On their own, each of these diets or eating patterns may have anti-inflammatory, metabolic, and gut health benefits. But they have the potential to work even better together. Using a combination of Paleo and intermittent fasting can boost your gut-healing, cognitive, and weight-loss benefits — just to name a few.

In many ways, a person on the Paleo diet is ideally positioned to try intermittent fasting, since they are already prioritizing a balance of lean proteins, healthy fats, and plenty of vegetables and fruits in their daily diet. 

However, IF isn’t for everyone, and even those on the healthiest diet may find they experience unwanted side effects with intermittent fasting.

Let’s dig into the details of Paleo and intermittent fasting, including types of IF, who should and shouldn’t attempt it, how Paleo and intermittent fasting go together, and other important considerations to keep in mind. 

What is the Paleo Diet?

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The main principle of the Paleo diet is to prioritize foods that humans would have eaten during the Paleolithic era, pre-farming and industrialized agriculture. The idea is that we are more biologically prepared to digest foods that we would have found “in the wild,” as opposed to ones we intentionally grow, harvest, and process ourselves, especially with conventional farming and manufacturing practices. 

The latter foods include wheat, sugar, corn, rice, and soy which can cause an inflammatory reaction and blood sugar imbalances in our bodies.

The Paleo diet encourages an optimal balance of protein, healthy fats, and mostly non-starchy carbohydrates. It prioritizes unprocessed, whole foods, including meat, fish, fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds while restricting grains, legumes, processed foods, dairy, and vegetable oils.

Why Paleo and Intermittent Fasting is a Powerful Combo - Paleo%20Diet%20Landscape L

The Paleo diet has been shown to lower inflammation, balance blood sugar, reduce food sensitivities, improve metabolism, and promote weight loss [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]. 

What is Intermittent Fasting (IF)?

Intermittent fasting, also called time-restricted eating, is an eating pattern where you only consume food during a set eating window and fast for the remainder of a 24-hour period. 

Intermittent fasting may benefit many people, especially if they seek to improve obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, general inflammation, and fitness [8].

The well-studied health benefits of intermittent fasting include: 

  • Metabolic health, heart health, and weight loss [9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22
  • Fitness and athletic performance [23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28]
  • Reduced inflammation [29]
  • Liver health [30]
  • Cognitive health [31]

Intermittent fasting also improves health by increasing autophagy, a natural detoxification process that cleans up damaged cells and encourages new cell growth [32, 33]. However, research suggests that this benefit is more likely to occur with long-term intermittent fasting, while short-term is more likely to have fat-burning, weight loss, and metabolic benefits. 

Types of Intermittent Fasting

Why Paleo and Intermittent Fasting is a Powerful Combo - Types%20of%20Intermittent%20Fasting L

There are several different types of intermittent fasting:

  • 16/8: Fasting for 16 hours and eating during an 8-hour window
  • 14/10: Fasting for 14 hours and eating during a 10-hour window 
  • The twice-a-week or 5:2 method, where you eat normally for 5 days of the week and fast for 2 non-consecutive days (consuming 500 calories or less on fasting days) 
  • The 24-hour fast method, completely fasting (consuming only water or other noncaloric beverages) one day of the week 

Most people when they refer to “intermittent fasting” are referring to a 24-hour period where there’s a time-restricted eating window paired with fasting (not eating, consuming only noncaloric liquids) the rest of the time. But some people prefer the simplicity of the 5:2 or 24-hour methods. 

If you want to try intermittent fasting, don’t feel like you have to “get it right” or follow one person’s ideal schedule —  as long as you are following the general rules of eating during your feeding window and fasting the rest of the time, the best way is whatever works for your body and schedule.

Who Should and Shouldn’t Try Intermittent Fasting?

While IF has a lot of research supporting its benefits for many people, some people simply do not respond well to fasting of any kind, minus the normal hours they are asleep at night. There are also certain individuals who should not fast, and those who should be extra careful if they decide to pursue intermittent fasting. 

People who would likely do well with intermittent fasting: 

  • Healthy men and healthy pre- and postmenopausal women [34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40
  • Those who are overweight, (pre)diabetic, and/or looking for heart health and metabolic benefits 
  • Older people, as long as they ensure adequate protein intake (Protein needs increase as you age to prevent muscle wasting) [8]
  • Those with gut health symptoms or conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome and/or leaky gut [41, 42, 41, 43]

People who shouldn’t try intermittent fasting [8]: 

  • Women who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, postpartum, or breastfeeding
  • Those with severe chronic illness
  • Anyone in an overly stressed state (death of a loved one, acute illness, etc.)
  • Those who are malnourished 
  • Young children

People who should be extra cautious with intermittent fasting [8]: 

  • The very old or very young
  • Those who are immunocompromised
  • Those who take medications
  • People with hormone imbalances
  • Those who have or are currently experiencing disordered eating
  • People who have seizures
  • People who have dementia
  • Night shift workers
  • Heavy machinery operators.

How to Tell if Intermittent Fasting Is Working for You?

The key with IF is to be very mindful of how you feel as you transition to consistent fasting. If you ever feel dizzy, lightheaded, physical weakness, brain fog, unusual hormonal changes, or any other side effects, stop immediately. You may need to address an underlying health issue or take a closer look at your macronutrient intake before attempting fasting again. More frequent meals may be best for the time being.  

On the plus side, a recent study discovered that 70 chronically ill patients had no serious negative side effects while intermittent fasting, suggesting fasting is largely safe [44]. 

You will know if intermittent fasting works for you if your symptoms improve, you feel better after skipping meals, and you experience minimal or no hunger while fasting. 

Some kinds of fasting may be more tolerable than others, so you may be wise to start with the least invasive version (time-restricted feeding with a 14-hour fasting period) and monitor yourself carefully [45]. Perhaps try first on a weekend at home when you don’t have to perform at work or school.

For more in-depth advice and strategies on how to know if IF is right for you, check out my book Healthy Gut, Healthy You

How Paleo and Intermittent Fasting Go Together

Now that we’ve defined the Paleo diet and intermittent fasting, how can they come together to support your health? 

Going Paleo for 3-4 weeks before you try intermittent fasting can help your body adjust to lower glucose levels and encourage the body to use more healthy fats as fuel instead. Eating Paleo also emphasizes a balance of protein, fat, and carbs at each meal, so you have more sustained energy until your next meal.

And without the blood sugar spikes caused by processed foods and many grains, your body is more prepared to handle a longer period without food at all. Eating foods that spike your blood sugar leads to the “crash” feeling, where you quickly become tired and lethargic, only to just as quickly feel hungry again. 

When practicing intermittent fasting, we obviously want to prevent hunger as much as possible, so following a diet that promotes longer periods of energy and satiety, prevents blood sugar peaks and valleys, and also provides adequate macronutrients and micronutrients is ideal. 

The Paleo diet is uniquely positioned to meet all of those needs, and combining it with intermittent fasting may be ideal for someone just starting their fasting schedule.

Paleo and Intermittent Fasting May Improve Gut Health

The Paleo diet is one of the main diets we use at The Ruscio Institute to support our patients’ gut health. But adding intermittent fasting alongside Paleo may provide even more gut health benefits. 

Potential gut-related benefits of intermittent fasting include:

  • Better gut microbes: In human clinical studies, intermittent fasting appears to improve the composition of the gut microbiota, which may partly explain the benefits fasting has on body composition and metabolic health [46, 47, 48, 49, 50].
  • Better gut hormones: One clinical trial found that intermittent fasting can improve a number of gut hormones that regulate appetite [51]. 
  • Better gut wall integrity: A few small clinical studies have found that intermittent fasting appears to reduce intestinal permeability, aka leaky gut [41, 42, 43].
  • Fewer IBS symptoms: Clinical studies with IBS patients found many achieved symptom relief while intermittent fasting [41]. 

The key to achieving benefits like these is to not only do intermittent fasting consistently, but also to nourish your body with a balanced diet when you do eat. 

This way you are maximizing the fasting benefits and giving your gut a rest between meals, and then building it back up with essential nutrients in your food.

Tips for Doing Paleo and Intermittent Fasting

Prioritize protein and healthy fats: Making sure you’re getting enough daily protein is essential to prevent muscle loss when fasting, especially for older adults. If you’re trying to build muscle, you’ll have to be even more aware of this and potentially increase your protein intake. Healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado also increase satiety and provide sustained energy.

Ease into it: There’s no need to force yourself to eat only within an 8-hour window on your first day of intermittent fasting. If you’re worried about feeling hungry, feel free to slowly train yourself to extend your fasting period 30 minutes to an hour at a time from when you would normally start and stop eating on a given day. Once you feel comfortable in a certain fasting window, you can extend it again if needed. 

Drink plenty of liquids: Liquids are okay while fasting, so hydrate well. If you’re having trouble with hunger or low blood sugar, drinking coffee with MCT oil has been found to stabilize blood sugar during fasting periods [52, 53, 54]. However, keep in mind that caffeine may increase hunger, so be mindful of your consumption.

With the right nutrition and a short period of adjustment, you can make intermittent fasting a regular and automatic part of your lifestyle.

Is Paleo and Intermittent Fasting the Right Choice for You?

If you’re curious about trying intermittent fasting, doing so on a Paleo diet may be more advantageous and an easier transition. Keep in mind that you’ll want to be doing Paleo for at least 3-4 weeks before you begin intermittent fasting, especially if you’ve never changed your diet significantly before. This will give your body time to adjust to the new protocol before adding another element with fasting. 

And again, if you feel dizzy, extremely lethargic, weak, or have any other side effects when beginning fasting, stop immediately and reassess. There may be an underlying health issue causing these side effects, or fasting may simply not be for you. While it has many benefits, fasting is not guaranteed to work for everyone. 

If you want to work with a functional medicine and gut health specialist to help you dial in the right diet and eating plan for you, visit us at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Healthcare. Or you can dive deeper into diet, gut health, and intermittent fasting in my book, Healthy Gut, Healthy You

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

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