Thoughts on Fasting and Dr. Pradip Jamnadas’s Lectures

When a charismatic cardiologist posts lectures on the benefits of fasting, it catches my attention. Dr. Pradip Jamnadas has done some studying between his demanding cardiology practice and understands the biology of what happens to the body when we fast. He easily explains the chemical processes that our bodies shift into when fasting to activate numerous genes that fix the body from many angles, from activating a gene to reduce inflammation to another that directly repairs damaged DNA, to another that recycles damaged cells, to setting the stage for producing stem cells and growing new brain cells. It really is fascinating and corroborated by the science. 

These mechanisms developed in our species over the course of 100000 generations from early paleolithic times. A daunting number of generations when compared to both the agricultural developments in the last few hundred years and the industrial developments in the last few generations.

However much knowledge Dr. Jamnadas demonstrates on the science of fasting, there are abundant holes in his knowledge around the practice of fasting and the optimal diet for humans to express a healthy biology that are now accepted at the core of nutritional science and diet and advocated by the voices of many doctors and researchers who have devoted their lives to studying clinical nutrition and healthy populations of the past (as there are few left now as the west encroaches on them). For one, Dr. Jamnadas places the blame on carbohydrates for modern obesity and insulin problems. His solution is to stop eating all carbohydrates which in study after study has been associated with an increase in all causes of mortality. This is not a solution. 

All carbohydrates are not created equally – some are grown in factories and some are grown. While processed carbohydrates and refined carbohydrates, like refined sugar and wheat, are unhealthful, and contribute to chronic lifestyle induced diseases (obesity, cancer, heart disease), whole complex carbohydrates and starches, like legumes, potatoes, oats, are the opposite: healthy and the core component in the diets of the longest lived populations on the planet. It is the western diet, high in meats, animal fats (dairy/meat), and these processed foods that are at the root cause of the insulin problem.

The framework for understanding how animal fat cripples our body’s insulin sensitivity is explained at length by many who have studied it, Dr. Neal Barnard and Dr. Michael Greger. Dietary fat blocks the uptake of glucose into the cell by blocking the insulin receptors. More insulin is needed and the system of getting energy into the muscle cells becomes dysfunctional. More insulin is produced, more fat is gained. The solution is to eat a low fat plant based diet. Not a “low-fat” diet (around 30% total calories) as touted by the American Diabetes Association which is inadequate and not truly low-fat. But, a low-fat diet (<10% of total calories) mimicking those of the longest lived populations that do not suffer from obesity or chronic lifestyle induced diseases (heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, type 2 diabetes, etc.). And one that actually has clinical studies supporting its role in the reversal of these diseases. A simple diet centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and starches easily achieves this with unrestricted eating.

Dr. Jamnadas also explains that the paleo period as the time we hunted and ate meat giving us an edge evolutionarily but there are now several new scientific discoveries that have essentially negated the effect of meat on our evolution. Brain growth is now attributed to our consumption of fibrous carbohydrates. We ate starch from roots and plants. This is what provided our brains with the enormous amounts of glucose they now rely on. Meat was hunted but the gathering was where it was all at. And while fasting is miraculous, whole food plant based diets are also miraculous. It is the only diet that, much like fasting, reverses most lifestyle induced diseases. It is the only diet where you actively heal. Every other diet falls short, Mediterranean, Dash, Paleo, etc…

It is also counter intuitive to recommend eating meat when Dr. Jamnadas both understands how little protein we actually need and that all food contains protein. A diet of fruits, vegetables, and starches (whole grains, legumes, potatoes, etc.) meets our protein needs without need to have a chunk of flesh, a scoop of processed powder, or the mammary excretion of another mammal. Low protein diets are associated with longevity.

The last item to point out is the sketchy recommendation to break a fast with bone broth. Bone broth may be the latest craze but it does not make it a healthy food choice. Bones store minerals but they also store heavy metals and toxins. Chicken bone broth exceeds acceptable levels of compounds such as arsenic and lead. Yes, even that organic and supposedly uncaged bird is full of heavy metal.  If you want to hear about the benefits of fasting, Dr. Jamnadas’s lectures are fascinating because he is so passionate about the discovery of how fasting can heal. But if you want to truly reap the benefits of a true fast (with no coffee/tea/broth/salt/etc.) and to use it as a stepping stone to a whole food plant based diet, read the books or watch the lectures of those doctors who have extensive clinical practice in the realm of fasting for health like Dr. Alan Goldhammer, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, and Dr. Michael Klapper.

Make Whole Foods Delicious with a 24 Hour Fast

A few years ago, I did a five day water fast. I weaned myself from coffee beforehand, and then just did it. I drank distilled water for five days. I did a little write up of it here but what I remember most vividly was how my sense of smell and taste became so intense that when I did break the fast with a banana, it was the best taste I had ever experienced.

If you are already following a healthy whole food plant-based diet, one rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and starches, preferably without oil, added salt or sugar, you are doing great. However, if you’re like me, where I fall into a routine of roughly the same breakfast (variations of oats and berries), lunch (large raw salad, some whole grains and legumes, a few dates), and dinner (similar to lunch most of the time), you will inevitably experience some palate boredom. Which can be ok if you are busy and are eating nourishing foods. Not everything has to be a party in your mouth. But, in the gastronomical wasteland that most of us live in, processed quasi-healthy foods, not to mention simply unhealthy foods, that are calorie dense are easily available. And, biologically, we are drawn to them. Which could explain my love for Nana Joe’s granola. Sister Pizza’s vegan pizza, or Good Earth’s burritos. If you are unfortunately eating an unhealthy hyper-processed, high fat, animal laden and calorie dense diet with loads of salt, sugar, and oils, where an apple taste like a ball of water, a reset could really help open your awareness. So, if you are increasingly drawn to indulge or indulge with every single meal, consider a palate reset with a short fast. It does not take long.

It’s simple. Have your breakfast and tea and then drink water for the rest of the day. Go at least 24 hours with nothing but water. You might have a crappy night but biologically, it will be ok. Evolutionarily, we are not meant to be in a constantly fed state. And, our bodies do expend a lot of energy digesting (though a lot less energy if you are not consuming toxic foods like meat and dairy and oils). Why not give your body a rest, reset your palate so that your usual healthy food remains delicious, and detox from the processed food so that it encroaches less on your healthy lifestyle?

Treats are great but if you think you should have a treat every single day, you are likely sabotaging yourself in terms of long-term health gains.


For more resources on extended fasting and benefits, Dr. Furhman’s Eating and Fasting for Health, Dr. Herbert Shelton’s Fasting Can Save Your Life, Doug Lisle and Dr. Alan Goldhammer’s The Pleasure Trap, and online resources from True North Health Center are a place to start.

Five Day Water Fast

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Years ago before I ran my second marathon, I read several books by Dr. Joel Furhman. The two that I always keep going back to are his Super Immunity and Fasting and Eating for Health. A therapeutic fast with all of the associated health benefits (improved insulin resistance, decrease in inflammation, internal repair, improved digestion, decrease in cancer cell proliferation, autophagy, among many more) and the opportunity for emotional and spiritual introspection has been an appealing idea for me.

I was running a lot and to support that, fueling a lot, and my body and knees have always been temperamental. Different modes of bodywork help but fasting seemed like it would be a calm and grounding alternative. Logistically, with a busy life, it is difficult to allot a week without inconveniencing my family rhythm. Nevertheless, a few weeks ago I heard Jay Ferruggia interview Dr. Zach Bush and was reminded how fasting can improve your performance so… I had a low-key week off and tried a five day water fast.

Day 1

179.8 (though I haven’t weighed in for a while, I usually eight in at 177ish but feel like this may be high after having a slightly looser and higher in sodium bit of food yesterday)

First day was basically boring. My day seems to revolve around food thought, planning, and cooking. It may be a long 5 days.

Day 2

178.0

Both days 1 and 2 were not very productive. It’s amazing how much food punctuates and structures my day. And, how much I think of nutrition and cooking… I’ve been a bit listless but am treating the time as rest and recovery from constant exercise and fueling…

Took my boys to watch a movie and was overwhelmed by the smells of junk food. I didn’t cave but did buy them popcorn and watched them stuff their little faces.

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Day 3

173.4

Last night was the first night where sleep was a bit erratic. I’ve been reading Joel Furhman’s Fasting and Eating for Health about what to eat to break the fast and the thought of an orange or watermelon followed with lettuce and steamed zucchini or potatoes sounds fantastic. It doesn’t help to have a fascination with cookbooks so I made it a point to hold off perusing them and that I would just cook one of my standard feed the kids dinners.

Went for a fast walk/hike for about 60 minutes. Felt good. Especially towards the end. Despite having gloves on, fingers have been getting cold more than usual.

Day 4

169.4

Had a difficult time sleeping last night and woke to find my alarm hadn’t gone off. Rushed around to get my son to school but still managed to make him wholegrain pancakes and a berry smoothie. Still thinking about food but the ‘clear-headedness’ has set in and it makes it easier to see food more objectively. Notice that I am constantly asking myself how I feel and will try to focus a bit on the ‘outer’ world by going to some SF museums with my younger son who is on break.

Day 5!

166.8

It’s here! Day 5! Half excited about breaking the fast, half excited to see what another few days yield…Difficulty sleeping last night because I went to bed early and had a bit of a headache. Woke up feeling better and am thinking of breaking the fast tonight at 120 hours (8 pm) with a bit of vegetable juice and bone broth….or just waiting until tomorrow if I feel good throughout the day.

Practiced a lot today and felt super productive.

I actually do not feel like breaking the fast but given the baby steps recommended for breaking a fast I thought it better to start the process. Around hour 120 I drank diluted vegetable and carrot juice and then an hour or so later some bone-broth. Fast broken.

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Day After

Slept well and am going on a long walk. Feel great. Had more diluted carrot and vegetable juice and one amazingly flavorful banana. Over the next day or so, I’ll have more fresh fruit, romaine lettuce, and other vegetables, more broth, and maybe some steamed potatoes and more veggies. Tomorrow I’m planning on making a plain kitchari.

Lessons Learned

  • Plan on not having a plan. Let your emotional state guide you. You might feel like taking walks, you might not, you might feel like being around other people, you might not. Give yourself permission to listen to your body.
  • If possible, stay away from food. I cooked breakfasts for my boys before school, made dinner, and went to two movies where the smell of popcorn was overwhelming. If less will power is involved it may be better.
  • Enjoy the fact that you are healing internally and that ou are giving your body a long and necessary rest.
  • If you are caffeine-dependent, ease off a few weeks before you do your fast. I love coffee but weaned myself off and it seemed like the headaches and withdrawal symptoms most experience at the beginning of a fast didn’t hit me.
  • Clean up your diet months in advance. Avoid sugar, processed food, alcohol, and animal products. Stick with lots of fruit and vegetables, well-prepared legumes, starches, and whole grains, some nuts and seeds.
  • Meditation helps. I did about 30-40 minutes of simple breathing each day.

What would I do differently next time?

  • I would probably try to go for 10-12 days. On day 5 I felt close to wonderful and I wanted to enjoy exactly that state for several more days.
  • Maybe try to do it in the summer. My body felt colder than usual.
  • Avoid bone broth now that I know that animals store toxins in their bones and bone broth hype is hype.

Hope this helps all of you on a quest for better health!