When mice eat high-fat, high-calorie meals but "fast" overnight — meaning, they don't nibble on anything after an active eight-hour day, not even the tiniest piece of cheese — they stay as slender and healthy as mice that eat leaner food, according to a new study. Scientists think this means that humans, too, would benefit from "nighttime fasting," says the LA Times:
The data suggest that the stomach, the brain and the body's digestive machinery need to take a break from managing incoming fuel; otherwise, we may be working ourselves into a state of metabolic exhaustion. When combined with high-calorie, high-fat diets, the result is weight gain, a liver clogged with fat, accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries and unused glucose in the blood.
"Nightime fasting," you say? That sounds kind of like "sleeping." But, as study author Satchidananda Panda told the LAT, today, "our social life starts at sunset," whereas, in the olden days, most people ate in the daytime. "So essentially, we have increased our eating time in the last 40 to 50 years."
Panda argues that nighttime fasting is cheap, easy, and doesn't require counting calories or deprivation. "All you need is a clock." Hmm...unless you enjoy late-night snacking, or going to bars, or work a night shift, or lack the self-control to not even have some (apparently forbidden) tea with honey before bedtime — so basically, unless you are pretty much any human. Sure, once upon a time, people "did chores, then had a big breakfast, followed by more physical activity, a hearty lunch, work and an early dinner. Soon after the sun set, it was time to sleep." But we're not pioneers.
We're also, uh, not mice, especially mice who were forced not to eat for sixteen hours at a time because they were locked in a lab for scientific purposes. If the mice had been given access to food, they would certainly have gobbled it down. And mice don't even have easy access to enticing late-night dining options like Taco Bell's "Fourth Meal" or 24-hour diners or those two-day-old leftovers in your fridge. It might be a tad unrealistic to expect humans — who are also not nocturnal creatures, like mice are — to fast on a regular basis.
Another thing: The lab results were so "phenomenal" that it's not even certain our bodies would break down fats as successfully, even if we were able to resist eating after dark. (As the fasting mice burned fat, their body temperatures were actually higher, which would bode well for a team of superhero rodents, but not well for us trying to replicate their success.) And other studies have shown that eating frequent, small meals is better for you than trying not to eat for hours at a time. "This one study cannot tell us that this science is wrong," a nutrition expert said. Burn.
Panda agreed that his findings were not exactly ready to "be used to fight the war against obesity." That means we have a few more years before we're bombarded with books, billboards, and reality TV shows beseeching us to "night fast."
Image via nakamasa/Shutterstock.