Following a fast-mimicking diet is better for your cardiovascular health than a Mediterranean diet, new research demonstrates.

A study from the University of Southern California has found that the body responds well to a fast-mimicking diet – a five-day meal programme that aims to mimic the effects of fasting while still allowing some food intake.

First author Dr Valter D Longo said: “For the rest of the month, the patients [return] to their normal diet.”

During the five-day fast, individuals are only allowed to consume low-protein, low-calorie and high-fat plant-based foods.

In other research studies, scientists have been analysing whether following a fasting-mimicking diet can help people with cancer by slowing down the growth of tumours or improving breast cancer therapy.

Additionally, some researchers have examined whether the diet helps treat other health conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), autoimmune diseases, cardiovascular diseases and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

As part of the study, a team of academics assessed whether the fasting-mimicking diet or the Mediterranean diet was more effective in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease among individuals living with hypertension and obesity.

A total of 84 people aged between 35 and 75 took part in the investigation. Each participant had a BMI of 28 or above.

Half of the participants followed the fast-mimicking diet for four months and the other half followed the Mediterranean diet.

The results show that the participants in the fasting-mimicking diet group had a lower reactive hyperaemia index (RHI) than those in the Mediterranean diet group.

Dr Longo said: “A lower reactive hyperaemia is observed in subjects with reduced heart function but also in younger, healthier, and normal subjects.

“Because all other markers are evidence of rejuvenating effects of the fasting-mimicking diet, we believe this reduction in reactive hyperaemia is consistent with rejuvenation of the heart, but larger studies are needed to establish this.”

Findings highlight that both diets did not improve the participant’s C1/AC2 measures or change their abnormal RHI.

In addition, the results show that the adults in the fasting-mimicking diet group reduced their heart age, biological age and their Protein Unstable Lesion Signature (PULS) cardiac test scores more than those in the Mediterranean diet group.

Participants in the fasting-mimicking diet also had less fat around their abdomen than those in the Mediterranean group, according to the findings.

Dr Longo explained: “The significance is that fasting-mimicking diet cycles were able to decrease fat mass without reducing muscle mass and without requiring changes in the subjects’ preferred diet for 25 days a month.

“In contrast, the everyday Mediterranean diet required [a] change in everyday dietary habits and was associated with a 5 [pounds] loss of muscle.”

Dr Rigved Tadwalkar, who reviewed the study and was not involved in the research, said: “When we look at different sorts of diets, we really want to get down to what sort of health benefit they actually provide.

“What was interesting about the fasting-mimicking diet is that it had the added benefit of reducing abdominal fat, which was really important because that is a big reason why a lot of people diet.”

He added: “Not to mention it’s still important even from a medical standpoint because abdominal fat is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

“It looked like in the fasting-mimicking diet group versus the Mediterranean diet group they did not experience any loss of that lean body mass, which could be a concern for some other weight loss intervention.

“While this study was able to delineate the short-term effects of the fasting-mimicking diet, having the longer-term effects observed over weeks, months, and years is required for better understanding. And how the fasting-mimicking diet really affects cardiovascular health in the long-term, and in delaying the onset of cardiovascular disease.”

Monique Richard, dietitian nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition Dietetics, said: “This study adds to our knowledge that each individual’s needs are unique and that our body’s complex and intricate interaction which nutrients is multifactorial.

“Following a fasting-mimicking diet has been beneficial for many individuals but it is neither a ‘stand-alone’ solution nor a long-term alternative.”

She added: “Changing patterns, habits, and/or an accumulation of the consequences of [a] specific behaviour or genetic predisposition is a process that cannot be reversed with one specific step. However, several intentional modifications can make significant changes over time.

“Foods that are high in vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals will not only provide necessary nutrients but counter inflammation, interruption, and degradation of systems that support heart health.

“These foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, plant fats, lean proteins, fermented foods, and whole grains.”

She concluded: “A registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) is trained to understand the interplay among medical conditions, cardiometabolic markers, genetics, preferences, needs, lifestyle factors — activity, access, cultural traditions, etc. — cooking literacy, gut health, and more to be able to offer specific recommendations.

“Work with a professional to mitigate confusion and garner support in a health-seeking journey that works best for you.”

Read the full study in the journal Npj Metabolic Health and Disease.

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