Intermittent Fasting: What to Eat and Avoid for Best Results

article backed by science

Intermittent Fasting | Eat | When | Best Foods | Fat | Protein | Carbs

After numerous studies prove intermittent fasting’s health benefits, the interest in fasting is rising. Perhaps it does not come by chance that almost every culture or religion traditionally embodies fasting.

Whether for weight loss or anti-aging benefits, what you eat when intermittent fasting makes a difference! This science-backed guide contains everything you need about intermittent fasting and eating.

What is Intermittent Fasting?

During intermittent fasting (IF), you eat during a specific period and fast the rest of the day (or week).

There are various intermittent fasting schedules, but the most popular is fasting within 16 hours.

For example, you only eat between noon and 8 PM. Therefore, your body’s digestive tract can rest outside the 8-hour eating period.

In addition to the 8 hours of sleep, the body gets another 8 hours of fasting.

In short, to start the 16/8 intermittent fasting, you only need to skip breakfast and not snack during the 16 hours.

Besides the 16/8 intermittent fasting program, other popular schedules have evolved:

  • One-Day Fasting (6:1 Diet) – you do not eat anything on a full day a week
  • Two-Day Fasting (5:2 Diet) – you do not eat anything on two full days a week
  • Alternate Day Fasting (ADF) – Eat one day, fast one day (often with a small meal)
  • One Meal A Day (OMAD) – 23/1 intermittent fasting, where you eat once a day

How to Eat on Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting aims at two primary goals:

  • Weight Loss
  • Health Benefits

Although weight loss leads to health benefits, most come from autophagy.

Fasting induces this cleansing mechanism, which replaces broken cell components with new ones and drains toxins from the body. Therefore, it helps prevent modern diseases from Alzheimer’s to cancer (Levine et al. 20171).

Like fat burning (ketosis), autophagy requires low insulin levels. The storage hormone regulates signaling cells to take up glucose from the bloodstream and store excess energy.

Also, insulin blocks the enzyme to break down body fat (Meijssen et al. 20012).

Therefore, scientists can predict up to 75% of possible gains and losses in overweight people with insulin levels (Kong et al. 20133).

Since fasting stops nutrient intake, insulin levels drop, and storage mode ends.

Then the body can break down stored carbohydrates (glycogen). When glycogen stores are empty, your body taps into fat for energy.

This fat-burning process is called ketosis and, contrary to popular myths, is a natural mechanism that has ensured our species‘ survival.

Nature has designed the body to build up fat reserves in abundance and to feed on these fat reserves in times of food shortage (e.g., in winter).

Nowadays, we experience an endless summer lacking this natural balance between feasting and fasting.

Besides insulin, other nutrient sensors exist in the body, responding when you eat:

  • Insulin: Reacts to carbohydrates and proteins
  • mTOR: Reacts to proteins
  • AMPK: Reacts to lack of energy in cells

The AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) always responds when energy is supplied to cells through fat, proteins, or carbohydrates.

As soon as you eat, the body detects nutrient availability and ends autophagy and fasting.

Eating Often vs. Intermittent Fasting

Hormonal change is the main difference between eating less but more often and strict periods without meals.

Accordingly, intermittent fasting shows a more potent reduction of insulin levels and insulin resistance, enabling better fat burning (Heilbronn et al. 20054; Cho et al. 20195).

In addition to the growth hormone, which protects muscle mass, noradrenaline increases metabolism during fasting (Ho et al. 19886; Zauner et al. 20007).

In contrast to intermittent fasting, conventional calorie restriction leads to a loss of muscle mass. Also, the basal metabolic rate decreases if you eat less but frequently.

Consequently, a study with the participants of the weight-loss TV show “The Biggest Loser” revealed that those participants who lost the most weight through calorie restriction suffered the longest from a weak metabolism.

Since it was precisely these participants who were again rapidly gaining weight, scientists observed a severe yo-yo effect in them (Fothergill et al. 20168).

Should you eat often or do intermittent fasting?

How Many Calories?

Now that we understand weight gain to be more hormonal than a caloric imbalance, we must keep up with the times and question the outdated calorie counting regime.

For example, an empirical study from Great Britain shows that no less than 99.5 percent of overweight women and men could not lose weight successfully using conventional calorie restriction (Flides et al. 20159).

And we are not talking about three people here, but 99,791 women and 76,704 men!

So why is calorie counting still the standard of the fitness industry?

There are probably two main reasons:

  • It helps to sell highly processed garbage
  • The calorimeter was invented in 1892

Therefore, people know about calories but not so much about hormones.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that calorie balance does not influence weight loss.

However, the correct meal timing during intermittent fasting makes a substantial hormonal advantage possible.

After insulin levels are low during intermittent fasting for an extended period, you will burn more fat with the same calorie intake.

As long as you don’t cheat or have reached your goal weight, the standard daily calorie requirement will be sufficient to lose weight during intermittent fasting. For a woman, this is about 1,900 kcal.

According to studies, people who eat fewer meals consume fewer calories during the day, making them more likely to fall short of their daily requirements (Stubbs et al. 200110).

How Many Meals?

As we have just discovered, eating less often keeps insulin levels in check and burns fat. For this reason, science has proven that snacks cannot help you lose weight (Cameron et al. 201011).

Unlike conventional dieting, intermittent fasting has the advantage that you can always increase it.

You can eat only once a day instead of twice or fast for several days if you like. Thus, it is incredibly flexible.

Nevertheless, you should not immediately overstrain your body when you start intermittent fasting. For example, it is advantageous to establish simple rules when you start:

  • Lunch and dinner only
  • Natural snacks, like a handful of walnuts, are allowed between the two meals

With time and experience, you will get to know your body better, and you can stop snacks completely or eat one big meal a day.

In any case, an 8-hour eating period is enough to lose weight with the appropriate diet.

Can You Eat Anything When Intermittent Fasting?

Theoretically, you can eat anything during the 8 hours of eating on intermittent fasting. However, this way, you won’t see results.

With this in mind, people often try fasting to reward themselves with junk food afterward. Thereby alternate-day fasting is incredibly popular.

Maybe you have heard like me from friends who follow this method sporadically and unsuccessfully. Therefore, the following must be clear with intermittent fasting:

  • Discipline is mandatory
  • It cannot replace quality food

If you gulp down fries and beer during the eating periods, you definitely won’t approach the body of your dreams. Even on intermittent fasting, food quality remains crucial for your health and weight loss.

If you eat less often, providing your body with natural, nutrient-dense food is essential.

People who delude themselves when eating on an intermittent fasting program won’t get results. Beyond that, grasping refined carbohydrates and sweeteners is a vicious cycle, inducing cravings that can turn fasting into agony.

We’ll further deal with the topic when discussing what not to eat when intermittent fasting.

Diarrhea After Eating

If you have just started intermittent fasting, it is often natural to excrete excess water and electrolytes through the gastrointestinal tract as soon as you break the fast.

Therefore, diarrhea during intermittent fasting is only an issue if it persists.

Against this background, a poor diet can cause diarrhea when fasting. The following food often contributes to diarrhea during intermittent fasting:

  • Dairy (lactose and beta-casein A1)
  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Legumes

Drink enough water if you still suffer from diarrhea when excluding these foods. Moreover, broth, pickle juice, or sea salt can help to reabsorb the electrolytes you excrete.

When to Eat on Intermittent Fasting

With the rising popularity of intermittent fasting, new fasting plans and programs have come up repeatedly. Meanwhile, there are numerous types of fasting.

Nevertheless, we have already dealt with the essential intermittent fasting schedules. In my experience, it is also the most classical of all methods, with which most people achieve the best results.

The substantial reason for the fact that humans can successfully convert 16/8 intermittent fasting is the simple integration into daily life.

Should I Eat in the Morning or at Night?

It doesn’t matter whether you eat in the morning or at night when intermittent fasting. However, in my experience, it is much easier to skip breakfast for the following reasons:

  • Morning hunger is learned and can be unlearned
  • The hormone release in the morning gives you power for the day
  • Without breakfast, your focus at work will increase noticeably
  • Dinner is usually the most crucial social pivot of a family
  • You save time and can sleep longer

Contrary to common belief, breakfast is only the food industry’s most important meal. Advertisements and media have taught us that skipping breakfast is almost punishable.

Over the decades, we have learned to be hungry in the morning. But this is not natural.

The body increases adrenaline, glucagon, growth hormone, and cortisol in the morning. For this reason, we wake up. Furthermore, this potent hormonal cocktail nourishes us with enough energy for the upcoming day.

Hence, the morning hunger disappears in just one or two weeks with the forced breakfast, in my experience.

Nevertheless, you can also successfully do intermittent fasting if you skip dinner.

For example, if you sleep earlier, work longer, or cannot have dinner with your loved ones because of your daily working routine.

Is It Best to Eat Before or After a Workout?

Among bodybuilders, intermittent fasting is not a new idea. The most standard intermittent fasting schedule in which nothing is eaten for 14 to 18 hours daily is a proven method for muscle gain.

Therefore, bodybuilders have been using the 16/8 schedule, also known as peak fasting or time-restricted feeding (TRF), for decades.

Due to the release of growth hormones, intermittent fasting boosts muscle gain (Ho et al. 198812).

However, it is vital to exercise in a fasted state. Therefore, it is better to eat after than before a workout while intermittent fasting.

Given the essential goals of burning fat and activating autophagy for health benefits, this even makes more sense (Schwalm et al. 201513):

  • The low insulin level before eating enables maximum fat burning
  • The fasting state allows the body to maximize autophagy through exercise

In contrast, eating allows the body to relax. And this contradicts athletic performance, as you can also witness through self-experimentation.

Against this background, it is wiser to use the increased adrenaline levels for exercising. Afterward, a meal can send your body into recovery and growth mode.

woman exercising on the floor

Best Time to Eat

As stressed out in the previous points, your daily routine will determine the best time to eat when intermittent fasting.

For the following reasons, in my opinion, the evening is the best time to eat when intermittent fasting:

  • Work is over
  • There is time to prepare quality food
  • You can dine with your family
  • You could exercise in a fasted state
  • Now your body wants to rest and grow
  • And you can finish off the day relaxed

Improved mental focus is one of the main practical benefits of intermittent fasting. Focus fades away with the day’s largest meal, and the body relaxes. Therefore it only makes sense not to have planned any mental or physical exertion afterward.

When I want to exploit the mental clarity of fasting to get things done, I often extend the fasting period.

As a result, I am on one meal a day (OMAD) schedule. So I get more things done while only cooking once and finishing earlier.

Since a single meal per day is larger, the evening or late afternoon is the best time to eat during intermittent fasting when leveraging its flexibility.

What to Eat During Intermittent Fasting

The best diet you can eat on intermittent fasting is nutrient-dense and low in carbs.

And there is one crucial rule to make it work:

Do not eat during fasting periods!

Otherwise, there are situations where at least small amounts of certain foods may be acceptable.

If you are not yet used to a new, more extended fasting period and find it challenging to maintain the duration, you might benefit from fasting aids.

For example, this is probably acceptable if you are hungry and irritable after 12 hours but can last 16 hours with Bulletproof Coffee.

Since the added fat limits autophagy’s health benefits, it hardly stimulates insulin secretion, and you can continue to burn fat.

After your body has gotten used to intermittent fasting, you should be able to go without training wheels.

Effective Fasting Aids

In addition to Bulletproof Coffee, Golden Milk provides warmth and healthy fats to soothe the stomach and ease the first days of fasting.

Since the body loses much water and electrolytes when depleting carbohydrate stores, a lack of salt can cause headaches.

Cucumber water, bone broth, and apple cider vinegar can help with physical symptoms.

With orange or cucumber slices and a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice against the monotony in the water, the list of the training wheels for fasting beginners is complete:

  • Broth
  • Diluted apple cider vinegar
  • Cucumber water
  • Sea salt
  • Bulletproof Coffee
  • Golden milk
  • Water with fruit slices
  • Lemon water

Best Foods to Eat on Intermittent Fasting

When intermittent fasting, the following properties characterize the best foods to eat:

  • They are rich in nutrients, especially electrolytes
  • Their carbohydrates are primarily limited to dietary fiber
  • They are easily digestible and flatter the intestinal flora

On top of that, the following list of the 24 best foods to eat when intermittent fasting brings additional benefits to your daily life.

1. Water

Drinking pure water is allowed at any time during intermittent fasting.

Since a considerable amount of water can leave the body during intermittent fasting, hydration is mandatory. Because the body depletes carbohydrate stores, it flushes out water.

In glycogen, 1 gram of carbohydrates binds about 3 grams of water, which leaves the body during fasting.

You will notice keto flu symptoms, such as headache or dizziness, when not drinking accordingly during fasting.

The absorption of electrolytes, especially sodium, which leaves the body with water, helps against these symptoms. Besides mineral water, bone broth is a first-class supplier of electrolytes.

2. Bone Broth

For a good reason, doctors prescribed good old bone broth, again and again, to revitalize gut health after diarrhea:

  • It is easily digestible,
  • Full of electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium),
  • And healthy fats that improve nutrient absorption.

Since the body can lose electrolytes during fasting, bone broth is a first-class food after extended and intermittent fasting.

Also, bone broth:

  • Provides collagen for skin, hair, muscles, and bones
  • Stabilizes blood sugar and improves insulin sensitivity
  • Calms the gastrointestinal tract

3. Apple Cider Vinegar

For several reasons, apple vinegar is fantastic when intermittent fasting:

Furthermore, apple cider vinegar helps fasting beginners, who are mainly used to digest carbohydrates and proteins, to integrate healthy fats into their diet efficiently.

4. Avocados

In addition to its easy digestibility, the avocado impresses with its significantly increased saturation.

Therefore, people who ate avocados are one-third less hungry even 5 hours after the meal (Wien et al. 201318).

For this reason, this fatty fruit is an ideal tool for preventing overeating after fasting.

Avocado, rich in water-soluble fiber and fats, increases nutrient absorption from other foods after fasting.

For example, avocados or avocado oil in salad lead to the absorption of approximately 3-5 times more antioxidants and carotenoids (Unlu et al. 200519).

avocados, cheese, and red wine

5. Olives and Olive Oil

Due to the linoleic acid and bioactive substances, olives provide additional health benefits during intermittent fasting:

  • Antioxidants: The antioxidant effect of phenols and oleuropein, which you cannot find in any other food, exceeds that of vitamin E.
  • Anti-aging: Besides the positive effect of oleuropein on the skin, the natural phenol tyrosol in olives can increase life expectancy, according to studies (Cañuelo et al 201220Rahmani et al. 201421).
  • Bone density: Olives and olive oil counteract age-related bone loss and contribute to older people’s bone formation (Fernández-Real et al. 201222).

When buying olive oil, it is vital to ensure that it is cold-pressed and obtained exclusively from mechanical processes.

6. Fatty Fish

If caught wild, fatty fish is the best natural source of potent omega-3 fatty acids. For example, it provides you with EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

Since these unique fatty acids stimulate fat burning and prevent further fat deposits, they are ideal for intermittent fasting (Mater et al. 199923).

In contrast to vegetable omega-3 fatty acids, these two are already present in fish. The body can only synthesize tiny amounts of EPA and DHA from vegetable sources.

Unfortunately, there is no vegetarian alternative to fatty fish like wild salmon, mackerel, or sardines.

7. Coconut Oil

Since it consists of over 90% saturated fatty acids, coconut oil is the only vegetable oil that is extremely heat resistant. Therefore it is the first choice for frying.

Furthermore, it helps with weight loss due to linoleic acid’s great fat-burning rate (DeLany et al. 200024).

Accordingly, a study has shown that coconut oil can significantly reduce abdominal fat compared to soybean oil (Assunção et al. 200925).

8. Green Tea

Since it curbs appetite and blood sugar, green tea has a considerable history with fasting.

Just like olive oil, green tea contains bioactive polyphenols.

For example, green tea’s epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) can counteract insulin’s aging effects (Thielecke et al. 200926).

Furthermore, a recent study found that the polyphenols in green tea can even induce autophagy (Prasanth et al. 201927).

Also, by reducing inflammation, green tea reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and hypertension (Hodgson et al. 201028).

9. Coffee

Coffee is an excellent drink to suppress appetite and can be drunk black during the 16 hours of fasting.

Moreover, studies suggest that caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee could activate autophagy in muscle tissue, the liver, the heart, and other major organs (Pietrocola et al. 201429).

You can also enrich coffee with coconut oil, butter, or ghee to make it easier to manage long periods of fasting when starting.

My ultimate coffee guide helps you drink it correctly during intermittent fasting in all possible variations.

10. Ghee

Besides coconut oil, ultra-clarified butter or ghee is the traditional fat for frying in India.

Since ghee is clarified butter, it is pure fat. Therefore, ghee is not only free of lactose but also milk proteins.

Accordingly, ghee is a premium butter for cooking. Due to the absence of milk protein, ghee can also be a better option against inflammation.

Furthermore, heat it higher. Therefore, it is better suited for frying than regular butter.

11. Grass-Fed Butter

Not only are you what you eat – the same applies to cattle and dairy products.

Compared to grain-fed butter, grass-fed butter contains many times more anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (Couvreur et al. 200630).

Due to its high vitamin A and beta-carotene content, grass-fed butter is creamy yellow. On top of that, it contains plenty of vitamin K2.

Also, the conjugated linoleic acid in grass-fed butter maintains muscle mass (McCrorie et al. 201131).

grass-fed beef is among the best foods to eat on intermittent fasting

12. Grass-Fed Beef

Grass-fed cattle are allowed to graze on green meadows, their best food source. After all, this is the cattle’s natural diet.

And this species-appropriate feeding also makes the difference when it comes to beef. Accordingly, a study that compares grass-fed to grain-fed cows points out this fact.

In addition to four times more omega-3 fatty acids, grass-fed beef contains five times more conjugated linoleic acid.

This unique fat from grass-fed meat and dairy products significantly counteracts fat deposits (Daley et al. 201032).

13. Organic Chicken With Skin

It is no secret that chicken is suitable for most people.

Eating it with the skin also provides collagen, which the body needs for skin, hair, muscles, and joints.

In addition to being a proven protein source, it can also be used as chicken soup, ideal for breaking more extended periods of therapeutic fasting.

Furthermore, chicken provides vitamins and minerals such as (*):

  • Vitamin B6
  • Niacin
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium

14. Free-Range Eggs

The vitamin D in eggs keeps brittle bones in check and helps ward off depression and colds.

Although the body produces vitamin D when you expose your skin to sunlight, it is advisable to eat enough vitamin D when intermittent fasting.

However, you should not limit eggs to protein because yolks contain A, B, and D vitamins and healthy fats.

15. Green Vegetables (Cooked)

Green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, or sprouts are cruciferous and rich in fiber, nutrients, and vitamins.

You nourish them with an added healthy fat like grass-fed butter or olive oil. This way, your body absorbs nutrients more efficiently.

Furthermore, it would be best not to skimp on natural sea salt either, as intermittent fasting can lead to headaches.

Besides, green vegetables are full of minerals and vitamins (*):

  • Iron
  • Folates
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Vitamin A, B2, B6, C, E, K

This way, you get a proper dose of nutrients into your body after fasting.

16. Spirulina

The blue-green microalgae, living in fresh and salt waters, is incredibly nutrient-dense.

Therefore, its composition of electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, proteins, and omega-3 fatty acids is ideal for eating intermittently after fasting.

According to recent studies, spirulina prolongs the life of cells and promotes wound healing (Gunes et al. 201733).

Spirulina also provides the amino acids that form collagen. Since one tablespoon of spirulina powder offers about 6 grams of pure protein, it is a popular alternative to animal products.

17. Sauerkraut

After fasting, fermented foods help colonize the digestive tract with healthy bacteria and enzymes.

Accordingly, sauerkraut contains probiotics, beneficial bacteria that act against toxins, and harmful bacteria (Quigley et al. 201834).

Besides, these probiotics can help with flatulence and constipation (Hungin et al. 201335).

On top of that, sauerkraut is the world’s most vitamin C-rich food.

18. Walnuts

Nuts bring an exciting combination of healthy fats and proteins to your diet.

Walnuts have the highest omega-3 content among nuts and are also incredibly rich in antioxidants (Hudthagosol et al. 201236).

Also, studies have shown that they help prevent cell damage and cancer and help lose weight (Neale et al. 201737).

walnuts are a great snack to eat when intermittent fasting

19. Red Wine

Contrary to popular belief, red wine can be healthy in moderation.

The essential polyphenol in red wine, resveratrol, can induce autophagy (Park et al. 201638).

Although it is questionable whether red wine should be drunk like water because of its alcohol content, a glass during dinner after fasting is appropriate.

According to research, this moderate amount brings the most health benefits (Yuan et al. 199739).

20. Liver

Regarding nutrient density, beef liver is the food par excellence.

Considering that some people do not like the taste of beef liver, pork, and chicken liver are excellent options that provide vitamins and minerals.

About 100g of beef liver contains (in % of the recommended daily dose*):

  • Vitamin A: 522%
  • Vitamin B6/B12: 51%/1386%
  • Niacin: 87
  • Riboflavin: 201%
  • Selenium: 47%
  • Iron: 34%
  • Copper: 730%
  • Zinc: 35%

Try the less intensive but nutrient-dense calf liver if you dislike beef. Or introduce a variety of organ meats to your diet to reap even more health benefits.

21. Beetroots

Red beets are not only low in calories and fiber but also rich in iron. Therefore, beetroots are an excellent vegetarian alternative to the liver.

Besides, beet can help especially women against iron deficiency. They lose about 500 ml of iron annually through menstruation and suffer from iron deficiency much more often than men (Weinberg 201040).

Furthermore, iron, like potassium, is a mineral that promotes blood circulation in the muscles and can thus increase athletic performance.

22. Flaxseed

The most important source of fat for vegetarians is linseed. Therefore they are also indispensable for a vegan diet.

Although the most potent omega-3 fatty acids are marine ones, flaxseed offers a vegan alternative to fatty fish.

Because in addition to DHA and EPA in fish, the mother of omega-3 fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid, also has a lot of positive things to offer in flaxseed.

For example, it improves blood clotting, blood pressure, lipids, diabetes, and inflammation risk (Faintuch et al. 200741; Mandaşescu et al. 200542; Kawakami et al. 201543; Bloedon et al. 200444).

And these health benefits are further enhanced by intermittent fasting.

23. Turmeric

Turmeric is the all-rounder in the spice rack, which should not be missing when fasting intermittently. Its essential active ingredient, curcumin, gives the root and curry a golden yellow color.

According to studies, curcumin can activate autophagy in mitochondria – our cellular power plants (de Oliveira et al. 201645).

Also, curcuminoids can intercept free radicals more than five times more potent than vitamins C and E (Menon et al. 200746).

Curcuminoids also nourish the skin, balancing its natural microflora, which protects you from infections.

eat turmeric and ginger when intermittent fasting

24. Ginger

Due to its diversity, ginger is the second ginger plant besides turmeric that should not be missing in your kitchen. For example, you can combine both spices in golden milk, which can be helpful during intermittent fasting.

Whether you use fresh, dried, ground, cooked, or as an oil, this root has various anti-inflammatory effects.

According to studies, ginger is as effective against inflammation as some medications. However, ginger causes fewer side effects (Grzanna et al. 201547).

Furthermore, researchers say it is as effective as ibuprofen in treating severe menstrual cramps and post-operative pain (Rayati et al. 201748Daily et al. 201549).

Healthy Fats to Eat on Intermittent Fasting

Although its unjustly bad image persists, fat is the most critical macronutrient when doing intermittent fasting.

Pure natural fat, such as extra virgin olive oil, causes almost no insulin reaction. For this reason, fat supports weight loss and other health benefits of fasting.

Also, animal and saturated fats’ reputation is far worse than the scientifically proven reality. According to recent studies, saturated fatty acids protect against heart attacks and strokes (Siri-Tariano et al. 201050).

Due to the overwhelming burden of proof, even the most stubborn health authorities have now had to admit that saturated fatty acids are not causing cardiovascular disease (Hite et al. 201051).

Moreover, saturated fatty acids are more heat resistant than unsaturated ones. Therefore, they are best for frying. However, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats belong in any diet as well.

These natural fats supply your body with an ingenious balance of energy during intermittent fasting:

  • Saturated fats
    • Grass-fed butter
    • Ghee
    • Heavy cream
    • Cocoa butter
    • Coconut milk
    • Coconut oil
    • MCT oil
  • Monounsaturated fats
    • Avocados and avocado oil
    • Extra virgin olive oil
    • Macadamia nuts
    • Pecans
    • Goose grease
    • Organic Lard
    • Bacon
  • Polyunsaturated fats
    • Flaxseed
    • Walnuts
    • Herring
    • Anchovies
    • Sardines
    • Mackerel
    • Wild Salmon

Best Protein Foods to Eat When Intermittent Fasting

When it comes to proteins, you need to know your goals:

  • Weight loss and anti-aging: Increased fat burning and health benefits of autophagy through restricted protein consumption
  • Athletic performance and muscle gain: Better performance and (muscle) growth through individual adaptation of protein intake to training intensity

Also, age plays a role in protein intake.

While individuals over 65 need increased protein intake to maintain muscle mass, restricted protein intake can help younger individuals increase life expectancy (Levine et al. 201452).

Nevertheless, protein should never be missing from your diet during intermittent fasting. For this reason, here are great natural sources of protein:

  • Organic Chicken
  • Organic Pork
  • Grass-fed Beef
  • Lamb
  • Game
  • Offal
  • Prawns
  • Halibut
  • Lobster
  • Carp
  • Crabs
  • Mussels
  • Hake
  • Saithe
  • Tuna
  • Squid
  • Blue Cheese
  • Buffalo Mozzarella
  • Eggs
  • Swiss Cheese
  • Parmesan
  • Pecorino
  • Ricotta
  • Goat Cheese
  • Sour Cream

Although they do not fit this category due to their predominant carbohydrate content, vegetarians must resort to legumes such as lentils and beans.

When eating legumes, neutralize plant toxins (e.g., lectins) in a pressure cooker.

Best Carbs to Eat When Intermittent Fasting

With intermittent fasting, focusing on whole foods rich in fiber but low in starches is wise.

While starchy foods (e.g., potatoes) increase blood sugar and insulin levels, dietary fibers (e.g., broccoli) counteract these effects (Trout et al. 199353).

For this reason, this list puts net carbs (carbohydrates minus dietary fiber) in parentheses:

  • Mushrooms (0,6g)
  • Swiss chard (0,7g)
  • Pak Choi (1g)
  • Lettuce (1,1g)
  • Chinese cabbage (1,2g)
  • Endive (1,2g)
  • Spinach (1,4g)
  • Radicchio (1,5g)
  • Asparagus (2g)
  • Watercress (2g)
  • Rocket salad (2,1g)
  • Algae (2,1g)
  • Radish (2,1g)
  • Cauliflower (2,3g)
  • Okra (2,3g)
  • Celery (2,3g)
  • Savoy cabbage (2,3g)
  • Kale (2,5g)
  • Artichokes (2,6g)
  • Broccoli (2,7g)
  • Fennel (2,8g)
  • Spring onion (3g)
  • Shallots (3,3g)
  • Red cabbage (3,5g)
  • White cabbage (4,2g)
  • Sprouts (4,5g)
  • Onion (4,9g)
  • Carrots (6,1g)
  • Beetroots (6,8g)
  • Almonds (8,3g)
  • Pistachios (13g)
  • Sweet potatoes (17,1g)

Due to its high content of resistant starches, sweet potato is the most digestible variety if you want to replenish your carbohydrate stores.

Unlike conventional starches, resistant starches pass through the small intestine without being converted into glucose.

Instead of being absorbed as sugar, resistant starches are broken down into short-chain fatty acids, which your gut bacteria can nourish.

We will look closely at when to eat carbohydrates during intermittent fasting shortly.

broccoli and brussels sprouts are great sides to eat on intermittent fasting

Keto and Fasting

More and more people report excellent results when combining intermittent fasting with a ketogenic diet. Why?

Since the keto diet, just like fasting, reduces insulin, empties the carbohydrate stores, and burns fat through ketosis, it is an ideal match.

It is the most ketogenic diet because fasting taps into body fat for energy.

To unleash the full potential of intermittent fasting through a ketogenic diet, you need a daily calorie intake of 75% fat, 20-25% protein, and 5-10% carbohydrates.

Thereby, 1 gram of fat provides nine calories, and 1 gram of protein or carbohydrates provides four calories, which reduces the amount of fat in relation.

To go keto with the previous lists, all you need to do is to follow these crucial points:

  • Avoid foods at the bottom of the carbohydrate list (> 5g net carbs)
  • Prefer fatty cuts over low-nutrient fillet meats

The fact that lean proteins strongly increase insulin levels was long unknown and doomed classic low-carb diets to failure (Nuttall et al. 199154).

Since the ketogenic diet is based on this fact, it can even improve the following health benefits of intermittent fasting:

  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Fat burning
  • Autophagy
  • Cognition
  • Inflammation
  • Gut health

To get the details, read my article on combining intermittent fasting with keto:

Foods to Avoid on Intermittent Fasting

Regarding health, the bottom line is that what you do not eat is more important than what you eat.

For this reason, you should be familiar with the categories of don’ts, especially on intermittent fasting.

Industrial Seed Oils and Trans Fats

When processing vegetable oils, the fragile omega-6 fatty acids oxidize through heat, light, air, and pressure.

As a result, these processes change fats that serve as chemical building blocks for your body. Therefore, they promote inflammation, cardiovascular disease, mortality, and weight gain (Ramsden et al. 201355).

Besides the following oils, it is essential to avoid fried dishes and hydrogenated trans fats (e.g., margarine):

  • Safflower oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Corn oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil

Sweeteners and Additives

Unlabeled sugar- or calorie-free foods often hide carbohydrates and calories you would not expect.

These include:

  • Alcohol and sugar alcohols (erythritol, sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol, and isomalt)
  • Fruit juice or juice concentrates
  • Fructose, sugar, sucrose, maltodextrin, dextrose, and corn syrup

Also, calorie-free additives and sweeteners can stimulate insulin and other nutrient sensors during fasting and damage gut health.

If you identify the following ingredients on labels, you better avoid the product during intermittent fasting:

Another reason I avoid sweeteners during intermittent fasting is the craving.

Cravings increase when a sweet taste stimulates the brain’s reward center, but glucose does not arrive due to non-nutritive sweeteners (Yang 201064).

As with sweeteners, plant-based does not always mean healthy, as we will learn in the next section.

eating junk food ruins weight loss results

Foods High in Lectins

Lectins are plant toxins in seeds, grains, leaves, bark, and food shells.

These sticky proteins can adhere to nerve endings of the intestines and brain. Therefore lectins can cause inflammation and autoimmune diseases (Freed 199965Saeki et al. 201466).

Since lectins can also bind to insulin and leptin receptors, they promote weight gain (Shechter 198367).

Moreover, these toxins can promote insulin resistance, increasing weight gain (Kamikubo et al. 200868).

Accordingly, many people have already found that supposedly healthy foods prevent them from losing weight due to lectins.

Therefore, whether you want to lose weight or improve your health, the following foods high in lectins might inhibit your goals:

  • Grains (incl. whole grains)
  • Bakery
  • Peanuts
  • Cashews
  • All beans, incl. sprouts
  • Edamame
  • Peas
  • Pea Protein
  • Green beans
  • Hummus
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Soy
  • Soy Protein
  • Structured vegetable protein
  • Tofu
  • Sugar Peas
  • Eggplants
  • Chili’s
  • Goji Berries
  • Cucumbers
  • Cucurbits (all sorts)
  • Melons (all sorts)
  • Peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini

Find more in-depth insights into the possible effects and a detailed PDF list in my article on lectins.

Processed Foods

Since highly processed foods raise blood sugar and insulin levels and have a severe pro-inflammatory effect, you should avoid them during intermittent fasting (Lopes et al. 201969).

Therefore, this one also applies to intermittent fasting:

Eat real food, such as on the previous list!

Correspondingly inadequate nutrition during the eating periods can destroy the health benefits of intermittent fasting.

Thus, do not trust any food in colorful packaging and read the labels thoroughly before you seriously consider eating these garbage foods:

  • Ready Meals
  • Chips
  • Candy bars
  • Protein bars
  • Sauces
  • Dressings
  • Fast food

If you have one of these foods on your meal plan, you won’t get any results, even with intermittent fasting.

Refined Carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates are the basis of highly processed foods. As the name suggests, they have also been industrially processed.

For example, rice is industrially treated, dried, and polished. Likewise, sugar from sugar beets is industrially refined, so better not to confuse plant-based with healthy.

As a result, you get highly concentrated carbohydrates without the protective effect of dietary fiber.

This way, fasting insulin, and blood sugar levels can reach breathtaking heights. Furthermore, you will notice the subsequent drop in blood sugar levels through sugar cravings.

Therefore, refined carbohydrates are a disaster for intermittent fasting and weight loss.

Moreover, studies promote inflammation in the body, which can be the root cause of numerous diseases, from diabetes to cancer (Buyken et al. 201470).

As we can see here, you will find refined carbohydrates primarily in grain-based products and sweetened drinks:

  • Bakery
  • Bread
  • Cake
  • Cereals
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Energy Drinks
  • Juices
  • Noodles
  • Pretzels
  • Rice
  • Sodas
  • Sports drinks
  • Sugar
  • Sweetened tea and coffee drinks
  • Sweets
  • Tortillas

Does that mean you are not allowed to eat carbohydrates when intermittent fasting?


When to Eat Carbs

Since no essential carbohydrates exist, the body does not need them to survive. However, our bodies cannot produce essential fatty acids and amino acids.

But because it can produce glucose through gluconeogenesis, blood sugar levels remain stable if you eat zero carbs (Merimee et al. 197471).

Nevertheless, there are situations with intermittent fasting where carbohydrates can fit well into the diet.

For example, many athletes do not want to do without carbohydrates, as they continuously empty their glycogen stores. Computations to their diet can contribute to muscle recovery (Murray et al. 201872).

Thus, you can time carbohydrates very well during intermittent fasting:

  • Training day: More carbohydrates replenishing glycogen stores in the muscles
  • Rest day: low-carb or ketogenic diet

Accordingly, you can adapt your intermittent fasting plan to athletic needs through carb-cycling or cyclical ketogenic nutrition.

Nevertheless, so-called loading days are unnecessary for muscle building as long as the protein supply is given (Koopman et al. 200773).

Although the insulin levels increased by carbohydrates can help the muscles recover, it also helps build body fat more efficiently (Ivy 200474Shah et al. 201175).

For this reason, bodybuilders often claim that they can’t gain muscle without also building up body fat.

In short, a low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet is still the best option if losing weight is your primary goal.


Whether intermittent fasting works is up to you. Therefore, knowledge about nutrition and fasting is the cornerstone of your health.

Nevertheless, humans confuse intermittent fasting repeatedly with a miracle cure that can justify eating junk food.

To lose weight and achieve better health with intermittent fasting, you must prefer healthy fats to refined carbohydrates.

Equipped with this knowledge and the necessary discipline, you can prevent modern disease, slow aging, and appear much more energetic.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What foods to eat on intermittent fasting?

During the fasting period, eating is prohibited. However, coffee ☕ and tea 🍵 without milk and sugar are allowed.

What to eat when fasting for 16 hours?

Most people get the best results by combining intermittent fasting with a low-carb diet, such as the ketogenic diet, as it burns fat the same way as fasting does 🔥.

What can I eat during intermittent fasting?

There is no eating during the fasting period. For beginners, exceptions such as Bulletproof Coffee or bone broth have proven to help manage long fasting periods.

What is the best time to eat during intermittent fasting?

Dinner is the best time to eat during intermittent fasting since skipping breakfast is easier, and people love to eat with their families.



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Mag. Stephan Lederer, MSc. is an author and blogger from Austria who writes in-depth content about health and nutrition. His book series on Interval Fasting landed #1 on the bestseller list in the German Amazon marketplace in 15 categories.

Stephan is a true man of science, having earned multiple diplomas and master's degrees in various fields. He has made it his mission to bridge the gap between conventional wisdom and scientific knowledge. He precisely reviews the content and sources of this blog for currency and accuracy.

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