I knew from the original Croissant Diet trial that fasting was a natural outcome of eating meals very high in stearic acid. After a meal I had a long lasting satiation that sometimes led to skipping meals. There is a lot of talk in the keto community about “water fasting”. Dr. Jason Fung has been a big proponent of fasting to lower insulin levels.
As I’ve made clear, I am an immoderate red wine drinker and for me consuming wine takes the edge off of hunger. If I’m doing time restricted eating, I might have my daily feast at 7pm. If the meal is very high in saturated fat and stearic acid, I can cruise right the rough the next morning with no hunger well into the afternoon. Typically I’ll start to get some hunger pangs around 3pm. I usually hold out until 4pm and have a glass of wine. The hunger rapidly dissipates as I finish up what I’m working on and I’ll start to work on making dinner by 5 or 6.
I can actually go on like this for hours – working or researching while sipping wine without eating. It doesn’t give me the munchies and I seem to burn off the alcohol very efficiently. I’m “wine adapted”. When I was thinking through the best way to do The Croissant Diet retest I knew that I wanted to combine some feasting and fasting. Feasting to make sure my metabolism didn’t slow down and fasting to allow my insulin levels to come down between feasts.
It happens to be Lent at the moment. Catholics have been fasting a lot longer than I have so I took a look at what they were doing. Sure enough:
Saturdays and Sundays in the Second through Sixth Weeks: Wine and oil are permitted; otherwise the strict fasting rule is kept.The Fasting Rule of The Orthodox Church. abbamoses.com
The “oil” being referred to is specific to olive oil. This is more confusing than it sounds because “strict fasting” allows two modest meals. In these meals, meat, eggs, dairy and fish are forbidden and grain products are consumed in moderation. Vegetables and fruit are allowed.
Anabolism and Catabolism
Very simply, the body can be in an anabolic mode, where it is growing and building protein or it can be in a catabolic mode, where it is breaking down things. During catabolism cells can enter the process of autohpagy, which is the process of breaking down old organelles such as mitochondria or endoplasmic reticulum. This is very useful in reducing oxidative stress in the event that old mitochondria are dysfunctional.
It is useful to have periods of anabolism, for building muscle, etc. alternating with periods of autophagy. The simplest way to get into autophagy is to reduce insulin secretion. Limiting the number and sizes of meals will obviously reduce insulin secretion, but look at how many other interesting tricks Lenten fasting is using to reduce insulin secretion on “oil and wine” days.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)
The amino acids leucine and isoleucine have “branched” side chains which lead to enhanced insulin release, especially when combined with a meal containing starch. This paper found a fairly massive reduction in insulin response to a mixed meal merely by switching protein low in BCAAs for protein high in BCAAs. They found: “incremental insulin area under the curve: 21±11 vs. 29±19 mU*ml-1*4 h-1“.
That is a whopping 28% reduction in insulin secretion merely by reducing the percentage of BCAAs.
As discussed throughout this blog the ratio of saturated to unsaturated fat and therefore the NADH2:FADH ratio plays a major role in how the metabolism responds to foods. By forbidding red meat and dairy products and allowing olive oil, the FADH2:NADH ratio of a meal is minimized. This will minimize insulin secretion. Consider the following chart:
This chart displays insulin release by the pancreas depending on what fat is available to it when blood glucose is fixed at a given level. The solid squares and triangles are long chain saturated fats. The open white circles represent oleic acid, the monounsaturated fat the comprises 70% of olive oil. As you can see, swapping saturated fats from meat and dairy for the monounsaturated fat in olive oil will massively reduce the amount of insulin produced.
Alcohol With The Meal
Obviously there is a long tradition of consuming wine with meals in Europe and monks imbibe regularly. What is little discussed, however, is the depressive effect that alcohol can have on insulin release. Consider this paper studying the effect of ethanol on insulin secretion in rats.
Notice that at 100MG/dl – this is 0.1% blood alcohol content, a little above the legal driving limit in the US – the first phase insulin response is maintained but the second phase response is almost totally blunted. 1000 MG/dl is 1% which is far more alcohol than one should ever have in their bloodstream.
Oil and Wine Fasting
These oil and wine fasting days are sprinkled throughout the Greek Orthodox Catholic calendar. By minimizing the number and sizing of meals, minimizing the amount of branched chain amino acids, minimizing the FADH2:NADH ratio and consuming the meals with ethanol, the Catholic church has come up with a style of “fasting” that minimizes the amount of insulin produced in the context of a grain based diet. This, of course, was purely done through trial and error.
I think it’s astonishing. Short of water fasting (which is also done at times during the Catholic calendar) or strict keto, I’m not sure there are any techniques to minimize insulin secretion that the Catholic church didn’t already figure out!
But This is Me
I love the historical perspective, but I’m not a catholic and I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for me to become a monk. As I’ve already mentioned, I’m wine adapted. My tendency while fasting is to just sip on wine and then go to bed. This is an easy strategy to follow because of its simplicity. I drink dry red wine that as far as I know contains no sugar.
How does alcohol effect insulin production. This 1973 paper looking at insulin release in dogs provides some perspective.
For the purposes of this post we can ignore the solid and dashed lines looking at the effects of cAMP on insulin release. The dotted line shows the effect of ethanol administered straight into the portal vein as if it were drunk. Insulin secretion actually drops from baseline! This leads to a slight increase in blood sugar, which is probably partially responsible for repressing the hunger feeling.
So wine is tasty, can be used to eliminate hunger while fasting, supplies some minerals and b-vitamins and actually lowers insulin release. So far, so good. But wait! There’s more. This tracer study, where fat stored in fat cells is radiolabelled so that it can be followed around the body, show that alcohol enhances lipolysis, forcing the fat cells to release fat (Free Fatty Acids or FFA) for the rest of the body.
The long term effect of this release of fats from storage is greatly reduced fat mass in the mice. Epididymal, Perirenal and Mesenteric are just different fat tissues.
Dry wine decreases hunger pangs, decreases insulin and increases fat release from fat stores. Could there be a more perfect tool to help with fasting?
Putting It In Context
As I continue to explore the possibilities of The Croissant Diet I’m using this knowledge as a tool. My plan has been and continues to be to do a feast – defined as a meal containing 4-5000 calories – once or twice per week followed by a wine fast day consisting of around 1200 calories of wine. On average for the two days that’ll put me at 2500-3000 calories per day. For me that’s probably a mild caloric deficit.
The idea is that the feasts – being high in starch, branched chain amino acids and saturated fat – will drive anabolism and help me build glycogen stores. The high FADH2:NADH ratio of the fast meal should keep my fat cells largely insulin resistant and therefore I won’t store too much fat. The fasting day will serve to lower insulin levels, invoke autophagy and clean out old stuff.
So far, so good. I seem to be continuing to lose lbs and inches with little hunger and my focus is good. I’ve recorded my lowest fasting blood sugar readings after wine fasting days.