What coffee & caffeine do to you when fasting

by Mark Miller December 20, 2016

What coffee & caffeine do to you when fasting

This “light snack” from Azerbaijan might be just the ticket for a person coming off of a fast for medical, physical, religious or political reasons. (Wikimedia Commons photo/Emin Bashirov)

Caffeine and fasting are controversial in some circles. Is it truly fasting if you have coffee or other liquids during your time of abstaining from eating? Some people say to be a pure fast, one must drink only water and eat nothing. Others maintain that having coffee and/or other liquids is healthier and ensures you don’t become dehydrated.

In an article on Mercola.com by Steve Kamb, he says it’s OK to drink any zero-calorie beverages during an intermittent fasting routine. “Zero-calorie beverages are okay,” he writes. “As previously stated, I drink green tea in the morning for my caffeine kick while writing. If you want to drink water, black coffee, or tea during your fasting period, that’s okay. Remember, don’t overthink it – keep things simple! Track your results, listen to your body.”

Ancient practice

People fast for various reasons, including religious, physical or medical ones. You’ve heard of the Hippocratic Oath that requires medical practitioners to act ethically? The oath dates back to Hippocrates of 4th century BC Greece, who recommended fasting to promote self-healing.

Another healer, Paracelsus, of the 16th century in Austria, wrote, “Fasting is the greatest remedy, the physician within.”

This may be true especially today with so many food additives, GMOs, high-fat and high-sugar ingredients in our diet. Taking a break from all those substances may help re-set the body’s natural balance, say a number of websites.

Remember, do not undertake a fast without the advice of a doctor, especially if you abstain from food for more than a day.

Fasting for health

True Activist gives a list of 10 reasons why fasting is thought to promote a healthier body, including:

  • The detoxification mentioned in the paragraph above. True Activist says not eating for a while allows our bodies to clean out stuff in the digestive and lymphatic systems. Also, toxins we take in are stored in our body fat, and when we fast our body burns this fat, cleaning out more toxins.
  • Fasting increases the body’s breaking down of glucose. When glucose is metabolized, the process of ketosis begins, when the body breaks down fats that release energy.
  • Fasting rests the digestive system, which may be especially helpful for people with ulcers because the body produces fewer acids used to digest food.
  • It’s possible that when people suffering from inflammatory diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and allergies for example, they take in fewer foods that cause inflammation they get some relief.
  • Fasting reduces blood sugar and gives the pancreas a rest. The pancreas is involved in the production of insulin. Hyper-production of insulin can burn out the pancreas, after which insulin production may crash. That results in too much sugar being left in the blood.

Other benefits of fasting

Dr. Joseph Mercola has a long article on fasting and its many benefits. He writes:

Fasting, it turns out, has a number of health benefits that most people seek: from improved cardiovascular health and reduced cancer risk, to gene repair and longevity. It’s true that severe calorie restriction promotes both weight loss and longevity in animal models, but this kind of “starvation diet” is not a very appealing strategy for most people. However, newer research shows that you can get most if not all of the same benefits of severe calorie restriction through intermittent fasting, i.e. an eating schedule where you feast on some days, and dramatically cut calories on others. This effectively mimics the eating habits of our ancestors, who did not have access to grocery stores or food around the clock. They would cycle through periods of feast and famine …

Spiritual fasting

As for spiritual reasons, an article on How To Fast does a round-up of various religions’ reasons for abstaining from food for various periods of time, including the extreme of Baha’i, where people fast annually for 19 days from dawn to dusk; and in Islam during Ramadan, where observant Muslims must fast for 30 days all day, from dawn to sundown.

In fact, fasting during Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, meant to move Muslims closer to God and remind them of the suffering of less fortunate people. Even one sip of water is considered a breaking of the fast in Islam. So coffee is definitely out of bounds during Ramadan days for Muslims.

Other religions

Others religions’ fasting practices include:

  • Some sects of Christianity, but there is no formal fasting period in most denominations. Catholics used to abstain from eating meat during Lent, but the Church stopped requiring that.
  • In Judaism, the faithful fast on various days throughout the religious calendar as methods of mourning, repentance and to commemorate important past events.
  • Fasting practices in Hinduism’s dozens and dozens of sects across its boundaries in South Asia vary widely.
  • In Buddhism, some communities fast in various ways, and some individuals practice fasting on certain days.

Coffee and fasting

One reason people fast that we haven’t covered so far is in case you are getting a blood test ordered by a doctor. Mayo Clinic Medical Laboratories allows some drinking of coffeeup to two hours before some tests:

Is having black coffee fasting? Doctors keep telling patients it is all right to have black coffee before fasting blood work (fasting sugar, fasting lipid panel).

It depends to some extent on what test is being performed, but for many tests that require fasting, intake of non-carbohydrate containing liquids a few hours before testing will not impact results. We have worked here to make 1 standard definition of “fasting” that encompasses most test requirements. We allow clear liquids (water, black coffee) up until 2 hours before a test or procedure. The definition of fasting should be clarified for all procedures in your institution if possible.

Caffeine and fasting

Whatever your reason for fasting, you may find it leads you to a healthier physical or spiritual state. Some people even fast or starve themselves to make political statements.

It seems in all but the most extreme fasts, coffee and tea are allowed, though sugar- and caffeine-containing drinks like sodas and fruit juices may be considered breaking a fast. That said, if you fast for a long time (again we emphasize you should fast for lengthy periods only with a doctor’s guidance) pure fruit juices may be one way to take in some calories and needed carbohydrates.

There are sources of caffeine other than coffee, tea and soda. Viter Energy Mints contain ingredients that might affect blood test results and that might nullify a spiritual fast. However, No-Doz and some types of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs contain caffeine, but again, check with your doctor before have blood drawn.

Here’s a toast to your health!

Mark Miller
Mark Miller


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