Fasting is not eating purposefully

10 Best Foods to Break a Fast

Fasting—where you don't eat for extended periods of time—has many health benefits. There are many different kinds of fasting, with nearly as many reasons to fast. Fasting can be a meaningful part of religious or cultural beliefs. Fasts can be undertaken for weight loss. Fasts can also benefit your overall health and longevity. But there's one thing all fasts have in common: they eventually end.

No matter what kind of fast you're doing (or for how long) you'll eventually need to eat and drink again. The act of consuming those first carbs, calories and other macronutrients is called "breaking your fast."

We're going to look at the 10 best food and drinks to break a fast with, along with why—and we'll even quickly cover which food and drinks not to choose because they can undercut the health benefits of fasting.

What is fasting?

Fasting, simply put, is when you purposefully do not eat (and sometimes drink) for a preset length of time. Fasting isn't unnatural—long ago food wasn't as plentiful as it is now, so it was quite common to go hours (and sometimes days) between substantial meals. Even in today's world of plenty, however, you've probably heard of different kinds of fasting: intermittent fasting, dirty fasting, and prolonged fasting. When done correctly, all have shown significant health benefits.

Prolonged vs intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting (IF)

—Most popular with the weight loss crowd, intermittent fasting, often referred to as IF, involves regular intervals of short-term fasts: you either eat only during a small eating window during the day (between 4 and 8 hours) or you alternate days where you eat and days where you do not touch the fridge door for any reason whatsoever (ok, maybe for water. Or green tea. More on that later).

Prolonged fasting

—This is a more extreme form of fasting, where you don't consume any food for more than 24 hours—or an entire day. Some prolonged fasts last for two days or more. There are some who do prolonged fasts for health reasons, but the majority of prolonged fasting in the United States is done as part of religious rituals (such as the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur, or the Islamic observance of Ramadan) or for other spiritual or cultural reasons.

What is dirty fasting?

Dirty fasting is a derivative of intermittent fasting where people intake a very, very small amount of calories during their "fasting" period. We're talking about consuming no more than 100 calories total—and you'd better believe those who are dirty fasting are counting those calories carefully. (So if you break down and grab a sandwich, you're not dirty fasting…you're just having lunch.)

10 best foods and drinks to break a fast

So once your fast is over, it's all hands to the buffet bar, right? Wrong. You're going to want to ease your body back into the land of plenty. That's because the biological changes your body undergoes while fasting get undone if you suddenly flood your system with sugar, calories, fats, carbohydrates, etc.

A good place to start is with liquids rather than solids. So take a deep breath and a little sip: these 5 drinks can help break your fast the healthy way.

Drinks to break a fast

1. Watermelon juice

Watermelon is packed with lycopene, which is good for your skin, cellular health, and (if you're a man) your prostate gland. Watermelon is also easy to digest, rich in vitamins A and B6, and full of, well, water—and it's important to get re-hydrated after fasting. Watermelon is also lower in sugar than citrus fruit, so it'll help keep those post-fasting calories down. Remember, though: any "juice" made from a concentrate is going to have higher sugar content—so shop carefully and go as low-sugar as you can.

2. Coconut water

Coconut water is a good choice for breaking your fast. It is low in calories and carbs, has no fat or cholesterol and aids in re-hydration. It is also high in potassium. Since you are breaking your fast, however, the natural sugar in coconut water will give your body the energy you need to get moving. For the gym rats, I've got good news: coconut water is also packed with electrolytes!

By the way: I keep mentioning specific nutrients because one potential detriment of fasting is that your body goes a while without the intake of vitamins and minerals while you're foregoing everything else. That makes it especially important for people who fast to take supplements (at the very least, a multivitamin).

3. Green tea

Most of us know green tea is good for you: it's packed with health-promoting polyphenol compounds like EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate) and gives you a gentle dose of caffeine as well. Here's the cool part about green tea: you can enjoy it during your fast if you don't consume it with honey, milk or sugar because green tea is a zero-calorie beverage. Once you do add small amounts of those things, it can ease you back into eating—it's also an excellent choice if you're going for a "dirty" fast.

4. Coffee

Like green tea, coffee is packed with antioxidants. Unlike green tea, coffee brings the strongly caffeinated goodness that keeps the world turning every morning. Black coffee is also virtually a zero-calorie food (as long as you drink it black). To break your fast, add a little sugar and milk to give your body the nutrients you need to get started with your day.

5. Bone broth

Full disclosure—you're going to have to pass on this one if you're a vegetarian or vegan. Bone broth is like soup—it's often used as a base for soups, in fact. But because it's cooked long and low and slow, it's not stock. Bone broth is rich in collagen, protein and gelatin, all of which are good for you. It does contain calories, so it will break your fast. And, it supports digestion and is generally easy on your stomach.

Best foods to break a fast

Now for the good stuff—real, solid (well mostly solid) food. You've got to eat to live after all, so once your fasting period is done it's time to fork (or sip, or spoon) down some good old macronutrients.

6. Soup

I promised you hard food, didn't I? Well, the soups best suited to breaking a fast aren't the hardy kind (sorry). You want your post-fast meals to be easy-to-digest, which means soups like lentils. Tofu is also another option if you're angling for some clean protein. Most pasta is easy to digest as well, so vegetable noodle or chicken noodle soups are ideal. That said, watch that canned stuff: it's loaded with sodium and you're trying to re-hydrate, not dehydrate!

7. Yogurt & smoothies

Unsweetened yogurt is a great way to break a fast. So are smoothies, so long as you don't get the pre-packaged kind packed with extra sweeteners, fillers and carbohydrates. Since fruit like watermelon, kiwi and banana are nutritious and easy to digest, make yourself a smoothie with one (or all!) of those.

8. Avocados & whole fruits

Speaking of fruits, this list wouldn't be complete without the world's greatest super-fruit, avocado. Avocado is packed with nutrients and healthy fats—exactly what your body is craving after an 8 hour fast. Just remember that avocados have plenty of fiber in them, too, so a little guacamole will go a long way!

In fact, some experts say to go easy on the fruit as well. They're great sources of natural sugar, vitamin C and other nutrients, but remember that your digestive tract has been hibernating. Wake it up slowly!

9. Nuts

Nuts are good sources of protein. The healthy fats in them give you energy. In fact, nuts are calorically and nutrient dense. So in an instance when you'd rather not consume mass quantities, reach for a handful of nuts. Nuts like almonds also keep your already-healthy blood sugar levels in the right place like high-glycemic index carbs (think rice, potatoes, white bread) so they're ideal for breaking your fast. Just—and I know this sounds like a broken record—but watch the sodium content of pre-packaged nuts.

10. Eggs

Eggs have protein and other nutrients you need after you break a fast. They're also easy to digest. And that's the key when selecting a post-fast meal—don't over-tax your digestive system. If you do, you'll end up with occasional gas, bloating and potential discomfort…and you may even negate the health benefits of fasting. Not keen on the cholesterol content of eggs? Choose high-protein, healthy egg whites.

Can fasting help me lose weight?

Intermittent fasting is a very popular weight management strategy right now. But does it work? Short answer, yes! Long answer, no—not by itself. Here's what to remember if you're thinking of using intermittent fasting for weight loss.

The key to weight loss is sustained caloric deficit: you take in fewer calories than you burn each day. When this happens, your body turns to the excess weight (that's fat) and burns that for energy instead. That's why calorie restriction diets for longevity purposes have similar weight loss results as IF regimens. But if you binge-eat as soon as you're done fasting, guess what's going to happen? No caloric deficit.

There's good news: intermittent fasting helps support everything from already-healthy cholesterol levels to already-healthy blood sugar levels. Promoting your healthy insulin levels will also help you in your weight loss efforts. So as long as you break your fasts with healthy, low-calorie foods and drinks, then fasting absolutely can help you lose weight!

What not to eat after fasting

So what shouldn't you eat to break your fast? Difficult to digest foods like steak can cause a problem—and some people avoid raw cruciferous vegetables because they're difficult to digest. Definitely avoid ultra-processed foods like hot dogs and potato chips—you shouldn't be eating that stuff, anyway.

Similarly, if you have trouble with lactose, you may need to take some digestive enzymes when ending your fast. Most importantly, don't eat back all the calories you avoided during your fast: again, much of the health benefits of fasting come from that oh-so-important caloric deficit.

References

By: John Gawley, Health & Wellness Writer

John Gawley graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in English before beginning his career as a technical writer, copy writer and content manager. John has extensive experience in the health and wellness field, and he is the Senior Copywriter at Life Extension.

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD