What Breaks a Fast: Supplement Edition

Last week, I explored the impact of all the various foods, beverages, and food-like substances people consume while fasting—and hoping to maintain a functionally fasted state. Does MCT oil break the fast? What about coffee, tea, or bone broth?

There were more than a dozen, and I even did a follow-up. Today I’m going to discuss whether commonly-consumed supplements break the fast.

Let’s go:

Fish Oil

Fish oil is pure fat. If you’re taking the average supplemental dose of 1-2 grams of fish oil, it’s not a problem. That’s not even a teaspoon. It’s about 9-18 calories.

You may burn slightly less fat than you would otherwise, but in the grand scheme of things, a few grams of fish oil won’t break the fast.

Cod Liver Oil

Cod liver oil is fish oil with extra vitamin D and vitamin A. As long as you keep the doses low enough, cod liver oil won’t break the fast.

Multivitamin/Multimineral

Multivitamins do not break a fast. They are usually non-caloric. However, not all of their components will be absorbed very well on an empty stomach, so keep that in mind.

If you’re still not on board, note that in the older studies with really overweight people who fasted for upwards of a year straight, they usually supplemented with a multivitamin.

Food-Based Multivitamin

A popular one I’ve seen around—Alive, made from kale and raspberries—has just 2 grams of carbs per dosing. It’s not ideal, but it’s not a deal breaker—or a fast-breaker.

Gummy Vitamins

Gummy vitamins have the potential to be about 5-6 grams of sugar, a gram of protein (from gelatin), and a gram of fat (if including omega-3s) per serving, so they’d arguably break the fast. Plus, they taste like candy and are likely to stimulate cravings and make fasting harder.

Gummy vitamins break the fast.

Potassium

Potassium is non-caloric and does not break the fast. In fact, it can help you handle the fast better by replenishing electrolytes.

Potassium doesn’t break the fast.

Creatine

Creatine contains no calories and has no effect on insulin secretion (or glucose in the absence of calories).

Creatine does not break the fast.

Protein Powder

Protein powder provokes an insulin response, which opposes autophagy, which means you’re breaking your fast. Plus, protein powder contains calories.

I’m going to say “yes, protein powder breaks the fast.

Collagen

If you’re strict and technical, then yes, collagen breaks a fast. There’s evidence that glycine—the most prominent amino acid in collagen—can inhibit autophagy, but it was a convoluted animal study where inhibiting autophagy with large doses of glycine after brain injury actually improved outcomes. It probably doesn’t apply to someone adding a scoop of collagen to their coffee. Besides, even if it slightly reduces autophagy, a little collagen won’t negatively impact ketosis, fat-burning, or energy intake.

I’m going to say “technically yes,” but “realistically no, collagen doesn’t break the fast.” Avoid if your main focus is autophagy, however.

Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

BCAAs trigger an insulin response and thus stop autophagy…and the fast. That said, many proponents of fasted training recommend using BCAAs before a workout to help preserve muscle and improve the post-workout anabolic response.

I’m going to say “yes, BCAAs break the fast.”

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is fat soluble and thus comes packaged in an oil carrier, but the dosage is so small that it won’t affect your fast.

Unless you find that 1/8 teaspoon of olive oil ruins your fast, vitamin D won’t break a fast.

Probiotics

Probiotics contain no calories and will not break a fast. However, they are best absorbed in the presence of food—the food protects them as they travel through the digestive system, and most probiotics occur naturally in food—so taking them during a fast is probably, mostly useless.

Probiotics don’t break a fast, but why take them during one?

Prebiotics

Pure prebiotics will not break a fast, as they contain no digestible carbohydrates. Prebiotic-enriched foods will break a fast, as they do contain calories.

Adaptogens

Adaptogens are compounds, usually herbs or herb derivatives, that modulate your stress response. They improve your ability to tolerate and respond to stressful situations; they don’t blindly inhibit the stress response if the stress response is warranted. They keep you honest and counter unnecessary stress responses. They contain no calories, unless you’re chowing down on a big hunk of maca or ashwagandha root. In fact, most adaptogens have traditionally been consumed in tea form, extracting the active compounds and leaving behind any calories. Have at ’em.

Adaptogens do not break the fast.

Mushroom Extracts

Medicinal mushroom extracts come from mushrooms, which are technically food. But the amounts you take are so low—usually no more than a teaspoon—that they won’t impact your fast or provide any significant amount of caloric energy. Four Sigmatic has those “mushroom coffee” blends you add to hot water. They can get up to about 30 calories per serving, but even that’s going to let you maintain most of the fasting benefits.

Mushroom extracts don’t break the fast.

Melatonin

I used to keep the old Trader Joe’s melatonin on hand because it was half a milligram, whereas most other melatonin supplements are in the 3-5 mg range. It was also sweet, tasting like those white Valentine’s Day mint hearts you used to get back in the day. I haven’t come across any sweetened melatonin supplements since Trader Joe’s phased those out, but that’s the only thing I’d worry about on a fast.

Melatonin does not break a fast.

Final Note: Most supplements are okay to take on a fast, though the lack of food may make absorption more difficult. If you have any other questions about supplements on a fast, drop them down below. Thanks for reading, everybody.

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The Definitive Guide To What Breaks a Fast

One of the most common questions I get is “Does [x] break a fast?”

What they’re really inquiring about is: “Does this interfere with, negate, or nullify the benefits of fasting?”

These benefits include:

Ketosis: Fasting is the quickest way to get into ketosis, an metabolic state characterized by increasing fat burning, fat adaptation, and—in some people—improved cognitive function.

Fat Loss: When you’re fasting, you’re not eating, and not eating is the best way to force your body to burn the fat it already possesses. Fasting also means no additional calories are coming in, and many people find that fasting is a great way to control their calorie intake.

Autophagy: Autophagy, or “self-eating,” is the process by which our cells prune damaged components, maintain proper function, and keep aging at bay. Fasting triggers autophagy. Breaking the fast will stop autophagy.

Let’s go through the most popular queries one by one and figure out how each one affects an intermittent fast.

Common Drinks

Coffee

Depends on who you ask. Some say the fact that coffee triggers a metabolic response means it breaks the fast. I say that coffee increases fat mobilization and burning, independently triggers autophagy (something we’re looking for when we fast), and makes it easier to stave off hunger. For my full treatment, check out this post on coffee and fasting.

I’m going to say “no.”

Tea

Tea contains no calories, improves metabolic health, and can aid fat burning. All signs point to it being great during a fast. Of course, if you had a tablespoon of sugar and a half cup of milk, you’re breaking the fast. But tea itself is a great addition.

I’m going to say “no.”

Yerba Mate

Yerba mate is essentially non-caloric, like tea or black coffee. It also has beneficial effects on glucose tolerance, which is a big plus.

I’m going to say “no.”

Bone Broth

I covered this in full a few months ago. Go read that post. In short, a bit is probably okay. Just keep in mind that the more gelatinous your broth is, the more collagen protein it will contain and the greater its potential to inhibit autophagy. This isn’t established in humans yet (see the collagen section below), but it’s worth considering. A nice salty broth has gotten many a faster through a tough fast, especially if they’re still learning the ropes and need some electrolytes.

I’m going to say “technically yes” but “realistically no.”

Lemon Water

A tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice has a couple calories and a decent amount of potassium. Combined with salt, lemon water is actually a nice way to hydrate during a fast without breaking it.

I’m going to say “no.”

Diet Soda

Diet soda may mess with your gut. It’s linked to weight issues, though not conclusively and certainly not in a causative manner; it’s just as likely that the relationship can be explained by overweight and unhealthy people using diet sodas in a bid to lose weight. I don’t like them myself, and I’ve witnessed people fail to ever kick the sweet tooth as long as they drank diet sodas. But many people find they do improve dietary adherence and do improve fasting tolerance. If that’s the case, they are very pro-fasting.

I’m going to say “no.”

Juice

A juice fast isn’t really a fast. You’re consuming fewer calories than you might eating normal food, but you’re still consuming a good number of calories—most of them carbohydrate, no less.

I’m going to say “yes” unless you’re specifically engaging in “juice fasting,” in which case it’s still not fasting despite what you call it.

Common Drink Additions/Condiments

Cream (Unsweetened)

Technically, as a source of calories, cream breaks a fast. But it doesn’t provoke an insulin response when consumed in isolation, it doesn’t impact ketosis, and many people find it makes sticking to the fast easier.

I’m going to say “technically yes, but realistically no—just keep it to a couple teaspoons or less.”

Almond Milk

It depends on the almond milk. A full cup of the standard sugar-free almond milk has just 36 calories, about a gram of carbs, 2 grams of fat, and a gram of protein. That’s almost nothing. You could probably get away with a quarter or third cup and have minimal impact on your fast, but why not just drink some water or coffee?

I’m going to say “technically yes,” but you can get away with a little bit.

Butter

Like cream, butter doesn’t provoke an insulin response in isolation. It’s more calorically dense than cream, though, so watch how much you eat.

I’m going to say “technically yes, but realistically no as long as you’re not using more than a teaspoon.”

MCT Oil/Coconut Oil

MCT oil is pure fat and thus calorically dense, but it has three benefits going for it. First, it doesn’t provoke an insulin response in isolation. Two, it increases energy expenditure. Three, it converts directly to ketones. People new to fasting can often speed up the fat adaptation process by incorporating a little MCT oil. Coconut oil is the main source of MCT oil, so it’ll have similar effects, though not as pronounced.

I’m going to say “technically yes, but realistically no—and it may even enhance your fasting experience when consumed in moderation.”

Cinnamon

I don’t advise eating cinnamon alone, dry, and isolated. It’s a terrible and potentially deadly idea. But in some coffee or tea during a fast? Sure. It can even improve insulin sensitivity.

I’m going to say “no.”

Salt

Salt does not break a fast. Actually, adding a pinch or two of salt to your water during a fast can increase your tolerance of the fasting process and improve hydration status.

I’m going to say “no.”

Non-caloric Sweeteners—First Natural, Then Artificial

Stevia

Stevia contains no calories and has no effect on insulin secretion (if anything, it increases insulin sensitivity). However, it’s often used to sweeten foods that do contain calories, so be mindful of how you’re using it.

I’m going to say “no.”

Monk Fruit

For a good overview of monk fruit, read this. Suffice it to say, monk fruit is similar to stevia in that it’s a non-caloric, naturally-occurring sweetener with unique health effects. It will not break your fast.

I’m going to say “no.”

Swerve

Swerve is a sweetener that blends erythritol (a sugar alcohol) and oligosaccharides (a prebiotic fiber that tastes kinda sweet) with natural flavors. Erythritol has no effect on insulin or blood glucose (you just pee it out mostly). I couldn’t find any studies on oligosaccharides during a fast, but as humans cannot by definition digest them, they shouldn’t affect the course of a fast.

I’m going to say “no.”

Xylitol

See the gum section above. Stick to reasonable amounts.

I’m going to say “no.”

Sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda)

Sucralose does not provoke an insulin response or increase blood glucose—great news for fasters who want to use it—but it does seem to impair whole body insulin sensitivity. That’s bad for everyone.

I’m going to say “no,” but there are other downsides.

Aspartame

Those same studies on monk fruit and stevia also tested aspartame, finding similar results. Aspartame does not provoke an insulin or glucose response. I’m no fan of the stuff, but I don’t see any evidence that it will break a fast.

I’m going to say “no.”

Supplementary Powders, Oils, Etc.

CBD Oil

Assuming you’re doing the kind of hemp oil that comes in droppers and not the kind that you pour from a culinary oil bottle, the caloric content can’t possibly impact your fast. There are no studies examining the metabolic effects of CBD in the fasted state, but I don’t see any reason why it would impact ketosis, autophagy, or fat-burning—and without psychoactive THC involved, you won’t be getting the munchies.

I’m going to say “no.”

Protein Powder

Protein powder provokes an insulin response, which opposes autophagy, which means you’re breaking your fast. Plus, protein powder contains calories.

I’m going to say “yes.”

Collagen

If you’re strict and technical, then yes, collagen breaks a fast. There’s evidence that glycine—the most prominent amino acid in collagen—can inhibit autophagy, but it was a convoluted animal study where inhibiting autophagy with large doses of glycine after brain injury actually improved outcomes. It probably doesn’t apply to someone adding a scoop of collagen to their coffee. Besides, even if it slightly reduces autophagy, a little collagen won’t negatively impact ketosis, fat-burning, or energy intake.

I’m going to say “technically yes,” but “realistically no.” Avoid if your main focus is autophagy, though.

Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

BCAAs trigger an insulin response and thus stop autophagy and the fast. That said, many proponents of fasted training recommend using BCAAs before a workout to help preserve muscle and improve the post-workout anabolic response.

I’m going to say “yes.”

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is made by double fermenting the sugars present in apple juice. First, yeast convert the sugars to alcohol. Next, the alcohol converts to acetic acid. The result is a liquid that’s virtually calorie-free. Studies showing that consuming vinegar lowers the blood glucose response to a subsequent meal aren’t really relevant if you’re fasting, but they don’t hurt.

I’m going to say “no.”

Electrolyte Powder/Tabs

Electrolyte powders/tabs used to come festooned with sucrose, making them decidedly anti-fasting. These days, most of them are sweetened with stevia or some other natural non-caloric sweetener. Even the ones that have a little bit of sugar (1-2 g) are probably okay to consume without much negative effect. Best of all, electrolytes can really help you tolerate a fast.

I’m going to say “no.”

Breath-Freshening Items

Gum

If we’re talking sugar-rich gum, the answer is yes. Those definitely break a fast. If we’re talking xylitol gum, the answer is more mixed. In healthy individuals, 30 grams of pure xylitol triggers a small but significant rise in glucose and insulin. That might sound scary to a prospective IFer, but most people aren’t chewing gum made with 30 grams of xylitol. The average piece of xylitol gum barely weighs a gram.

I’m going to say “no,” unless you’re chewing gum made with real sugar or you’re throwing back 30 pieces of xylitol gum in a sitting.

Toothpaste

I always consume my toothpaste (around a tablespoon of the good stuff per brushing) and I’ve never had it knock me out of ketosis, autophagy, or in any way shape or form break my fast. I’m kidding. I don’t consume my toothpaste, but brushing your teeth doesn’t break a fast.

I’m going to say “no.” Don’t eat it though.

Mouthwash

Pretty much the same as toothpaste. Look for a brand that doesn’t contain sugar or one of the artificial sweeteners above that trips insulin. As the instructions (and common sense) suggest, don’t drink it.

That’s it, folks. If you have additional questions about what does or doesn’t break a fast, leave them down below. Thanks for reading, and I hope you found the post helpful. Forward it on if you did.

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References:

Hansson P, Holven KB, Øyri LKL, et al. Meals with Similar Fat Content from Different Dairy Products Induce Different Postprandial Triglyceride Responses in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Cross-Over Trial. J Nutr. 2019;149(3):422-431.

Anton SD, Martin CK, Han H, et al. Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels. Appetite. 2010;55(1):37-43.

Ili? V, Vukmirovi? S, Stilinovi? N, ?apo I, Arsenovi? M, Milijaševi? B. Insight into anti-diabetic effect of low dose of stevioside. Biomed Pharmacother. 2017;90:216-221.

Noda K, Nakayama K, Oku T. Serum glucose and insulin levels and erythritol balance after oral administration of erythritol in healthy subjects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1994;48(4):286-92.

Müller-hess R, Geser CA, Bonjour JP, Jéquier E, Felber JP. Effects of oral xylitol administration on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism in normal subjects. Infusionsther Klin Ernahr. 1975;2(4):247-52.

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Immune control: Treating brain injury with an on/off switch

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