Benefits of fasting during Ramadan

Dr Sindhu S | 01-July-2014

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Fasting in the holy month of Ramadan is obligatory upon believers in Islam. Apart from a religious ritual, fasting, which starts at dawn and ends with sunset, has a lot of health benefits

By Dr Sindhu S,

Chief Dietitian,

Medical Trust Hospital

The impact of religious fasting on human health has been studied widely over the years and it has indeed made us realise its therapeutic effects if done in a proper manner. Fasting is generally defined as a partial or total abstention from all foods or a selected group of foods. Fasting in the holy month of Ramadan is ordained on the Muslim believers. Ramadan is considered as a month of self regulation, self purification, self training, truthfulness and righteousness.

Effects of Fasting

Majority of health-specific findings related to Ramadan fasting are mixed, which can be associated with the amount of daily fasting time, food choices, eating pattern which may vary from region to region. When the body undergoes fasting, stored reserves of glucose (glycogen in liver and muscles) are the first to provide energy. When this reserve runs out, fat becomes the next source of energy to the body. This process causes weight loss. Hence, in Ramadan fasting, we must ensure that the aspect of replenishing the body with nutrients occurs following daily fast. A well balanced diet with adequate hydration after the fast would ensure adequate nutrition support for the body.

Fasting has been always associated with losing weight and improving health. This relation is true but it may vary according to the food choices and eating pattern followed during the fast. If too much of carbohydrates and fats are consumed, the process of gaining weight may be triggered. Excess energy and fats will get deposited in the body leading to overweight, obesity and later increasing the risk for lifestyle disorders.

A feeling of spiritual cleansing or detoxification is achieved during Ramadan due to abstinence from unhealthy habits such as drinking, smoking, any kind of addictions and also from following regular prayers, giving charity, helping the needy etc.

One feels a powerful self healing process both physically and spiritually.

Fast with caution

Young children, pregnant and lactating women, elderly and sick people should abstain from fasting as there is a possibility of serious health complications in these categories. Individuals with lifestyle disorders like diabetes mellitus, hypertension, other metabolic disorders, renal disorders, patients who have underwent surgery, etc. must not attempt fasting without informed consent from the treating doctor. Fasting may be done under strict medical supervision.

Food patterns and choices during fast

  • Since the fast lasts from dawn till dusk, the body needs to be adequately replenished with the lost nutrient reserves during the dusk and pre-dawn meals.
  • Fruit juices, dried fruits like dates, figs, raisins, etc. are good starters after the fast as they provide loads of vitamins, minerals and instant energy.
  • After the initiation of a carbohydrate enriched quick start, a well balanced meal containing all nutrients must be taken. Cereal + Pulse or Non-veg + Vegetables.
  • Avoid high fatty meals which might interfere with proper digestion in the night.
  • Avoid use of excessive sugar, oil, spices etc as it might cause abdominal discomfort.
  • Non-vegetarian foods like chicken, meat, egg, fish etc should be used in moderation.
  • Heavy meals can be replaced with light meals and beverages spread out from dusk till pre-dawn.
  • Use of carbonated beverages, coffee, tea, etc should be limited as they are very stimulative.
  • Roots and tubers like potato, yam, tapioca, etc. should be restricted as they can trigger gas production.
  • Body cooling foods like watermelon, musk melon, orange, sweet like pomegranate, cucumber, tomato, green gram etc should be included.
  • Adequate intake of green leafy vegetables helps to prevent constipation.
  • Never avoid taking the pre-dawn meal as it helps to sustain the needs of the body during fasting.
  • Proper understanding of the elements of fasting in Ramadan is very essential to achieve both physical and spiritual satisfaction and wellbeing.

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