Fasting is an important part of many religious traditions. The Holy month of Ramazan is celebrated with a lot of zeal and esteem all over the world. Pakistan is no different when it comes to celebrating this glorious month. The whole atmosphere is filled with an essence of this blessed occasion. As we enter this blessed month, this week You! shares the health benefits of fasting and some do’s and don’t to look out for…
If fasting is done in a healthy manner, there is enough evidence to suggest that it has a positive effect on your health. Apart from the spiritual benefits of a fast, there are physiological effects of fasting as well. It includes lowering of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol, and lowering of the systolic blood pressure. In fact, Ramazan fasting could be an ideal recommendation for the treatment of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin diabetes, obesity, and essential hypertension. However, if you are diabetic, it is best to follow the medical recommendation of your doctor.
The psychological effects of fasting include peace and tranquillity. This improvement could be related to better stabilisation of blood glucose while fasting; hypoglycemia after eating can aggravate behaviour changes. There is a spiritual beneficial effect of extra prayer at night. This not only helps with better utilisation of food, but also helps in energy output. Moreover, your mental wellbeing and spiritual focus encourages brain-boosting powers. A study carried out by scientists in the USA found that the mental focus achieved during Ramazan increases the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which causes the body to produce more brain cells, thus improving brain function.
Finally, if we were to compare the recent trends of fad diets with Ramazan fasting, there is a significant difference in the two. One of the main problems with extreme fad diets is that any weight lost is often quickly put back on, sometimes even with a little extra. This isn’t the case in Ramazan. The reduction in food consumed throughout fasting causes your stomach to gradually shrink, meaning you’ll need to eat less food to feel full. So, if you want to get into the habit of healthy eating then this is a great time to start. When the month finishes, your appetite will be lower than it was before, and you’ll be far less likely to overindulge with your eating.
Stay hydrated: Dehydration can cause undesirable side effects on people with chronic diseases such as constipation, headache, dizziness, tiredness and dry skin. Try drinking fluid several times throughout the night, even if you aren't feeling too thirsty – thirst is a signal that your body is already dehydrated.
Avoid foods with high salt and spices: It may be tempting to gobble down a plate of pakoras or delicious spicy cuisine for dinner but it’s best to be mindful of what you eat. Eating meals high in salt and hot spices may increase thirst and the body’s need for water; therefore, eating such foods are also not recommended at sehri as they may cause extreme thirst during fasting.
Eat fruits and vegetables rich in nutrients and water: Some vegetables such as iceberg lettuce and fruits like watermelon known for their high content of water are recommended as a rich source of liquids, which will help with the thirst during the day. Moreover, break your fast with dates as breaking your fast with dates helps prevent overeating since dates provide instant energy and make you feel full.
Avoid caffeine and high-calorie drinks: Ideally, you should also cut down on caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea and colas as these have a diuretic effect and promotes fluid loss. Choose fluids that don’t contain caffeine.
Eat fibre-rich food: Try incorporating foods from all the major food groups including fruit and vegetables, rice and meat. Consuming fibre-rich foods (like oatmeal, whole grains, chickpeas) during this month is also ideal as they are digested slower than processed foods so you feel full longer.
Don’t skip your sehri: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and so is your sehri. Do not miss it otherwise you’ll feel dehydrated and tired during the day. Furthermore, skipping sehri also encourages overeating during iftar, which can cause unhealthy weight gain.
Keep moving: Though fasting can be physically exhausting, try not to be completely sedentary. If you typically work out during the morning, try switching to the evening after breaking your fast.
Don’t be over efficient: Fasting can usually be accomplished safely, but if you have any health conditions – including pregnancy, breast-feeding, or diabetes or another illness - it’s best to refer to religious scriptures and your doctor to determine if you still need to fast or you’re able to fast without harm. With long fasting hours and intense heat of the summer, there is a high chance of dehydration, especially in people with diabetes, hypertension, blood pressure etc.