Dr Francy Pullikan, an internal medicine specialist at Burjeel Hospital Muscat, on the health benefits of fasting during Ramadan.
As the Holy Month of Ramadan enters its final week or so, Muslims all over the world are fasting from dawn to dusk. Ramadan is undertaken for the purpose of spiritual growth, being one of the five pillars of Islam. And it comes with an array of health benefits. Quite a number of research papers have been published regarding the benefits of fasting that could positively influence our overall health. These include weight-loss, reduced levels of bad cholesterol, increased levels of good cholesterol and a reduction in blood pressure.
- Fasting promotes fat breakdown and weight-loss. Due to fasting, calorie consumption is significantly reduced during Ramadan. But calorie reduction might not happen if you are bingeing on sweets. However, if you maintain your usual eating habits, you will eat less food and lose weight. This is especially true during Ramadan when your source of energy during your fast is mainly fat. Trying to stay lightly active during the day can promote even more fat breakdown.
- Fasting improves your blood fat levels. A study conducted in the Annals of Nutrition Metabolism 1997 shows that fasting lowered bad “LDL” cholesterol levels by eight per cent, triglyceride by 30 per cent, and increased good “HDL” levels by 14.3 per cent – thereby protecting your heart from cardiovascular disease. This is mainly due to the change in eating and exercise habits during Ramadan. Most people tend to go for healthier food options such as dates, nuts, lentil soup, and home-cooked meals. Studies have shown that overall saturated fat consumption – usually found in butter, lard, fatty meat, and fast food, is reduced during Ramadan.
- Fasting leads to a reduction in stress hormones in the body, which may lead to the temporary reduction of blood pressure in people with hypertension.
- Fasting prompts the release of certain brain chemicals called endorphins, which reduce stress levels and give an overall sense of well-being.
Some helpful tips
- Break your fast with fruit, fresh juices, and plenty of fluids.
- Have a balanced meal: 50 per cent from complex carbohydrates such as wheat/rice/potatoes/other vegetables; 40 per cent from protein food like meat/fish/legumes; and 10 per cent from good fats.
- Avoid deep-fried oily foods rich in mono-unsaturated fats.
- Do not try to over-compensate for the missed meal by overeating.