Fasting is an integral part of the festival of Ramadan. And while its religious significance is well-known, fasting for a month causes a lot of changes in your body; most of them are positive. It lowers cholesterol, and reduces the risk of heart disease and obesity, among other things.

Here, to discuss the benefits of intermittent fasting, effects of long-term fasting and tips about weight loss and metabolism, are two experts: Minal Shah, Senior Nutrition Therapist at Fortis Hospital, and Honey Thaker, Head Nutritionist, Fitness Science & Nutrition at Pure Nutrition.

1. What Are The Health Benefits Of Fasting During Ramadan?

Honey Thaker: The Ramadan meal timing is a specific kind of fasting where you eat-stop-eat. It is known to be associated with improvement and prevention of health problems such as:

  • Lowering cholesterol levels
  • Weight management
  • Improving heart health
  • Body detoxification
  • Recuperated digestive system
  • Reduced sugar and salt intake (great for diabetics and those with high blood pressure)

Some studies also show that fasting can improve mental health and wellbeing. Apart from all this, Ramadan fasting is a good way of giving up on vices such as smoking and alcohol consumption.

2. What Would Be Some Important Tips To Adhere To While Fasting During Ramadan?

Minal Shah: Ramadan fasting includes abstinence from drinking and eating from sunrise to sunset. Important points to consider are:

  1. Maintain a healthy eating pattern with calorie restriction in the post-fasting period. After being deprived of food for an entire day having a heavy iftar/sahul may lead to gastric problems. 
  2. Include nutritious food like fruits, whole grains, two to three servings of vegetables that are rich in vitamins, fibre, and provide nutrients with restricted calories. 
  3. Include lean meat like chicken, fish, and vegetarian protein like dals, beans and low-fat dairy to maintain the muscle mass. 
  4. Eat slowly, chew your food well, and do not exceed the normal portion of food that you regularly eat. 
  5. Ensure adequate hydration through the non-fasting hours. 

3. What Foods Should One Consume To Be Able To Fast For 12-14 Hours A Day?

Honey Thaker: Suhoor (also known as Sehri) is the meal that one eats before dawn as the onset of the fast every day. Since you’ll be fasting for nearly 12-14 hours after that, it is important that you have a fulfilling meal during the Suhoor

  1. First and foremost, drink a lot of water. 
  2. Include hydrating foods like watermelons, cucumber, and tomatoes to your meal. Include a lot of veggies.
  3. Add a serving of carbohydrates (preferably slow-digesting like oats, daliya, ragi, brown rice).
  4. Include protein-rich dairy products (like paneer, cheese, curd). 
  5. You can also add other forms of protein such as eggs, meat and avocado, as they release amino acids in a sustained way. 

Make sure that you avoid caffeinated beverages like tea, coffee and cola as the caffeine content in them can make you want to urinate more often, which can lead to dehydration.

4. When Should You Avoid Intermittent Fasting (IF)?

Minal Shah: Ideally, intermittent fasting should be avoided during pregnancy and lactation. It is also not recommended for kids. 

It should be avoided by diabetic patients, people with low blood pressure, and those who have major illnesses like cancer, GI disorders, history of eating disorders, history of amenorrhea, women who are trying to conceive, anyone who is on medications, and those who are underweight. 

Also, anyone with high physical activity or energy expenditure should steer clear of IF, as increased energy expenditure with reduced calorie intake can lead to an unhealthy energy deficit.

5. How Should People With Diabetes, Obesity & Hypertension Alter Their Fasting And Eating Habits?

Honey Thaker: Generally, it is recommended that people with Type 1 diabetes don’t fast, as it can worsen their condition. Whereas people with Type 2 diabetes and hypertension who have their conditions under control with a diet or medication can fast. However, it would be ideal if they skip the fast. They may continue only after consulting their doctor or dietitian for the right advice based on their current situation and recent reports. 

On the other hand, obese people can consider fasting as it may help them lose weight and get healthier. There may not be a dramatic change, but there will be significant changes in body weight as well as overall energy. People with obesity issues are suggested to opt for low-fat, fibre-rich and protein-rich food during the Suhoor and Iftar, as overeating at the time will negate the benefits. 

Read more about health benefits of Ramadan fasting.

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