Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 October 2019

Ramadan 2019: the health benefits of fasting

While Ramadan is about much more than abstaining from food, fasting has a number of health benefits

Workers fill up the dining hall to break their fast at Iftar at the Saadiyat Accommodation Village. Silvia Razgova / The National 
Workers fill up the dining hall to break their fast at Iftar at the Saadiyat Accommodation Village. Silvia Razgova / The National 

With the holy month upon us, millions of Muslims around the world are practicing fasting from sunrise to sunset.

And while Ramadan is about much more than abstaining from food, fasting is known to have a number of health benefits for the body.

Outside of the holy month, many people – Muslim and non-Muslin – choose to incorporate fasting into their everyday lives as a means to improve their health, lose weight, and increase their brain functionality.

27.05.17, Bur Dubai, UAE. Iftar on the first day of Ramadan by Masjid Kuwaiti Lootha Mosque. Hundred of people gathered to share Iftar at 7.03pm. Anna Nielsen For The National *** Local Caption *** 27.05.17_IftarBurDubai_AnnaNielsen03.JPG
Iftar on the first day of Ramadan by Masjid Kuwaiti Lootha Mosque. Hundred of people gathered to share Iftar

Aiding weight loss

A team at the University of Texas recently conducted a study on intermittent fasting, and found that time-restricted fasting - going through periods with little or no food – reduces inflammation, improves blood lipids and helps in weight loss. Participants did not reduce their total number of calories – just the time frame in which they consumed them.

“During fasting, cells are put in stress and this can help to lose weight as fat is used as a source of energy,” says clinical dietician Archana Baju from Burjeel Hospital, Abu Dhabi. “This helps to maintain the blood sugar and cholesterol levels.”

Food is not just a matter of digestion in Arab culture; it is intertwined with friendship, hospitality and honour Getty
Food is not just a matter of digestion in Arab culture; it is intertwined with friendship, hospitality and honour. Getty

Re-setting your metabolism

However, in order to reap the benefits of fasting, she stresses that during non-fasting hours, the kind of foods we should be eating include fibre-rich fruits, veggies, wholegrains, lean and plant proteins, along with the importance of keeping hydrated with water, and avoiding carbonated drinks.

Fasting during Ramadan also gives people a chance to reset their metabolisms, forcing the body to work harder during the hours without food and drink, using up fat sources and riding it of toxins.

If people break their fasts with healthy, nutritious foods when the body needs them most, and choose healthy, carbohydrate-heavy choices for Suhoor – the meal before dawn – it will set the metabolism up for the day to get the most nutrients from food consumed. This in turn will boost energy levels.

A canon is fired to mark the end of fasting on May 6 at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National
A canon is fired to mark the end of fasting on May 6 at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National

Boosting brain power

Fasting can also have a positive impact on our brain productivity. A study carried out by US researchers found that fasting pushes our brains into a state of stress, causing it to produce a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor - or BDNF - which helps to promote brain stem cell rejuvenation. Another US study, conducted by the National Institute of Ageing, found fasting could have an effect on the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Although fasting takes centre stage during Ramadan, it is not exclusive to the holy month. Many devout Muslims choose to fast each Monday and Thursday, as the Prophet recommended, and on Arafat Day before Eid Al Adha.

Updated: May 8, 2019 06:55 PM

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