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Fasting and Your Health: How to Stay Healthy During Ramadan

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is upon us and people all over the world are fasting as well as spending most of their time contemplating and praying. For many, it will be the first Ramadan since the pandemic began when they can bring their family and friends into their homes to take part in breaking the fast. But there will also be an air of sadness for those whose homes have experienced the loss of their loved ones to COVID-19; For them prayers will be even more important.

During Ramadan, adult Muslims who fast should not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. Of course, the length of time a person fasts depends on where in the world he or she lives, as the length of the day is governed by the time of year and the distance from the equator. Some people are also exempted from fasting, such as children, the elderly, who are likely to abstain from food and drink with health, and menstruating and pregnant women; They have the option of donating money to charitable organizations as an option.

While fasting, in general, has been shown to have health benefits, intermittent fasting has become a popular way to lose weight. Instead of focusing on what to eat, intermittent fasting tells you when to eat. This involves fasting for a certain number of hours each day (usually between eight and 16, longer than this can be dangerous), reflecting the way humans learned to farm during their hunter/gatherer years Yes, ate that way.

The idea is that once your body has used up its sugar stores, it begins burning fat, and weight loss occurs – a process known as metabolic switching. Studies have shown that the health benefits of intermittent fasting include lower blood pressure and cholesterol, less inflammation overall, better response to insulin, and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. There is also evidence that intermittent fasting can help improve our long-term memory, reduce the risk of certain cancers, and slow the signs of aging.

But for Muslims, health benefits are secondary, and the purpose of fasting, which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is to bring them closer to God, to give thanks, and to consider the teachings of the Quran. Some people find fasting easy but for others it can be a challenge and hunger can get in the way of work and other daily activities. So, are there ways to stave off some of those hunger pangs?

the answer is yes; Certain foods eaten before starting a fast can help curb your appetite while maintaining your health – it’s just a matter of knowing what to eat.

Interactive-Ramadan2022 - 33 Years Of Ramadan Cycle Infographic
(al Jazeera)

Suhoor: Fiber, Protein, Carbs

If you are fasting, do not skip the morning meal suhoor before the fasting begins. Eating right at this time is important to help reduce the urge to overeat later in the day.

Breakfast includes carbohydrate-rich toast or sugary cereal, but these will only cause a spike in your blood glucose, followed by a dip when the sugar breaks down. This will activate the craving center in your brain which will tell you that more food is needed. So instead, opt for suhoor food rich in fiber and protein.

Fiber is important in slowing down digestion and making you feel full. It is believed to increase the amount of short-chain fatty acids in your stomach. These help promote feelings of fullness with some studies showing that fiber from sources such as beans, peas and chickpeas can increase your feelings of fullness by up to 31 percent. For breakfast, consider cooking some mushrooms, avocados, vegetables, pulses or nuts to help keep those hunger pangs at bay.

Protein should also be an important component of your suhoor meal. It may sound strange but going for a high-protein meal like cooked fish or lean meat like chicken is a good way to avoid feeling hungry later in the day; Alternatively, you can try a vegetarian protein source including boiled or poached eggs or lentils or chickpeas. Studies have shown that protein-rich meals keep you fuller for longer and reduce hunger hormones than a sugary or carbohydrate-rich snack. So, along with your fiber, take in a good portion of protein, which should keep you less hungry as your fast goes on.

Carbohydrates are a major component of most meals, but they cause sugar spikes and increased insulin levels that can leave you feeling hungry afterwards. However, you don’t have to avoid them completely. Instead, watch when you eat carbohydrates during your meal. Studies show that eating carbohydrates followed by your fiber and protein can reduce your blood glucose and insulin spikes. The fiber will cover your intestines and mix with the protein. Food will then move more slowly through the intestine and less glucose will be absorbed from the rest of the food. This means feeling fuller for longer, curbing cravings and better hormonal balance.

So the best way to enjoy a suhoor meal is to get your fiber first, followed by protein and fat, then save your carbohydrates like toast or paratha for the end. You may be tempted to eat them all at once, but the order in which you eat your meals has been shown to be important in balancing your hunger later in the day – give it a try.

Hydration: Benefits of plain water

Don’t forget to hydrate.

There is some research to show that drinking water can help us feel less hungry. One small study found that people who drank two glasses of water just before a meal ate 22 percent less than those who didn’t. It showed that drinking water before a meal can cause abdominal distension and send signals of fullness to the brain.

Try drinking a glass of water before and after eating. Much remains to be understood about how water can inhibit the craving for hunger, but dehydration is a real concern during the fasting period in Ramadan and the neurons that control thirst and appetite are closely related. .

Remember that although tea and coffee contain water, the caffeine content in them can act as a diuretic and make you urinate more, which can increase the dehydrating effect of fasting, so it’s best to go for the good stuff. Good: plain water.

Interactive_Ramadan_Kareem_In_Different_Languages_ Final-25
Read more: Infographic: Ramadan greetings in 16 different languages

Iftar: What to eat while breaking the fast?

The food with which we break the fast is equally important.

Traditionally, Muslims break the fast by eating dates at sunset; These are rich in sugar and are quickly absorbed by the body, giving it an almost instant boost. After this, instead of eating one big meal, try dividing the iftar meal into two portions. This will help manage a large blood glucose spike, as well as reduce the risk of indigestion.

Think about a broth or soup starter, take a break for prayer and then return to a more substantial meal made up of complex carbohydrates, protein and fiber-rich vegetables. Balancing meals this way will mean you’ll feel less bloated and fewer glucose/insulin spikes means you’ll have more energy overall. Plus the protein and fiber in your meal will keep you full for a long time and you won’t find yourself running back to the kitchen for breakfast later.

Ramadan can mess with our sleep routine. Waking up early for Suhoor and then offering Taraweeh prayers till late at night can mean that we have less time to sleep. Many of us have to work even during Ramadan, so can’t lay-in. Try to make sleep a priority on the days off from work, getting enough good quality sleep can reduce feelings of hunger by reducing levels of our hunger hormone, ghrelin, and increasing levels of leptin, the hormone that regulates appetite. can go.

On the day it is possible to do so, aim to go back to sleep after the Fajr prayer and get a total of eight to 10 hours of sleep at night; This will not only help with your hunger levels but also your general health.

Interactive-Ramadan2022 - Map Of Iftar And Fasting Times Around The World
(al Jazeera)

COVID-19 and fasting

It is important to remember that we are still in a pandemic and COVID-19 levels remain high in many countries, driven by Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant proving to be highly contagious. Although it is believed to have milder symptoms than Delta, a person’s response to the virus is unpredictable and the large number of people who become infected means we may again see the number of hospitalizations due to COVID seeing an increase in

Crowded mosques are an ideal breeding ground for the virus, as people are close to each other and many buildings are often poorly ventilated, meaning that airborne viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 can easily pass between people. can. Remember, if you have any symptoms of COVID, you should take a test and not go to the mosque to offer prayers while you are waiting for the result or if it is positive.

Symptoms of Omicron overlap with symptoms of the common cold, so sore throat, headache and runny nose should be treated as suspected COVID unless proven otherwise through testing.

The people in charge of mosques need to properly ventilate and view their buildings, this may mean investing in approved air filters or making sure windows and doors remain open so that air moves efficiently through the building. Consider wearing a mask in the mosque. Most of us are used to wearing masks in public indoor places and mosques should be no different. Bringing your own prayer mat and bathing at home will help you reduce your risk of contracting COVID.

If you are medically extremely vulnerable, consider praying at home, rather than risk mixing with large groups of strangers who may be carrying the virus. And of course, stay up to date with vaccines, they are the best and safest way to reduce your risk of becoming seriously ill with the virus. You have to be healthy to fast the whole of Ramadan – and these simple steps will help you do just that.

Fasting and other health problems

For those who have long-term health conditions, you are exempt from fasting, but in my experience treating patients, I know that some people may still choose to try fasting. Remember to discuss this with your doctor first; You should not stop your medicine suddenly and even changing the timing of your medicine can adversely affect your health. People with type 2 diabetes who are taking glucose-lowering drugs can suffer from dangerously low blood sugar levels if they fast, so it is important that they talk to their doctor about this. Discuss.

Although exempted, many pregnant Muslim women also take part in the daily fast during Ramadan. As a doctor, I would advise against it. More studies are needed to examine the effects of fasting on pregnancy outcomes, but a large systematic review found that although it did not have a significant effect on birth weight or stillbirth, it did not affect the placenta – the vital organ that helps develop people. Provides food and oxygen to the The child was lighter in weight than the mothers who did not fast. Pregnancy exempts women from fasting for good reason, and when it comes it is best to follow the rules set forth by Islam.

Exercise can be done safely during Ramadan, provided you don’t push yourself. This is not the time to build muscle or stamina, the focus should be on maintaining fitness levels. It is likely that you will tire easily during fasting and your risk of dehydration will increase. Make sure you drink plenty of water during suhoor and iftar and eat fruits and vegetables that hold a lot of water.

Avoid foods and drinks containing caffeine or salt during your eating hours as these will only serve to dehydrate you later. If you can, exercise after breaking the fast so you can drink while you exercise. If that’s not possible, exercising just before breaking the fast is the next best thing because you can drink and re-hydrate soon after. It is best to avoid exercising in high temperatures or in the sun for too long. Remember, you are fasting and reducing exercise or more rest is not a bad thing during Ramadan.

While some health benefits of fasting have been shown, what you do on either side of your fast is equally important for maintaining good health. Ramadan is about reflection and discipline as well as breaking bad habits, and if we can all eat a little healthier and more mindfully and have that throughout the year, that can only be a good thing.

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