Muslims around the world are observing fast as the holy month of Ramadan has started since the 2nd of April (3rd in some countries) according to Islamic Calendar that is based on the motion of the moon. Every year, Ramadan usually falls 15 days earlier than the last.
For Muslims, Ramadan is the month of spiritual reflection and self-improvement as it teaches them to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, also empathy and compassion, to feel for those who are less fortunate.
In this holy month, Muslims begin fasting from dawn until dusk. They are abstained from eating and drinking, as well as sinful behavior as one of its purposes is to cleanse the soul.
Even though Muslims are fasting during Ramadan as religious practice, there are a lot of health benefits of fasting, according to scientific studies, from regenerating the immune system to boost the cancer-curing effects of chemotherapy.
Here are some health benefits of fasting in Ramadan that you need to know!
The Health Benefits
1. Fat Breakdown and Weight Loss
Our body will enter the fasting state after about eight hours since our last meal. At this state, our gut completes the absorption of nutrients from the food we ate.
As the body needs “fuel” to burn into energy, our body will first use up the glucose stored in our liver and muscles.
But even though the body uses up the glucose from the muscles, we don’t have to worry about the muscle breakdown (also called starvation state).
This state of muscle breakdown only occurs during a prolonged fast of many days or weeks without any food or water, because only then our body will use up the protein from the muscles to burn into energy.
However, this state will not happen when fasting in Ramadan as the body will replenish the energy when you break the fast after sunset.
Then, when our body burned all the glucose, it starts to use up fat to be burned into energy. This state is what we call the fat breakdown.
The use of fat as the fuel to burn into energy will result in weight loss and reduces cholesterol levels in the long term. This will also lead to better control of diabetes as well as reducing blood pressure.
2. Detoxification and Other Health Benefits
Not only result in fat breakdown and weight loss, but a detoxification process can also occur when we fast in Ramadan. This is possible as toxins that are usually stored in our body fat are dissolved.
After we fast for a few days, a higher level of endorphins also appears in our blood. The increasing level of endorphins can result in a better level of alertness and overall feeling.
We would likely be calmer and experience fewer mood swings which are good for our general mental wellbeing.
If you want a simple yet comprehensive explanation about the health benefits of fasting in Ramadan, you can watch the video below.
How Can We Fast Safely?
Yes, fasting during the holy month of Ramadan has its own health benefits. But how can we stay energized and healthy when we fast?
1. Don’t Skip Morning Meals
When we fast in Ramadan, we can only eat two times. First, in the early morning before sunrise which is called Suhoor, and second, after sunset in the evening which is called Iftar.
According to Nazima Qureshi, RD, MPH, the author of The Healthy Ramadan Guide, Suhoor is extremely important as the food choices that we make during this time will affect our energy level throughout the day.
Most people will choose simple carbohydrates, but since simple carbohydrates will not provide the long-term energy that the body needs, she recommends eating whole grains paired with healthy fats, proteins, as well as fiber that we can get from fruits and veggies.
2. Make Sure You’re Hydrated
As we all know, drinking water and keeping the body hydrated is extremely important, as well as has many health benefits.
But since fasting in Ramadan requires us to fast between sunrise and sunset, we have to use the time before sunrise and after sunset to rehydrate and make sure we meet the recommended water intake.
In order to do this, we can keep a water bottle close to us throughout the night and drink accordingly whenever possible. We can also choose foods with high water content.
And if Ramadan falls during a warmer season in your country, dress cool and try to avoid direct sun to prevent dehydration.
3. Control Your Meal Portion
Culturally, breaking the fast or Iftar is considered a celebration, and if we are not careful, we might overeat. This would lead to morning tiredness and weight gain instead of weight loss.
Qureshi recommends breaking the fast by eating a date, some fruit, and drinking some water. She also recommends pausing before a bigger meal and complete the evening prayer first instead.
For the evening meal, she also recommends distributing our food into half a plate of vegetables, a quarter of a plate of carbohydrates, and a quarter of a plate of protein.
4. Know Your Body
If you have a chronic medical condition, you might need to make some adjustments before fasting in Ramadan.
According to Wasem Alsabbagh, BScPharm, Ph.D., a licensed clinical pharmacist and assistant professor at the University of Waterloo, most medications should be continued while fasting by adjusting it to fit the fasting schedule.
Alsabaggh also stated that if fasting worsens the medical condition even after making adjustments to the medications’ schedule, then the patients with critical illness should not fast.
These critical illnesses include people who require hospitalization, diabetes that requires a consistent supply of food and drink, and certain cancers.
On the bottom line, if fasting does not align with our medical condition during Ramadan, we can still honor the holy month by making up fasting days after Ramadan or through a charity called Fidya or Kafara accordingly.
Imran Khan Cancer Appeal, accessed 24 April 2021, https://www.ikca.org.uk/news/physical-health-benefits-fasting/
Healthline 2021, Azra Chatur, accessed 24 April 2021, https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/practical-tips-to-safely-fast-during-ramadan#The-bottom-line
Video: The Medical Genie via YouTube, MEDICAL BENEFITS of FASTING During Ramadan, uploaded 22 April 2021