A Guide to Healthy Fasting for Ramadan

Fasting during the month of Ramadan is a mandatory practice for healthy adult Muslims. Ramadan Daytime Intermittent Fasting (RDIF) is considered a unique form of intermittent fasting involving constant daytime abstinence from food and drink during a period of fasting that varies, on average, between 8 and 18 hours (the variation is a result of changes season and altitude Islamic calendar follows the lunar system) over 29 to 30 days.

Fasting during Ramadan. Image Credit: Fevziie / Shutterstock.com

Although religious fasts are motivated by religion and spirituality, they have the potential to profoundly affect physical health. A growing body of evidence supports the health benefits of intermittent fasting on health, disease, and aging. The benefits go beyond weight loss and reduced free radical production linked to cancer and aging. Fasting can elicit adaptive cellular responses, conserved throughout evolution, that are integrated in and between organs to improve stress resistance, glucose regulation, and suppress inflammation.

Since fasting in Ramadan is a form of IF and time-limited eating regimen (TRF) that occurs regularly around the world, contemporary interest in the impact on glucose homeostasis and mechanisms glucoregulators increased. When practiced healthily, fasting can increase metabolic health through measures such as decreased weight, visceral fat, triglycerides, total plasma cholesterol, fasting insulin, and glucose levels. Other studies have also found an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protein associated with improved mental health outcomes and cognitive abilities. However, the current evidence is too limited to draw this conclusion.

Change your eating habits: energy balance, macronutrients and micronutrients

Due to the dependence on regular and recurring periods of nutrition and hydration, fasting is not without risk. The potential risks of Ramadan, and indeed of all types of intermittent fasting, include weakness, fatigue, dizziness, hypoglycemia, insomnia, hypotension, nausea, headache / migraine, feeling weak or fainting, indigestion, malnutrition and excessive hunger. There is also a risk of potential adverse effects on reproductive and bone health, especially in women.

Additionally, compensatory overeating is a notable risk that may be pronounced in people with higher baseline disinhibition or emotional disturbance that could fuel binge eating after the restriction period ends. Paradoxically, this effect can worsen physiological and metabolic state, increase visceral fat and negatively impact metabolic health. Mental health impacts are also taken into consideration; it can cause neurocognitive disorders and eating disorders.

It is important to apply the same fundamental nutritional principles to intermittent fasting as to other healthy diets. As individuals will endure prolonged periods without food or fluids, these principles can be even more critical. At the onset and breaking of the fast, these approaches should be kept in mind:

  • Consume minimally processed foods
  • Eat a balance of lean protein, vegetables, fruits, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats
  • Base meals on plant products (fresh vegetables, legumes, olives, fruits, seeds and cereals (mainly whole grains) and moderate to low amounts of fish, meat and dairy products, added sugars, that is i.e. based on the Mediterranean diet which has been linked to a major positive impact on the composition of the gut microbiota and overall health
  • Eat the meal before dawn as well as the[fastestmealtominimizetheriskoffatigueanddehydrationduringtheday[ost-fastmealtominimizetheriskoffatigueanddehydrationduringtheday[repasleplusrapidepourminimiserlerisquedefatigueetdedéshydratationpendantlajournée[ost-fastmealtominimizetheriskoffatigueanddehydrationduringtheday
  • Avoid overeating during the meal after fasting

Adopting these behaviors will minimize the risk of hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, and dehydration. Indeed, Ramadan is known as the month of generosity and socialization which can lead to excessive consumption of food and drink in the evening / night. Avoiding over-consumption of foods low in micronutrients such as simple carbohydrates, foods high in fat and sugar e.g. fried foods, desserts, sugary sodas could increase the risk of developing hyperglycemia and subsequent metabolic effects such as diabetes and lipid disorders such as high cholesterol which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

On the other hand, under-consumption of food and water, heavy work (especially in summer, where heat exacerbates water loss through sweat), exercise and poor sleep can lead to weight loss. in micronutrients and electrolytes. For healthy fasting, it is important to eat a balanced meal when breaking and starting the fast, to ensure that the digestive process does not affect sleep as well as:

  • Avoid heat in summer by staying indoors during peak sunshine / heat times (if your occupancy permits)
  • Avoid excessive exercise; Although it is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, the man observes that he chose to exercise near the end of the fast or immediately after to avoid fatigue, muscle loss and fatigue. dehydration and improve performance and muscle development
  • Be aware of consuming foods and drinks high in fat, sugar, and salt, opting for slow-release carbohydrates, lean protein, and polyunsaturated fats
  • Eat slowly when you break the fast and start with liquids and foods that are low in fat and high in water, such as yogurt, fruits, vegetables, soups and stews

Since diabetes is a metabolic disorder involving the risk of hypo and hyperglycemia, it is considered a risk condition for people who fast during Ramadan, as are other metabolic conditions. For these people, fasting should not be attempted without the advice of a doctor.

Change your habits: sleep, stress, etc.

Ramadan is associated with several changes in behavior and general activity, sleep patterns and meal times, as well as associated daytime sleepiness. Eating late at night, as is the case during summer fasting in the northern hemisphere, can lead to circadian desynchronization. It is a disturbance of the synchronization between sleep-wake rhythms and circadian rhythms which consequently disrupts regular sleep patterns. This worsens the risk of worsening energy levels during daytime fasting due to lack of food intake and altered metabolic responses.

As such, changes in sleep and eating schedule have been shown to reduce cortisol levels in the morning and increase levels in the evening. There are also reports of changes in body temperature and melatonin rhythms that suggest major chronobiological and behavioral changes during Ramadan.

To reduce the risk of these events, it is important to maintain good sleep hygiene while consciously consuming food before starting and when breaking the fast. To reduce the risk of stress, it is important to address all potential triggers; this can be done by minimizing your non-binding commitments, avoiding strenuous exercise in the sun and mindfulness. For those with underlying health issues, it is important to seek the advice of medical professionals.

It is possible to fast healthily during Ramadan if the right nutritional and lifestyle adjustments are made. These effects are beneficial outside of the religious period, with benefits including positive metabolic changes associated with positive effects in the incidence and prognosis of a range of metabolic diseases that. Indeed, the benefits of religious fasting have been explored in several studies including Buddhist, Christian or Muslim populations. The results of these studies indicate that religious fasting has beneficial effects on body weight and blood sugar, cardiometabolic risk markers and oxidative stress parameters.

The references:

  • Hassanein M, Al-Arouj M, Hamdy O, et al. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2017; 126: 303-316. doi: 10.1016 / j.diabres.2017.03.003.
  • Beshyah SA, Ali KF, Hafidh K, et al. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2021; 172: 108593. doi: 10.1016 / j.diabres.2020.108593.
  • Alabbaod MH, Ho KW, Simons MR. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2017; 11 (1): 83-87. doi: 10.1016 / j.dsx.2016.06.028.
  • Persynaki A, Karras S, Pichard C. Nutrition. 2017; 35: 14-20. doi: 10.1016 / j.nut.2016.10.005.
  • Tahapary DL, Astrella C, Kristanti M, et al. Diabetes Metab Syndr. 2020; 14 (5): 1559-1570. doi: 10.1016 / j.dsx.2020.07.033.

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