As the world’s one billion-plus Muslims gear up to fast over the next month during Ramadan - one of the five pillars of Islam - there are perennial concerns over followers being required to go without any food and water for some 18 hours a day.
However, if done right - and if Muslims have been preparing their minds and bodies in the run up to the holy month kicking off this week - Ramadan can, surprisingly, have many health benefits.
Despite potentially feeling some heartburn, irritablity, dehydration, and a decline in concentration levels - which are expected - Dr Razeen Mahroof, an anaesthetist from Oxford, has helped the NHS to map out a guide to successful fasting during Ramadan.
Dr Mahroof says the time of year isn’t always thought of as a way to lose weight because the spiritual aspect is emphasised more than the health aspect, However, he adds: “It’s a great chance to get the physical benefits as well.”
One of the common misconceptions about Ramadan is that all Muslims must take part. However, this is not the case for the ill or vulnerable and there are exceptions, including for pregnant women, the elderly, and the particularly young.
So, for those who are taking part this year, there are some health benefits that can be reaped from fasting if done right and mainting a good diet outside of sun-up and sun-down times.
With the fasting day lasting from sunrise to sunset, the body’s energy can be replaced in the two meals a day Muslims can have. It’s important to get in food from all the five major food groups, and this will provide an easier transition from using fat to burn energy as opposed to glucose.
This means weight can be lost, muscles can be preserved, cholesterol levels can fall, with more control being had over diabetes and blood pressure.
As well as this, a few days into Ramadan, the body begins to adjust to its new eating and drinking pattern as higher levels of endorphins appear in the blood, making fasters more alert, happier, and giving an overall feeling of better mental health.
On the whole, Muslims who do choose to fast should avoid overly-greasy and deep-fried foods, instead opting for baking, grilling, and shallow frying their two meals a day.
Breaking the fast at iftar with dates and sweet, milky drinks is common in many households which provides a much-needed energy boost after the fasting day. Drinking plenty of water for rehydration will ensure the body is kept revitalised, reducing overindulgence.
Overall, Dr Mahroof says in his guide that the way Muslims approach diet during fasting is similar to the way they should be eating outside of Ramadan anyway, adding: “You should have a balanced diet, with the right proportion of carbs, fat, and protein.”
Ramadan Mubarak to all taking part this year.
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