Alhamdulillah we were blessed to finish of the month Ramadhan followed by the Eid celebration. May Allah accept all of our fast and ibada, Ameen. As we move into the month of Shawaal we hope to continue the act of good deeds, one of which may be fasting.
Fasting is not only an act of good deed but also has proven to have countless health benefits. You may question this as some of us finished the month of Ramadhan going up a clothing size. But in this case the issue lies in the kinds of foods we choose to consume when we break our fast. Most often, these foods are rich in sugar and fats which lead weight gain. However, when fasting is done right, there is much more to benefit.
Firstly let’s briefly discuss the religious benefits of fasting. Fasting is a form of spiritual healing. This healing takes place through achieving self control by controlling our desires and urgency to act on anger(1). We also achieve this spiritual healing through means of prayer, dhikar, and increased recitation of the Holy Quran (1). Fasting allows us to place ourselves in the shoes of those whose fasting does not end by choice, as they go hungry for days. With this experience it opens our eyes and hearts towards giving to those in need.
Now let’s us understand the health benefits achieved from fasting. Fasting has proven to help lower blood sugar levels through reducing insulin resistance(2) . This results in a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes. Through fasting we are also able to improve our overall heart health by improving our blood pressure and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol)(3). Oxidative stress has also proven to be reduced by fasting(4). You may be wonder well what is that? Oxidative stress is one of the steps towards aging and developing chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, COPD, etc(4). Our brain also benefits from fasting as it increases the development of new nerve cells which in turn helps improve brain function (5). Last but not least, fasting can assist in weight loss as it reduced the amount of food you eat as well as boosts your metabolic rate (6).
Now that we have a clear understanding of the religious and health benefits of fasting, let us put this knowledge to action. The Sunnah of the prophet Muhammad (S.A.W) was to fast Thursdays and Mondays (1). This can also be seen as intermittent fasting in which we fast 2 days a week and five days of non fasting. It is essential that we have nutrient rich foods during the time that is allocated to eat. For example when waking up for suhur before the sun rises, we should be consuming foods that are high in fiber and protein as these foods provide the feeling of satiety (filling sensation)(7). An ideal meal could be;
- 1-2 cups of oatmeal served with fruits and nuts
- 1-2 eggs omelette loaded with vegetable such as broccoli, mushrooms, spinach etc served with 1 whole wheat toast
- 1 whole wheat toast with peanut butter and a glass of milk
- 1 cup Vegetable chicken soup with 1 whole wheat toast
These are just several examples of some breakfast meals. Be sure to have already 2-3 cups of water prior to suhur ending as this will help keep you hydrated. Stay away from sodium rich foods as well as caffeinated drinks as this dehydrates the body. When time for iftar arises, break the fast with the sunnah of 3 dates and a glass of water (1). Once the Marghib prayer is completed you may then go into your meal. Here are some useful tips;
- At least half your plate should be filled with vegetables, a quarter of the plate carbohydrates (1 cup), and a quarter protein (3-5 ounces about the size of a deck of cards
- For the vegetable of choice, avoid over cooking in oils as this will simply increase the fat consumption and kill the valuable nutrients. Stick to baking, steaming, or simply having it raw
- When choosing a carbohydrate, make sure it is high in fiber for example brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta etc.
- When choosing a protein be sure to pick proteins that are lean and avoid cooking them in lots of fats.
Lastly we all like to finish of our meals with something sweet. This can consist of either a bowl of fruits or frozen yogurt. Just be sure to practice portion control when reaching for those sweet treats.
By; Raya Haddass