By Angella Abushedde
For more reasons than you possibly know
For Muslims around the world who are at the start of their Holy month of Ramadan; it marks a period of fasting, reflection, devotion, generosity and sacrifice. The word `Ramadan’ comes from the Arabic word for “parched thirst” and “sun-baked ground.” It is expressive of the hunger and thirst felt by those who spend 28 -30 days in fasting.
“The observance of fasting during Ramadan constitutes one of the pillars of Islam intended to teach them self discipline and self restraint,” says Hajj Kimuli Yusuf, a businessman. However even among Muslims who observe fasting as a religious obligation, not every one of them knows the health benefits it provides to those who practice it.
Gloria Kirungi, a nutrition specialist, says fasting is a good practice, if properly implemented because it promotes elimination from our bodies of toxins, the poisonous substances that our bodies; like all living things, naturally produce. Fasting is also known to reduce blood sugar and fats, promote healthy eating habits, and boosts immunity.
It has been observed that fasting reduces craving for processed foods and promotes desire for natural foods, especially water and fruits. Usually Muslims take fruits such as dates when breaking the fast and fruits increase the body’s store of essential vitamins and minerals.
Hajj Kimuli explains that dates are an excellent source of and have been recommended since the days of Prophet Muhammad as a way of breaking the fast.
“The nutritional values in the dates such as sugar, fiber carbohydrates, and potassium make the feeling of hunger reduced,” Kirungi explains. Fruits are also rich in vitamin A and E which detoxify the body of fats which also promotes resolution of inflammatory diseases and allergies such arthritis, hay fever, and eczema.
Additionally, fasting is one of the non-drug methods of reducing blood pressure. Kirungi says during fasting, glucose and stored fats are used to produce energy reducing the metabolic rate. Fasting reduces hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenalin, the switches in our bodies that regulate activities such as heart rate, blood rates, and air. The effect of this is to keep our body metabolism, the many changes in our bodies that keep us stable, steady and within limits.
Fasting also increases breakdown of glucose so that the body can get energy. It reduces production of insulin which rests the pancreas. The outcome of fasting is a reduction in blood sugar/ glucose. When the store of glucose is exhausted, then the body uses fats for energy. Therefore, when one fasts, the fats stored in their kidney and muscles are broken down to release energy.
Among addicts, fasting is known to reduce their cravings, for nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and other substance abuse during the period. It is hard for smokers to quit during their normal routines and other compelling social pressures. When the period of fasting starts, however, it keeps them away from smoking. Taking a month-long break from the practice of smoking sometimes gets converted to a permanent avoidance of health hazardous things.
Fasting is also a weight reduction method. It reduces fat and sugar intake in the body while increasing fruits and rest which are better measures to achieve weight loss. Fasting reduces craving for processed foods and promotes desire for natural foods, especially water and fruits thus promoting a healthy lifestyle. Hajji Kimuli says also, Muslims do not eat a lot during Ramadan because stuffing oneself contradicts the aims and spirit of Ramadan.
Our nutritionist, Kirungi, is however cautious about using fasting as a weight loss strategy. She cautions individuals with specific health issues such as hypertension, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and pregnant women and nursing mothers to consult a doctor and nutritionist or dietician for appropriate medical and dietary planning.
Fasting, even for Muslims during Ramadan, is prescribed for healthy adults. Pregnant and menstruating women, travelers, the sick and children are exempted from fasting during Ramadan.
“It may cause dehydration which may lead to headaches and even trigger migraines in predisposed persons. It may worsen heartburn, constipation and peptic ulcers,” she says.
Kirungi advises Muslims to eat complex carbohydrates or slow digesting food such as unpolished rice, millet, beans, wheat, and dairy products when taking their last meal at night before fasting starts. The recommended foods last longer in the stomach. Intake of fruits and fluids is also strongly recommended.