While fasting the month of Ramadan has a deeper purpose, in my world of nutrition, it has become a fashionable term with hopeful, yet questionable, merits. In research, ‘fasting’ means a variety of different things: fasting on alternating days, the 5:2 fast (600 calories during two fast days of the week and unlimited calories during the other five), 24-hour fasts, and longer than 24-hour fasts. Even for Muslims, the fast length varies through out the year. These differences make pinning down the effects difficult.
Here are five health benefits of fasting:
Become conscious of mindless eating
When you can’t munch on the grapes you’re washing for the kids, finish their half-eaten sandwich, graze while cooking, or sneak a cookie out of your pantry, your mindless eating habits are unveiled. When fasting, you’re more aware of how frequently, and unconsciously, your hands move toward your mouth. Knowledge is the first step to change habits.
Learn to say no
When fasting, you don’t battle with yourself over grabbing a candy bar at 3 pm because you’re too hungry; you have no choice. Carrying this ‘no choice’ attitude after Ramadan will help you take charge. Saying, “I have no choice, I’m not chugging down this soda,” will solve your inner conflict. Otherwise, it would’ve ended with you choosing the easy way to relieve tension, to drink.
Potentially lower weight, cholesterol, and inflammation
Some research shows that different fasting protocols lowered weight, belly fat, cholesterol, inflammation, and type 2 diabetes risk. The common denominator between these studies is eating fewer calories during fast days. What does that mean to Muslims observing Ramadan? For similar health benefits, over-sized meals with fried appetizers and sugar-drenched desserts can’t be daily fare.
Potentially lower cancer risk
Research on animals found that fasting slowed the growth of tumors. Primates weren’t as lucky, so we’re not sure if fasting lowers cancer risk or growth in humans. Some research is promising, but inconclusive. There are ongoing human studies on fasting and breast cancer, and we hope new evidence will tip the scale one way or another in the future.
Potentially improve brain function
In animals, fasting improved autophagy, the process brain cells use to repair and recycle waste. Fasting also increased a protein that helps generate new brain cells, and a low level of this protein was linked to memory loss and cognitive decline. Since research is only in animals, it may or may not translate to humans.
The effects of fasting on cancer, brain function, inflammation, and diabetes are linked to people eating fewer calories and losing weight and belly fat. Studies on Muslims show that we don’t always lose weight or belly fat in Ramadan. We fast for spiritual purposes, and if we desire health along the way, we have to make healthy decisions between Maghrib and Fajir. May Allah bless you with a healthy Ramadan.
Disclaimer: the purpose of this article is for educational reasons only. The author or the website do not promote fasting for reasons other than religious and are not responsible for any side effects or harm your experience if you fast. Consult with your physician before you perform fasting.