From Self-Care

Benefits of fasting

Guest blogger Nosheen Hayat, an MPH graduate student at University of Michigan and former Research Associate at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, explains the benefits of fasting during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.
Guest blogger Nosheen Hayat, an MPH graduate student at University of Michigan and former Research Associate at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, explains the benefits of fasting during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.

Author: Nosheen Hayat, former Research Associate for CMBM, has a B.S. in dietetics and is currently a graduate student at University of Michigan working on her MPH in nutritional sciences.

The Benefits of Fasting

Although Ramadan is mainly thought to be a month for spiritual rejuvenation, there are many ways we can benefit from it if we just take the right steps. One of these steps is to focus on our dietary habits, and how they can, in conjunction with worship, energize our mind, body, and soul.

Some benefits of fasting include:

Rest. Although by the time iftaar (breaking of the fast at sunset) comes around, we’re all pretty much exhausted, fasting actually allows your body to rest. When we eliminate food and drink, our body can direct that energy it uses to digest and process our food towards other bodily functions.

Detofixication. While the body gets rest from digesting all the food we eat, it can focus on cleansing itself of toxins, and repairing itself.

Reduces risk for chronic diseases. Recent research has shown that fasting intermittently during the week (much like the Islamic tradition of fasting Mondays and Thursdays) can decrease your risk for diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Protects your brain. Some research has shown that when you fast, you protect your brain. In one study, fasting promoted “neuronal autophagy,” which is scientific for cells detoxifying themselves by destroying damaged organelles and old proteins. In another study, fasting increases Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which plays a role in memory, learning, and thought process. Low levels of BDNF have been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. There’s way more research out there, but I’m just highlighting some.

Normalizes main hormones linked to eating. Fasting helps normalize your insulin, leptin, and ghrelin levels. Insulin is the hormone that is responsible for controlling blood sugar levels, and leptin is the hormone that tells you when you’re full. Ghrelin is your “hunger” hormone–it tells you when you need to eat. Normalizing these levels means that your body will be more sensitive to them, and you won’t need more of each hormone to get the job done. Having an insensitivity to insulin can manifest itself as diabetes, and an insensitivity to leptin and ghrelin can lead to obesity because your body can no longer regulate your eating habits.

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Staying hydrated during Ramadan

Guest blogger Nosheen Hayat, an MPH graduate student at University of Michigan and former Research Associate for The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, shares her favorite tips for staying hydrated while fasting.
Guest blogger Nosheen Hayat, an MPH graduate student at University of Michigan and former Research Associate for The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, shares her favorite tips for staying hydrated while fasting.

Author: Nosheen Hayat, former Research Associate for CMBM, has a B.S. in dietetics and is currently a graduate student at University of Michigan working on her MPH in nutritional sciences.

Hydrating During Ramadan

Dehydration is probably the biggest challenge when fasting during the summer. Not only is it hot, but the fast is pretty long too–lasting more than 20 hours in some countries. Which means we could be dehydrated pretty early into our fast.

There is very little we can do to prevent our water from depleting during the day, other than avoiding activities that cause excessive sweating. But what is very important is that we hydrate well at and after iftar (breaking of the fast – the evening meal).

One of the beautiful challenges of Ramadan is not simply abstaining from food and water, but it also gives us a chance to change some of our negative dietary habits. This is because we now are limited in the amount of time we have to eat, combined with the limited space in our stomachs, we’re forced to make wiser choices in order to ensure we’re getting all the nutrients we need.

The hydrating process is not only important to replace loss of water, but also the loss of minerals. It’s important that you are drinking water throughout the night; some people even wake up in the middle of the night to drink a glass of water.

Here are some ways you can hydrate properly.

1. Date(s) & Water

It is traditional for Muslims to open their fast with a date and water – per the tradition of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). This is a great way to kick start the hydrating process. Dates are an excellent source of fiber, protein, and some major and minor minerals such as calcium, potassium, copper, magnesium, phosphorous, and folate.

2. Young Coconut Water

Coconut water is also an excellent tool to hydrate, especially if you are someone who is spending his/her time outside and sweating excessively. According to one research study, young coconut water worked just as well as sports drinks and regular water at hydrating subjects following a dehydrating exercise; the results showed that coconut water caused “less nausea, fullness, and no stomach upset and was easier to consume in a larger amount.” Coconut water is a pretty wholesome beverage; it contains different types of sugars, at least 9 different minerals, many amino acids (protein), and at least 7 different vitamins. It also is about 99% water. Given the sugar and mineral content, it is a great form of hydration.

3. Make Freshly Squeezed Lemonade

Lemons are also a great source of many different minerals and vitamins, such as calcium, potassium, copper, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin C, folate, choline, and vitamin A (if you keep the pulp). Combined with sea salt, which also contains major and minor minerals (iodine, iron, and zinc), and water, freshly squeezed lemonade makes for a great hydrating drink.

My recipe for lemonade is pretty simple:

  • 2 cups of water,
  • 1-2 tsp of sea salt,
  • 1-2 tsp raw brown sugar,
  • 1-2 squeezed lemons.

I try my best to cut the pulp out and leave it in the water as I don’t like to waste any part of the fruit. It tastes great and is so refreshing!

Make sure you don’t forget to drink water throughout the night after iftaar in order to hydrate properly.

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