Fasting myths debunked

What are the benefits, and how do I fast healthy?

Fasting – just another form of detox? It can be beneficial if done right. Jenny Hewett gets some tips from an expert.

When you consider the turmoil our bodies often endure when we’re detoxing, juicing or embarking on fad diets, fasting from sunrise to sunset daily during Ramadan doesn’t seem quite as dangerous as some might think. During the Holy Month, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking during the sunlight hours in what is a deeply spiritual time of reflection and increased devotion. And with proper advice and care taken, it doesn’t have to affect your health. Here, with the advice of Dubai-based clinical dietician at iCARE Clinics, Juliot Vinolia, we tackle some of the biggest questions when it comes to fasting.

What happens to the body when we fast?
During fasting, the body generates energy by burning its own reserve of glucose and fat. In this crisis state, the liver plays the key role of converting the body’s excess fat into energy. On depletion of the glucose and fat, it then targets the muscle proteins and this is the point the body is considered to be in its starved state.

Can you give us some healthy fasting tips?
Cut down on meals a few days before you fast, maintain good hydration, don’t overeat or skip meals – especially suhoor, take your physicians’ advise on your medical condition before fasting, catch up on sleep, walk for 30 minutes or cycling for 20 minutes in the late evening and take a multivitamin to prevent nutritional disorders.

What are some of the things to avoid when fasting?
Skipping meals, overindulging in one meal, compromising on sleep, becoming more sedentary, avoiding prescribed medications, trying to lose weight by starvation, overeating fatty and salty foods and avoiding exercise before iftar.

How does fasting during Ramadan differ from fasting during detox?
During Ramadan, any weight loss experienced is predominantly fat, whereas we when detox, it is predominantly water loss. There are, of course, longer hours of fasting during Ramadan, whereas a detox may only last a few days. There is also a slight dehydration risk when fasting during the Holy Month, which is not experienced during a detox at other times of year. Lastly, certain food groups are restricted during detox, while fasting can be done while maintaining a nutritionally adequate and balanced diet.

What are some of the health benefits from fasting?
• The body burns excessive unhealthy fat and glucose reserves, which results in healthy weight loss.

• Detoxification occurs and toxins are removed and neutralised.

• Several studies have shown that fast-growing cancerous tumours become starved of nutrients and hence they are resolved and removed from the body.

• Fasting improves insulin resistance and helps prevent diabetes.

• The digestive tract rests and is allowed to heal and regenerate.

• The liver can detox.

• Anti-ageing hormones are released.

• Immune system and metabolic processes are activated.

• Several new studies suggests that healthy fasting kick-starts stem cells into producing new white blood cells for the body’s immune forces.

• There’s a reduction in deposited fat seen in blood vessels and an improved healing of damaged arteries, which can lead to less cardiovascular-related risks.

What are some of the health risks?
• Inadequate and disturbed sleeping habits.

• Overeating at iftar meals.

• Loss of lean muscle, muscle cramping and muscle injury due to poor hydration.

• Metabolism slows down as does bodily function at cell level.

• Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances are more likely.

• Fatigue and poor concentration at work.

• Hypoglycemia and very low blood glucose levels.

• Some studies have shown that menstrual abnormalities such as irregular cycles, prolonged cycles and heavy menstrual bleeding increase after fasting for more than 15 days.

• Skipping suhoor meals increases bad cholesterol levels.

• Dizziness, constipation, bloating and bad breath.

What foods should you eat during iftar for more energy?
This is the meal to replenish hydration, minerals, electrolytes and blood glucose levels. Choosing fruits rich in potassium such as watermelon, bananas, apples, dried fruits and raisins prevent water retention and restore blood glucose levels. Avoid fatty foods around this time.

What should you eat during suhoor?
The morning meal or suhoor is the energy back-up meal for the whole day and needs to be high in protein and fibre. The ideal time to eat is between 4.30am and 5.30am. The primary goal is to have foods that are digested slowly. In this way, there is a gradual release of energy for the following hours of fasting. Choose only complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and breads, brown rice and oats. This is the best time to eat eggs as they are packed with energy and protein and also help curb hunger. A cup of low fat dairy food is also recommended.

What are some ways to avoid weight gain during Ramadan?
Weight changes in Ramadan are relatively small and most are reversed when returning to your usual eating pattern. People can gain weight when over-eating calorie-dense foods as well as not getting enough sleep or exercise. Dehydration and high salt intake can also cause water retention-associated weight gain. Though Ramadan provides an opportunity to lose weight, it calls for a well-planned, consistent lifestyle modification to achieve and sustain the weight loss.

How should you avoid losing weight during Ramadan?
Weight loss can occur when refraining from food by starvation or eating less than 500 calories per day and this can impair health. Sleep and exercise are also important to maintain good levels of health.
iCARE Clinics Oasis Centre (04 384 7272); Discovery Gardens (04 452 2242); Lamcy Plaza (04 709 2900)

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