For individuals who are able to safely fast, the holy month of Ramadan can provide a number of social, spiritual, psychological, and health benefits.
According to Reem Al Saadi, Director of Dietetics and Nutrition at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), over 1,300 patients were referred to the dietetics and nutrition service last year, for advice on how to safely fast and maximise the health benefits of fasting.
There are numerous studies that show abstaining from, or periodically reducing food and drink intake, benefits the body. In addition to the spiritual and psychological benefits, fasting has been shown to improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and insulin sensitivity while also helping to improve cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Fasting has also been shown to help reduce the risk of diabetes. It can also be a successful strategy for weight loss and treatment of addictions, decreasing cravings for nicotine, caffeine, and other substances.’
Research also shows that there are mental health benefits associated with fasting. Fasting is believed to have a preventative and therapeutic role in mood disorders like anxiety and depression and is said to improve focus and concentration.
Al Saadi added that fasting helps protect the immune system, destroying old and damaged cells and generate new ones. She said that fasting actually kick-starts a detoxification process that removes toxins stored in the body by giving the digestive system a rest from breaking down and absorbing food.
There are a number of digestive system illnesses that are food related, so once the stomach is given a break from having to process food, there is an increased possibility of healing. Irritable bowel syndrome, chronic indigestion, and acid reflux are good examples of conditions we often see improved during Ramadan as a result of fasting.’
Eating balanced meals during Iftar and Suhoor is an important part of maximising the health benefits of fasting. Al Saadi said that limiting the intake of foods high in sugar, sodium, and fat and drinking plenty of water during non-fasting hours is essential, adding that adequate consumption of water can help prevent dehydration and also wash away toxins. She notes that prevention is the best way to avoid dehydration and when possible, it is advisable to limit prolonged exposure to hot weather.
For more updates and information about HMC services during Ramadan, visit hamad.qa.