20 May 2018 – 8:49
DOHA: At least 1,300 patients were referred to the dietetics and nutrition service for advice on how to safely fast and maximise the health benefits of fasting in 2017, says Reem Al Saadi (pictured), Director of Dietetics and Nutrition at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC).
“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,” said Al Saadi.
Fasting has also been shown to help reduce the risk of diabetes among individuals at high risk for the condition and it can be a successful strategy for weight loss and treatment of addictions by decreasing cravings for nicotine, caffeine, and other substances,” she added.
Research also shows 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.
“Fasting helps protect the immune system, destroying old and damaged cells and generating new ones. It 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 (IBS), chronic indigestion, and acid reflux are good examples of conditions we often see improved during Ramadan as a result of fasting,” said Al Saadi.
Eating balanced meals during Iftar and Suhoor is an important part of maximizing the health benefits of fasting. Al Saadi says 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.