5 Unexpected health benefits of intermittent fasting during Ramadan, the cultural significance of Ramadan, and healthy foods to incorporate into iftar to boost resilience and focus throughout the month.
The month of Ramadan is a time of spiritual growth, reflection, and fasting. As one of the five pillars of Islam, Ramadan is an integral part of the Muslim culture. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk - abstaining from both food and drink throughout the day. In the evening, the fast is broken after sunset with “Iftar”, and a pre-fasting meal called “Sahur” is enjoyed before dawn. Ramadan ends with a celebration called Eid, or “the festival of breaking the fast” after 29 or 30 days of fasting (depending on the Islamic calendar year).
The purpose of this fast is to become closer to God and loved ones, to unite and pray, to recite the Quran, and to give back to the community through charity and good deeds.
Fasting for this extended period of time - experiencing hunger, thirst, and fatigue - allows Muslims to cultivate empathy for those less fortunate, who are without life’s basic necessities. This empathy and gratitude presents an opportunity to nurture a more connected, compassionate and kind society.
Gratitude, generosity, and empathy are truly core values for us here at nomz. Our mission is to live by this sentiment throughout Ramadan, and all year long.
Our founder, Jana, and many of our staff are currently observing Ramadan this year. With that in mind, we wanted to share some of the health benefits of intermittent fasting during Ramadan, and healthy foods that you can break your fast with!
"Food is not just fuel. Food is about family, food is about community, food is about identity. We nourish all those things when we eat well." - Michale Pollan
Unexpected Health Benefits of Fasting
“Personally, I have noticed that I feel more focused, efficient and clear-minded during the month of Ramadan. During the fast, I fall asleep quickly and have deep, restful sleeps (often with vivid dreams). After the month of Ramadan is over, I have noticed that my skin is clear and youthful, and I crave healthy, wholesome food that is going to nourish my body.” - Jana
According to the research, it looks like Jana’s observations are correct! Here are 5 unexpected health benefits of fasting during Ramadan:
1. Cognitive Health - one study from the Tehran University of Medical Sciences found that fasting during Ramadan increased plasma levels of serotonin, brain derived nootropic factor (BDNF), and nerve growth factor. These neuropeptides are important for optimal brain health, healthy aging, and longevity!
2. Kick Sugar - fasting is a great time to kick those sugar cravings! Take this time as an extended break from sugar and allow your taste buds to reset. The less added sugar you have in your diet, the less you will crave it. Fasting is an ideal time to kick bad habits such as indulging in sugary foods, fast food, highly processed foods, and smoking.
3. Cleanse + Reset - during intermittent fasting, the body becomes depleted of glucose, and eventually glycogen (a secondary fuel source). As glucose is depleted, fat and ketone bodies will be used as a source of energy to make up for the reduction of glucose. While weight loss and a reduction of body fat is one of the more obvious benefits of this fasting state - another benefit is cellular “clean up”! As found in this literature review, intermittent fasting has the potential to promote autophagy. Autophagy is a natural process that our cells carry out on a daily basis to clean out dead cells, toxins, and waste products - leaving room for new healthy cells to regenerate. During a fasted state, autophagy is upregulated - meaning your body has the opportunity to detox more thoroughly.
4. Improve digestion - fasting allows your digestive system time for a much-needed break to rest and reset. If you struggle with bloating, leaky gut, or IBS - fasting for even a short amount of time could have beneficial effects for your digestive system.
5. Reduce inflammation - this study from the journal of Nutrition Research found that Ramadan intermittent fasting has the potential to reduce inflammation in the body by suppressing proinflammatory cytokine expression - in addition to reducing body fat!
Foods To Enjoy For Iftar and Sahur
Dates - Dates are a great source of sustenance during fasts, as they are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and naturally occurring sugars. These natural sugars provide a quick source of energy - helping to quickly restore and stabilize blood sugar. The tradition of breaking the fast with dates roots back to the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad - who would break his fast 2-3 dates or water.
This ancestral source of nutrition is (of course!) one of the key ingredients in our nomz bites, providing that satiating sweet flavour without any refined sugar. Read more about the health benefits of dates here!
Daily Nourish - Another great way to break your fast is with Daily Nourish superfood mix! This simple “all in one” superfood mix is a great way to support your body as it is easily digested and rich in macro and micronutrients. Providing energy with vital nutrients such as iron, magnesium, Vitamin C, and countless antioxidants. During Ramadan, Jana enjoys breaking her fast with Daily Nourish - simply mix up 45 g (4 tablespoons) with water, lemon juice, and blueberries (optional) for a hydrating tonic to break your fast.
A Fun fact: the concept for Daily Nourish was brought to life during Ramadan 2020 - when Jana was scouring her cupboards for superfoods to add into a smoothie to enjoy for Iftar! Rather than measuring out all the ingredients, Jana wondered “why not save time and effort by combining them all in one?!” The resulting superfood mix was SO nourishing, it had to be shared.
Wholesome, Unprocessed Foods - replenish your energy stores and balance blood sugar with a well-balanced meal! Some foods you could include that are satisfying, yet easy on digestion and light are:
• Fresh fruit and vegetables such as berries, avocado, spinach, citrus fruits, and beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, collard greens etc
• Sources of protein such as beans, pulses, lentils, tofu. For non-vegans chicken and salmon are great sources of lean protein
• Healthy fats from almond butter, hazelnut butter, pistachio butter, or macadamia nut butter. Other great sources of healthy fats include olive oil, coconut oil, hemp seeds, olives, and avocados!
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