by Heena Patel
Recently, a study at the University of Southern California once again proved something that religions around the world have been promoting for centuries – fasting does the body good. As brown girls, we have been surrounded by religious fasting – be it Ramadan, Ekadashi and Gauri vrats, or Lent. While we indirectly may see health benefits, how many of us actually utilize religious fasting as a way to rev-up our health?
To give you some added motivation for observing fasts, and in time for Ramadan, I spoke to Functional Medicine Provider Dr. Sachin Patel on how to maximize the health benefits from fasting.
Here are 10 ways to feel great, rejuvenate, (and lose weight if you need to) during Ramadan and other fasts. According to him, practicing these tips over the course of Ramadan can result in dramatic alterations in body composition, mental clarity, mood, hunger, energy, pain, hair loss, constipation, thyroid issues, and cravings.
1. Instead of plain water, drink 50% diluted coconut water
Adding coconut water to your water intake will help maintain electrolytes and give you some carbs during the fast. The electrolytes and salts will help to maintain hydration.
2. Eat no more than one serving of fruit per day
Wait, aren’t fruits good for you? Fruits are a great source of fibre, potassium, vitamin C and folate, nutrients that help guard against disease, however they also come with a higher caloric count that it’s less appealing cousin – vegetables. Fruits contain fructose, a naturally occurring sugar. Fructose is an interesting sugar since it does not signal satiety centers in the brain, thus leaving people hungry. This is why most people can eat a banana or an apple and be starving 10 minutes later. Fruit serves an evolutionary role. It is designed to be consumed in high amounts to fatten us up for the winter. When choosing a fruit to eat apples, plums, peaches and nectarines are a good choice.
3. Do not eat any dried fruits
While this may seem counter intuitive (after all what iftar meal is complete without dates?), dried fruits, especially figs and dates, have a high sugar content that causes blood sugar levels to spike up and then crash. If you absolutely can’t do without the dried fruit, choose dried apricots, blueberries, cranberries, currants, dates, raisins, strawberries and limit your intake to a piece or two. If consuming dried fruit, make it at home (to eliminate the added sugar and preservatives), or buy the unsweetened variety.
4. Eliminate or significantly reduce all grains
Grains are a staple in many diets, unfortunately they can be counterproductive to weight loss and balancing blood sugar. In fact, a slice of white bread will raise your blood sugar higher and faster than a Snickers candy bar. Grains such as rice and corn will also raise blood sugar and create further imbalances in insulin and cortisol. If you are going to consume grains, quinoa is an excellent option.
5. Eat 80 percent plant based organic diet (veggies, nuts, and seeds)
A plant based diet is loaded with enzymes, phytonutrients and fiber. This will decrease inflammation, boost anti-oxidants, and promote regularity. A plant based diet is easier on the digestive system and therefore conserves more energy for your fast. The reasoning for organic is simple: while cleansing your body, it is contradictory to be ingesting pesticides and other chemicals adding strain to your body. Eating organic is recommended, however, it isn’t always viable (in terms of availability or finances), so try to eat as organic as possible.
6. Eat only organic meats
Non-organic meats are loaded with pesticide and hormone residues. It also defeats the purpose of fasting if the animals that you are consuming are treated inhumanely. Food has a spiritual energy that goes beyond calories. This is an often overlooked aspect of food that requires more attention. Choose hormone free, free range, and humanely treated animal meats, things that most halal meat usually is but it always helps to double check.
7. Practice mindfulness and meditation throughout the day
Fasting can play with our emotions! Even without fasting, we all know the effects of hunger pangs. Remember that fasting is not simply to cleanse the body, but also the mind and soul. Use the time to observe the relationship between food, your body, and behavior. Practice mindfulness to limit the effect of mood swings, if any, that may result from fasting. Use meditation as a tool to still the mind.
8. Exercise at least 10 minutes per day, walk 8,000 or more steps per day
Eating less doesn’t mean that you are starving your body or need to severely limit your physical movement. While long, extensive exercising may not be viable during a fast, don’t eliminate physical activity. Exercise and sweating create avenues for toxins to be removed from your body. Walking is a great light to moderate exercise to keep your body moving.
9. Incorporate organic fats in the diet (ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, fish oil)
As Time magazine has loudly proclaimed (by putting butter on it’s cover), fats are NOT the enemy of good health. Fat is an integral part of a healthy diet (and great for your skin). However, some fats are better than others. Be generous in your consumption of fats from ghee (which is much better than butter), coconut oil, olive oil, and fish oil is HIGHLY recommended, and while you are at it, use organic.
10. Take specific supplements that can support appetite, detoxification, b-vitamins, fiber and probiotics, adrenal and/or blood sugar support
Every body is different. When fasting was introduced via religion, there was a large degree of homogeneity in terms of food consumption, and physical activity of the general population, making it much easier to suggest a diet for fasting. That is no longer the case. To maximize the benefits of fasting, you want to make sure that you have all your bases covered by taking the supplements you need. Contact Dr. Patel or other functional medicine providers if you need guidance in this direction.
Heena Patel is a tabla player, artist manager, and music entrepreneur promoting South Asian performing arts. Living between the United States and India, she’s been working with Dr. Patel to optimize her health for a global trotting lifestyle.
Dr. Patel is a Functional and Lifestyle Medicine Provider and the Founder of The Living Proof Institute. Dr Patel believes that nothing can fix the body better than it can fix itself. Using this thought process he helps individuals maximize their health potentials through diet, exercise, lifestyle, and advanced laboratory assessments. By working closely with patients from all over the world he has been able to successfully help individuals reverse diabetes, autoimmune conditions, thyroid disease, and many others. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org