Dubai: Many people are riding the latest wave in the weight-loss world by attempting to drop a few pounds through a diet regime known as intermittent fasting.
Practicing brief periods of fasting with either no food or significant calorie reduction, and periods of unrestricted eating has helped many people achieve their goal.
Many following the trend throughout the year and planning to fast during the month of Ramadan may ask what the similarities are between voluntary fasting and spiritual fasting when it comes to their impact on one’s health?
A lot of what we call ‘intermittent fasting’ nowadays stems from observational research based on Ramadan practices and outcomes.
The main similarity is the practice of abstinence from food and drink. The difference however lies in the aim and motive behind fasting- one being for religious and spiritual reasons, and the other being to shed weight.
Roots of fasting: A lot of what we call ‘intermittent fasting’ nowadays stems from observational research based on Ramadan practices and outcomes, explained dietician Tanya Van Aswegen, at Valiant Clinic.
Fasting is an ancient practice followed in a variety of different formats by populations globally based on religion or culture, but more recently in the medical world too for health reasons.
“Currently there is actually not enough evidence for us to know what the ideal number of fasting hours should be to optimise outcomes,” said Aswegen.
Types of intermittent fasting There are four main types of intermittent fasting that vary in duration and calorie intake. These include alternate-day fasting, whole-day fasting, modified fasting regimes, and time-restricted feeding.
“Pros of intermittent fasting are that many people find it to be a more flexible approach, that does not require precise tracking of calories and less planning is required,” said Aswegen.
Studies have also shown that intermittent fasting can be as effective for weight loss as a continued calorie restricted diet.
Eating right, nutritious foods during non-fasting hours plays a big role in the health benefits achieved from fasting. The more colourful your salad, the more health benefits it holds.
The downside however, is linked to unavailable research on its long-term effects in humans and the difference in responses between men and women with regards to muscle mass loss, hormone changes and overall outcomes.
“It is also not a suitable approach for those with eating disorders, during pregnancy or breastfeeding and for those with medication controlled diabetes and other chronic health conditions,” said Aswegen. She pointed out that a big pitfall of intermittent fasting is that it also puts more focus on when to eat, rather than what to eat. “The quality and quantity of food will always be essential for disease prevention and weight loss, backed up by many years of quality research,” she added.
What to eat during Ramadan: Eating right, nutritious foods during non-fasting hours plays a big role in the health benefits achieved from fasting, said Dr Smitha Muraletharan, Specialist in Internal Medicine at Aster Hospital. In Ramadan, after complete fasting, it is advisable to break the fast with one or two glasses of water, some natural foods like a few dates or fruits, and a soup to provide adequate hydration.
“Your Iftar meal should contain a source of carbohydrates, preferably complex. These include brown rice, wholegrain pasta or bread, potatoes or burghul, which provide a more stable and sustainable source of energy in addition to fibre and minerals,” said Dr Muraletharan.
Vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibre and provide nutrients with very little calories. It is advised to aim for two servings of vegetables per meal during fasting days.
Dr Muraletharan’s rule of thumb is “the more colourful your salad, the more health benefits it holds.”
“It also provides a feeling of fullness, ensuring you eat less on your main dish,” she said.
As for your iftar meal, you should aim to eat high quality protein that are highly digestible and contain all the essential amino acids. Incorporate lean protein, which include fish, skinless chicken or turkey and low-fat dairy to have as part of your iftar meal. If you’re a vegetarian, you can select other protein sources such as legumes, beans and nuts.
“Don’t be in a hurry to finish your food. After being deprived of eating for an entire day, overloading on food may lead to indigestion and other gastric problems. Have a light iftar that includes reasonable food portions, and avoid foods high in fat, salt and sugar,” she explained.
Another rule of thumb “don’t exceed amounts you would have for a typical lunch or dinner meal.”
What to eat after intermittent fasting?: A common misconception that many people fall into is that food choices during non-fasting hours can vary from fast foods to sugary cravings.
However, if your goal of intermittent fasting is to lose weight, improve productivity and simply get healthier, it is important to stick to healthy meals. “This means eating whole foods and avoiding the usual suspects such as sugar, processed foods, and empty carbs,” said Dr Muraletharan. To get all the health benefits of intermittent fasting such as fat loss, increased metabolic rate, lower blood sugar levels, boost in the immune system and others, you must restrict yourself from consuming any caloric food. “You can still consume non-caloric beverages because they do not break the fast and allow you to get all the benefits of fasting,” she added.
Types of intermittent fasting
■ Alternate-day fasting: Alternating 24 hour complete fast with no energy intake with 24 hours of normal eating
■ Whole-day fasting: one to two complete days of fasting per week.
■ Modified fasting regimes (eg — 5:2 fasting regime) where you eat only 500 calories (20-25 per cent of energy needs) for two non-consecutive days and eat normally the other 5 days
■ Time-restricted feeding: eg — 16-18 hour fasting windows, where there is a set feeding time depending on your lifestyle (example: fasting between 7pm — 11am daily).