One of the more frequently asked questions of Muslims while we are fasting is “not even water?”
Muslims fast during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. The month is called Ramadan. Across the globe at this time Muslims are observing the month and those who can, are fasting. The fast entails staying away from food and drink during the daylight hours for the entire month. The fast is, therefore, a complete fast.
While the ultimate goal of such observations in faith-based traditions is increasing one’s spirituality and connection to the Creator, it is also an opportunity to look seriously at one’s health and wellness.
Our bodies are very much like machines and the more we use it, the more wear and tear occurs. What we put into our bodies is as important as what we don’t put into it. Overeating or eating the wrong foods, or not eating the right foods all impact significantly on our health and quality of living. We know that Barbados is facing a crisis as it relates to non-communicable diseases and other ailments as a result of poor dietary habits, lack of exercise and other contributing factors.
The benefits of fasting – intermittent or complete – and other forms of depriving oneself of food or drink for periods of time have been extolled by several health experts, nutritionists and scientists. Of course, each person must know him or herself and what they are capable of.
I can speak from personal experience having fasted every year, since my teens, in the manner I am fasting now. My body feels renewed and refreshed at the end of the month. It is a welcomed exercise in self-control. Ultimately, to stay away from any sort of food or drink for close to 14 hours a day is an exercise of the mind. The stomach feels the pangs of hunger but the brain kicks in to achieve that patience and self-control. People in the world who don’t have enough food, who face hardships and famine go through this daily and are still alive; we go through it for a few hours in a day, we will survive.
Rachel Link in an evidence-based article entitled 8 Health Benefits of Fasting, Backed by Science lists the benefits:
1. Promotes blood sugar control by reducing insulin resistance
Several studies have found that fasting may improve blood sugar control, which could be especially useful for those at risk of diabetes. Intermittent fasting and alternate-day fasting could help decrease blood sugar levels and reduce insulin resistance but may affect men and women differently.
2. Promotes better health by fighting inflammation
While acute inflammation is a normal immune process used to help fight off infections, chronic inflammation can have serious consequences for your health.
Research shows that inflammation may be involved in the development of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. Some studies have found that fasting could decrease several markers of inflammation and may be useful in treating inflammatory conditions, such as multiple sclerosis.
3. May enhance heart health by improving blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels
Heart disease is considered the leading cause of death around the world, accounting for an estimated 31.5 per cent of deaths globally. Switching up your diet and lifestyle is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Some research has found that incorporating fasting into your routine may be especially beneficial when it comes to heart health. Fasting has been associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease and may help lower blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels.
4. May boost brain function and prevent neurodegenerative disorders
Though research is mostly limited to animal research, several studies have found that fasting could have a powerful effect on brain health.
5. Aids weight loss by limiting calorie intake and boosting metabolism
One review showed that whole-day fasting could reduce body weight by up to nine per cent and significantly decrease body fat over 12–24 weeks. Another review found that intermittent fasting over 3–12 weeks was as effective in inducing weight loss as continuous calorie restriction and decreased body weight and fat mass by up to eight per cent and 16 per cent, respectively.
6. Increases growth hormone secretion, which is vital for growth, metabolism, weight loss and muscle strength
Studies show that fasting can increase levels of human growth hormone (HGH), an important protein hormone that plays a role in growth, metabolism, weight-loss and muscle strength.
7. Could delay aging and extend longevity
8. May aid in cancer prevention and increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy
Our body, which is a gift to us from our Creator, has rights over us and we should always seek to maintain its good health and well-being. Those substances that impact negatively should always be avoided. Fasting allows that mind-conditioning critical in regulating control of our desires and cravings for unhealthy foods and substances.
The Heart & Stroke Foundation of Barbados has a campaign encouraging the drinking of more water. It is a much needed campaign especially among our younger generation who are, almost daily, served a diet of sugary, sweetened beverages and foods.
Their hashtags “stop sugarcoating the truth” and “stopyuhtoosweet!” seeks to draw attention to the very serious health impacts of consumption of sugary drinks. The literature for their campaign points out several important facts.
“Consumption of sugary drinks is directly linked to childhood obesity. Obesity can increase your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.”
“Think before you drink. One regular soft drink contains about 16 teaspoons of sugar. There are a minimum 11 teaspoons of sugar in most energy drinks. Some fruit juices contain just as much sugar as soft drinks.”
As an alternative, they promote drinking more water. The foundation’s “Drink More Water” campaign states that “Water is the BEST drink for your body. It helps regulate your body temperature, converts food to energy AND helps your body absorb nutrients.”
Their literature also shows the benefits of drinking water and encourages adults to teach our children to drink water as an alternative to sugar sweetened beverages. The foundation argues that drinking water will save money and lives.
This campaign will clearly be a battle, because the soft drink industry in the US alone is expected to be worth $388 billion by 2025. The soft drink industry will not go that quietly into the night. And signs are that many companies are modifying their ingredients to have no sugar options.
Muslims are encouraged in their faith traditions to break their fasts at sunset each day of the month with a date-fruit and water. Interestingly, soft drink companies have caught on to Ramadan in many Muslim majority countries. They deliberately put out appealing advertisements which show quenching thirst after a long day of fast with icy-cold soft drinks. The health and wellness side of the fast is easily destroyed by such allurements.
Barbados has been blessed over the years with good, quality drinking water. We should all play our part to encourage drinking more water and cut out the soft drinks, especially amongst our children.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI and a Childhood Obesity Prevention Champion. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)