Health Effects of Ramadan Fasting

Ramadan fasting is a spiritual practice in which all healthy adults — with the exception of travelers, pregnant and menstruating women, and breastfeeding mothers — abstain from food, water, medications, and supplements between pre-dawn and sunset. Occurring annually during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, this year’s holy month of Ramadan begins at sundown on March 10, 2024 and ends at sundown on April 9, 2024. 

In addition to fasting from all beverages and foods for Ramadan, other bodily appetites such as smoking, drugs, and sexual relations are abstained from during each day’s fasting window. This is largely what makes religious fasts such as Ramadan different from other time-restricted eating patterns (like intermittent fasting). Still, the health benefits of fasting in Ramadan are similar to those of other types of fasts, from increased metabolic flexibility to weight loss.

Let’s look at the health benefits of fasting during Ramadan and discuss what you can do to support your mind, body, and spirit throughout the holiest month of the Islamic calendar year. 

Health Benefits of Fasting During Ramadan

I’ve previously talked about the many health benefits of fasting on my blog, from improvements in cardio-metabolic health to decreased oxidative stress. To name a few of these positive health effects, fasting has been shown to:

  • Improve muscle-to-fat ratio, insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular health, athletic performance, and mental clarity. 
  • Improve cancer treatment outcomes and reduce side effects of cancer treatments. 
  • Reduce body weight.
  • Decrease oxidative stress.

The good news is that these positive health effects pertain to non-religious fasts like intermittent fasting as well as religious fasts like Ramadan! Even though the purpose of fasting during Ramadan is to grow spiritually while willingly renouncing oneself from all bodily appetites for a definite period of time, positive health effects are often experienced as a bonus. 

Below, we’ll take a closer look at what research tells us about the benefits of fasting in Ramadan.

Metabolic Health, Ramadan Fasting, and Weight Loss

Like other types of time-restricted eating (such as intermittent fasting), the metabolic health effects of fasting in Ramadan are vast! After Ramadan fasting, for instance, increased levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the “good” type of cholesterol) have been reported in women, while decreased levels of triglycerides and total cholesterol have been observed in men. Significant reductions in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the “bad” type of cholesterol) have been reported in both men and women. 

Weight loss during Ramadan is also commonly seen, though men seem to lose more weight than women do. However, this could be due to activity levels while fasting rather than calorie intake. 

Other research on Ramadan and weight loss suggest that reductions in weight, body mass index (BMI), and fat mass are more likely to occur in those with a greater BMIs pre-Ramadan. Reductions in body fat percentage and fat mass have also been observed among pre- and postmenopausal women during Ramadan.

Furthermore, new research published in Nutrition Reviews found that Ramadan fasting improves blood pressure, glycemic control, body weight, waist circumference, and lipid profile. Specifically, improvements were seen in fasting blood glucose; systolic and diastolic blood pressure; and in triglycerides, HDL, LDL, and total cholesterol. Researchers concluded that fasting during Ramadan could reduce cardiovascular disease risk while enhancing glycemic control, reducing weight, and improving blood pressure. 

Additional metabolic improvements that result from Ramadan fasting include increases in anti-insulin hormones (e.g. glucagon and epinephrine) and decreases in insulin production. There’s even new research to suggest that fasting during Ramadan supports a healthy gut microbiome — increasing gut microbial diversity and positively impacting the composition of the gut microbiome. 

Healthy Meal Planning and Recommended Foods for Ramadan

Now that we’ve talked about the many benefits of fasting in Ramadan, let’s take a quick look at what to eat during your fast. 

During the month of Ramadan, each day’s fasting period begins after a small pre-dawn meal (known as Suhoor) and a special morning prayer. Suhoor typically consists of dates, fruit, milk, or yogurt, along with plenty of liquids. The Ramadan fasting period ends at sunset with a light snack followed by a fast-breaking evening meal known as Iftar. Typical evening dishes during Ramadan range from simple soups and salads to full-on feasts that last for hours. 

To avoid disrupting the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle while fasting during Ramadan, I recommend moderating food intake at Iftar as best as possible. Eating too much in the evening (especially excess sugars and fried foods) impairs sleep and digestion, as does improper meal planning during Ramadan. 

To ensure a healthy Ramadan fast, it’s recommended to build a balanced “Ramadan Plate” at Iftar, especially if you have a chronic health condition such as diabetes. This includes:

  • High-fiber and low glycemic carbohydrates such as green salads, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (about 40 to 50 percent of your plate).
  • Proteins such as legumes, fish, nuts, poultry, and other non-red meat sources (about 20 to 30 percent of your plate).
  • Healthy fats such as oily fish and olive oil (about 30 to 35 percent of your plate). 

At Suhoor, recommended foods include yogurt, whole-grain bread, olives, fava beans, and tomato and cucumber salads. Of course, staying physically active throughout Ramadan and drinking plenty of water during Suhoor and Iftar is highly recommended!

How Long Do Effects Last?

While weight loss and other metabolic improvements are commonly seen by the time Ramadan ends, these benefits of fasting in Ramadan are often reversed within several weeks of completing the fast. Exercising and making long-term dietary and lifestyle changes; however, could prevent this reversal while also supporting overall health and well-being. 

What’s Next?

While Ramadan fasting benefits the mind, body, and spirit in many different ways, additional dietary and lifestyle modifications are often needed after the month-long fast ends to prolong the health benefits of fasting.

Naturopathic functional medicine is an excellent starting point when you’re looking for long-lasting health improvements — whether your goals are losing weight, reducing fatigue, or improving metabolic health markers. 

Book an appointment and see for yourself how naturopathic functional medicine can make a difference in your life!

Connect with me to learn how naturopathic functional medicine can help!

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