Secondary Foods are what we eat. They are comprised of what modern nutrition categorizes as carbohydrates, proteins and fats. While Secondary Food is a form of nourishment, it does not account for the physical (i.e., exercise), mental, emotional and spiritual nourishment that we receive from primary food, as discussed in my previous post.
Religious fasts are primarily observed for spiritual purposes, but they simultaneously possess the inherent potential to positively affect health, that is, if the fasts are performed mindfully and supported by modern nutritional science. Fasting is one of the oldest ways to reduce or stop chronic degenerative disease. There are a number of types of fasts, and Ramadan seemingly fulfills the categories of the intermittent fast (IF), which typically lasts from 12 to 20 hours; a smaller window (typically 6-8 hours) is allotted for eating. The main differences are that the Ramadan fast, which lasts the course of the daylight hours (11-22 hours depending on geographical location), requires abstinence from food, drink, smoking, and sex (exceptions are given to those with medical challenges or females that are pregnant or menstruating).
Amy Nett, M.D., explains that research provides ample evidence that intermittent fasting causes a favorable shift in metabolism that preserves muscle. During the most common fasting duration –about 18 to 24 hours— our cells shift from using glucose as their primary fuel source to using fat. This means that our fat stores, namely triglycerides, are broken down and used for energy. The breakdown of proteins for fuel does not begin until the third day of fasting. Thus, intermittent fasting remains an option for optimizing health even in those wanting to maintain or gain muscle mass. The shift in metabolism from glucose to fat may be most pronounced after about 18 hours of fasting, suggesting potential benefit from occasional whole-day fasts. IF is associated with:
- Weight loss
- Lowering insulin
- Improved cardiovascular disease profile
- Decreases in inflammation
- May improve brain health
- May be associated with decreases in neuroinflammation
Intermittent fasting is not for everyone
Intermittent fasting should always be avoided during pregnancy and breastfeeding and should generally be avoided during times of increased stress that contribute to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, or more precisely, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction. Additionally, there are health risks associated with diets that are too low calorie, including concerns of nutritional deficiencies, electrolyte abnormalities, and potentially more serious risks if extreme diets are undertaken without appropriate supervision. Intermittent fasting can be a great strategy for weight loss and overall health during the right time for you and when approached cautiously.
As you can see Ramadan can act as a doorway to cultivating powerful holistic benefits, but due to common lifestyle and dietary habits/ choices during this month, the overall health of practicing Muslims has become a growing concern in the medical field. As a result, an increasing amount of dietary and lifestyle information is being published to help Muslims prepare for and commit to a “Healthy Ramadan”.
I am not a practicing Muslim, but I have spent 9 years of my life living in Muslim majority countries. I would like to add a few educational tips for people to better understand the importance of making such shifts, and how to construct a solid and sustainable nutritional plan for the holy month and beyond:
1. If done properly, fasting can also become the conscious act to ‘detoxify’. Whether the toxins we confront come from the environment, diet, or mind, it can benefit any individual to focus on and make a habit of optimizing their body’s natural methods of detoxification, at least once a year.
2. It is important to understand that food is information, triggering very different biochemical responses in the body- different hormones, neurotransmitters and immune messengers. Rather than focusing on the caloric content of a food, focus on food quality (local, organic, grass-fed, whole food, etc.) and food diversity (to rebalance healthy gut flora, liver function, and hormones). In response, the body returns to its natural appetite and metabolism (shifting from fat storage mode to fat burning mode), and preventing NCDs.
3. Today, inflammation has been found to be associated with just about every single symptom and disease that people are dealing with on a regular basis. Inflammation isn’t an inherently bad thing. It is a protective tissue response by which the body’s white blood cells and substances they produce serves to destroy, dilute, or wall off both the damaging agent and/or the injured tissue. The classic signs of acute inflammation are pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function. However, chronic inflammation becomes very disruptive. It can block chemical signals required for normal, healthy cellular growth. Chronic cellular inflammation is the root cause of ALL chronic degenerative disease. Inflammation is an extremely metabolically demanding process. All of your protein reserves, minerals, and vitamins will be used towards stoking the inflammation if it is not quenched. The top inflammatory foods are: gluten, dairy, sugar, corn, soy, and MSG.
4. One night of poor sleep can induce insulin resistance. During a detox, you will need adequate sleep to give your body the energy it needs to reset your immune system and reduce inflammation. Furthermore, sleep is critical for brain detoxification.
How do you get your circadian rhythm back into balance?
- Light is the major synchronizer, so maintain smart light rhythms (i.e., get at least 30 minutes of outdoor light every day),
- Set a time to go to bed each night (ensuring consistency, intensity, and duration of sleep), 3) Avoid physical exercise, use of electronics, and eating at least two to three hours before sleeping,
- Optimize bedroom hygiene: create a clean, safe, stress free environment by removing all stressors, such as lights, noises, and EMFs.
- The body needs extra hydration especially when fasting. A good rule of thumb is to drink half your weight (pounds) in ounces. Tips:
- Immediately break your fast by drinking a full glass of water,
- Aim at drinking only room temperature or hot water to optimize digestion,
- Add half a juice of a lemon to 8 oz. of water to aid in a gentle and effective cleanse of the body (alternatively, adding 1 tablespoon of organic raw apple cider vinegar can help with alkanization),
- Try to be more conscious of when dehydration is mistaken for hunger,
- Consume more water containing or hydrophilic foods such as soups, leafy greens, fruits, coconut water, chia seeds, etc.
Ramadan is a community-oriented event, and getting healthy is a collaborative effort. Together, Muslims can reclaim balance, and energy directed towards cultivating new practices and commitments. In turn, the resounding effect can be enormous. This month, I hope you slow down, and enjoy settling into a new rhythm with yourself and with others.
If you are confused about what to eat in order to optimize your health, energy, and overall sense of wellbeing, you are not alone. Nutrition and its connection to the sustainability of the body, mind, and environment is a hot topic these days. But, navigating through the messages we receive from mainstream culture, family, traditions, religious and spiritual beliefs, fad diets and trends, scientific research, and innate body wisdom in order to find the ‘right way’ is anything but easy. When it comes to food, we can get a little too focused on the details and being perfect, and lose sight of what is most important, which is the Quality of the food we are eating (in addition to the way we are eating it, and the amount of pleasure we allow ourselves during these moments). However, we can make one basic assumption that applies to everyone, and that is that certain foods such as processed refined flour, sugar, and industrial seed oils are foods that nobody thrives on. Beyond that, and within the template of a nutrient dense, whole foods diet, there is a lot of movement for flexibility and variation depending on one’s individual needs. For help in creating a more personalized and sustainable approach to eating, please contact:
‘Practice. Nourish, Inspire’
Ilaria Garrett holds a Masters in Nutrition and a Bachelors degree in both Psychology and Japanese. She is also a Certified Eating Psychology Coach Ilaria is a practising wellness consultant for individuals, small groups, and large organizations.