Monday, August 1, 2011

The unexpected benefit of Ramadan

With Ramadan starting today, fasting is a good topic to write about.  I'm on holiday at the moment, a time when fasting hasn't been at all practical, much less the difficulties of adherence to my normal eating plan that normally doesn't include sugar or wheat.  More on that not insignificant detail in a follow-up post.

What prompted me to write this post is a conversation I had last week with a very good friend I hadn't seen in a long time.  Being Muslim and of Indo-Pakistani descent, her family usually eats very differently than ours, not only during Ramadan, but also at other times.  That too, is fodder for another post, since starch consumption in the form of white rice, lentils and sugar normally plays a prominent role in Indian diets.

She told me her family doctor warned her that Ramadan fasting would be potentially bad for her health and tried to discourage her from participating in this ancient religious practice.

I told her about a post Dr. William Davis wrote not too long ago, in which he argued the contrary.  In fact, he claims that fasting for a minimum of 15 hours will give the pancreas a break from producing insulin and:

  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Reduce visceral fat
  • Reduce inflammatory measures
  • Reduce liver output of VLDL that cascades into reduced small LDL, improved HDL “architecture,” and improved insulin responsiveness
  • Accelerate weight loss. One pound per day is typical.
 
This would seem to be complete news to my friend's family physician, though I am pretty certain she was thinking of the adverse effects of low blood sugar during a prolonged fast.  On a low carb diet, hypoglycemia is much less of a factor.

During Ramadan, the day typically starts before daybreak with a high protein breakfast, and I'm told that with some practice, the lengthy daytime hours without food or water are quite manageable.  People who have never seriously considered the possibility of a starch free breakfast, and who spend their days grazing every couple of hours, would find this difficult to imagine.

Since the long days and short nights where we live mean the Ramadan fasting period this year is about 16 hours, kickstarting a new diet was looking pretty favourable to my friend, who has been exercising like crazy in an unsuccessful effort to lose weight.

After a week of visiting a succession of well-meaning and overly generous friends and family, the idea of a break from eating is looking increasingly attractive to me as well.  However, the difference is that I will be sure to keep up my fluid intake.

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