Fasting is practised in our country on several auspicious occasions. But due to the ongoing pandemic situation, the question arises: Is it safe to fast when our immunity is at risk? Since it has been observed that clinical manifestation of COVID-19 infection is highly associated with our immunity levels.
What do studies suggest?
Scientific studies have looked into the impact of the practice of fasting on the immune response in all its forms, including fasting in the month of Ramadan. It was observed that fasting may help improve the body’s resistance to bacterial infections. Also, there were no possible adverse effects found of intermittent fasting on increasing the severity of the impact of the COVID‐19 on the immune system. (Faris, et al. 2020).
Fasting in return helps flip the metabolic switch–that is, may lead to lower blood sugar level, and consequently forces our body to use fat as a source of energy. Furthermore, research at Harvard University shows that fasting is also associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. However, fasting for a prolonged period may lead to low blood sugar, weakness, fatigue and may even lead to anaemia, a vulnerable immune system found to be associated with various vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
People who should abstain from fasting during this COVID-19 situation are elderly with metabolic syndrome, people who suffer from symptoms such as fever or persistent cough and people with low immunity.
Not all fasting Methods are the same
Ramadan Fasting is different from many other forms of fasting, as it is practised for a month and they break their daily fast after sunset, allowed to eat and drink foods which help replenish back the needed nutrients.So, depending upon the type of fast, duration and culture i.e. religious beliefs & eating pattern that impacts the overall health. In the coming month, people will be fasting for Navratara but should take some precautions to fast safely.
Ways to fast safely and maintain immunity
Eat well during your eating window
People with a better quality of the diet are less prone to acute depression, anxiety and deficiencies. It is suggested to consume a variety of fresh foods while avoiding processed foods.Include fresh leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, coloured fruits as they offer nutrients like B vitamins, zinc, vitamin C, etc. and other plant chemicals which have shown to improve mental health. Also, the fibre helps promote better satiety and keeps you full for long. Milk products and legumes help provide protein and nutrients needed for overall health. Similarly, whole grains, millets help provide energy, important nutrients to the brain and body. Therefore, include protein-rich food sources, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
Sleep well for recovery
Sleeping is required to keep your mood, hormones and health parameters in better control. Also, helps your body recover from fatigue, keep your mind focused & calm, and work on improving your immunity as well. Good immunity heightens your ability to fight off disease.
Drink adequate water and include fluids
Maintaining your body’s fluid levels is very important as it helps keep you hydrated, distributes nutrients throughout the body, maintains electrolyte balance and eliminates toxins from the body. Fasts practised by Hindus, usually allows you to include hydrating fluids like coconut water, lemon water, buttermilk, etc. needed to keep you going.
Include Gut Strengthening Foods
It is rightly said that having strong gastrointestinal health has a huge impact on your overall health. Approximately 70% of the immune cells are nurtured in your gut, so the stronger the gut, the better is your immunity. So, including probiotic foods like curd, buttermilk, and soya-fermented foods help improve the ratio of gut-friendly bacteria and balances the microbiota ratio. Another food category is prebiotics that acts as a feed for your gut bacteria and helps them proliferate. E.g. raw banana, raw garlic, onion, inulin fibre from chicory root, etc. Thirdly, including more fibre-rich food helps cleanse your gut and improve your gastrointestinal health, which nurtures better health and immunity.
To summarise, fasting can be practised safely by taking suggested precautions like sticking to social distancing, washing hands frequently, etc. without compromising on your immunity.
- Faris, Mo'ez A-Islam E., Salem, Mohamed L., Jahrami, Haitham A., Madkour, Mohamed I., BaHammam, Ahmed S. (2020).Ramadan intermittent fasting and immunity: An important topic in the era of COVID-19.Annals of Thoracic Medicine ‐ Volume 15(3).125-133
- Patterson, R. E., Laughlin, G. A., LaCroix, A. Z., Hartman, S. J., Natarajan, L., Senger, C. M., Martínez, M. E., Villaseñor, A., Sears, D. D., Marinac, C. R., & Gallo, L. C. (2015). Intermittent Fasting and Human Metabolic Health. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 115(8), 1203–1212. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.02.018