Religious Fasting and Your Health

Which Religious Fast Is Best For Your Health?

It’s become an established fact that fasting is very good for your health. The benefits are both physical and mental. They restrict calories, often restrict diet choice to healthier foods, and enforce structure and discipline on the people who practice them.

Religious Fasting Health BenefitsIt’s become an accepted fact that on-going caloric restriction is very good for your health. It regularly improves health markers and longevity in just about any test. Even in bacteria dietary restrictions improve metabolism and cardiovascular health.

Caloric Restriction: The Biggest Health Benefit of Religious Fasting

It’s been hypothesized that the benefits of caloric restriction are one reason why fasting has become a widespread cultural practice. The practice is usually rooted in religious beliefs, but a number of studies have confirmed its health benefits.

I just finished reading a paper comparing the health benefits of three popular religious fasts: Ramadan, the Greek Orthodox fast, and the Daniel fast.

Ramadan is an islamic fast that lasts for 28-30 days and forbids food and drink during daylight hours.

Greek Orthodox Christians fast three times a year for a total of 180-200 days, and the dietary restrictions forbid consumption of animal products most of the time, and occasionaly abstain from fish and olive oil.

The Daniel Fast is derived from the story of Daniel in the bible, and the fast mimics two periods where he only ate vegetables and water, and another where he abstained from all choice foods (wine, meat, sweets, etc). It imposes the strongest dietary restrictions of the three.

So how do they affect your health?

Ramadan

Ramadan has mixed results:

Few definitive conclusions can currently be made regarding the effects of Ramadan fasting on human health, because the collective body of research has noted mostly heterogeneous findings regarding both dietary intake and health-related outcomes.

Greek Orthodox Fast

The Greek orthodox fast consistently promotes some health markers:

 the average body mass of Greek Orthodox Christian monks was observed to decrease during a fasting week by an amount that approached significance (p = 0.059) [43].
Regarding biochemical outcomes, both total cholesterol and LDL-C levels decrease during fasting periods

Daniel Fast

And the Daniel fast? It had the strongest outcomes of all:

We noted excellent compliance to the fast (> 98%), as well as both excellent results for overall mood and satiety (7.9 ± 0.2 using a 10 point scale). As expected, a reduction was noted in the following variables from the seven days prior to starting the fast to the final seven days of the fast: total kcal, protein, total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Also, an increase was noted in the following: carbohydrate, fiber, and vitamin C.

The results are probably due to the levels of dietary quality enforced by each practice. Ramadan forbids consumption during certain hours, but places no restrictions on the types of food that you eat otherwise (that aren’t already imposed by Islam). The other two fasts are progressively more restrictive in the quality of the food you eat. The Daniel Fast forbids practically anything except greens and legumes.
There could also be a selection effect, since the Daniel fast is not as broadly required as Ramadan, people practicing it are likely volunteers and thus more committed.

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