Fasting — What are the health benefits?

WASHINGTON — Fasting is prevalent in many cultures and religions, and there could be many health benefits from it beyond the spiritual.

Lean Plate Club™ Sally Squires says often there’s a religious hook. She points out that Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Jews all have some kind of fasting in their religions.

“Some consider fasting a way to be in harmony with God or to atone for sins or transgressions — so it really fulfills a lot of purposes,” said Squires. “That means you’re abstaining from food … beverages and even sometimes water for a period of time — as short as half a day or as long as 40 days between sunup and sundown.”

The latter describes the Muslim feast of Ramadan. For Christians, fasting usually takes place on Ash Wednesday or on Good Friday; for Jews, it’s Yom Kippur.

Beyond saving calories and a few bucks every day, one of the more obvious benefits of routine fasting is weight loss. Squires said research has shown health improvements in people who fast. Their blood sugar levels change, insulin resistance improves, blood pressure lowers and blood lipids can get better, meaning a lower risk of heart disease.

Fasting also can be observed through dramatically reducing your calories, rather than abstaining altogether. Women might consume only 500 calories a day, and men might go down to about 600 calories.

If you’re going to fast, Squires says the first thing you need to do is talk with your health professional. Fasting is not recommended for children, people who have serious medical conditions and women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.


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