Misplaced discipline in our eating lifestyles must be harnessed to discover the true joys of health and harmony, writes Dr. Sarah Shahab

Just as lack of food in many parts of the world causes misery and malnutrition, an excess of it poses the most common problems of the modern world. The relationship between diet and disease has long been established. Excess consumption of energy rich foods (containing fat and sugar), combined with physical in activity can lead to many chronic diseases-like obesity, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and arthritis in weight bearing joints (spine, hip, and knee).

A balance between energy intake and energy expenditure can be achieved through moderate physical activity, such as thirty minutes of brisk walking, five or more times a week, by limiting the amount of saturated fat, mainly animal fat, hydrogenated vegetable fats, and tropical fats (coconut and palm oil).

A diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, low-fat dairy and whole grains increases longevity and reduces the risk of overall mortality. A large number of anti-carcinogenic agents are found in fruits and vegetables. It has been observed in many studies that persons with low fruit and vegetable intake experience about twice the risk of cancer compared with those with high intake.

Body Mass Index

Health professionals consider the body mass index or BMI as a reliable means of identifying health risks in people due to obesity. BMI takes into account an individual’s weight and height. It can be calculated by dividing ones weight in pounds by the height in inches squared multiplied by 703. A person with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered over weight, while someone with a BMI of 30 or more is obese.

Benefits of Fasting and Taraweeh

It takes motivation and commitment for a permanent change in eating habits. Just like animals can be tamed by planned feeding and hunger intervals, much self-control can be developed in human beings through fasting. Fasting not only nurtures the soul, but the body through a voluntary control of physical desires. Depending on the correct and consistent choice of food consumed at dawn and dusk, fasting prevents formation of atheroma, lowers serum cholesterol and triglycerides. Serum Magnesium also increases during fasting-which has a cardio-protective role.

Studies reveal that underfed animals live longer and suffer less from disease than overfed ones. Just a few of the many diseases that benefit from fasting are hypertension, diabetes, obesity and osteo-arthritis. There is enhanced secretion of growth hormone by the pituitary gland during fasting. Besides stimulating erythropoeisis, increased insulin response etc., GH stimulates protein and collagen synthesis-hence preventing the skin of those who fast regularly from wrinkling. Opiods or narcotic-like substances are released during fasting, producing tranquility and elation.

The benefits of the five times Salah, as well as the optional Taraweeh Salah helps each and every muscle in the body contract. This increases blood flow and improves physical strength. Gentle exercise, as in prayer and in the Taraweeh prayer increases bone mineral density at sites of maximal stress, for example, during Ruku and Sujood, thus reducing osteoporosis. When blood sugar levels begin to rise after Iftar, the Taraweeh helps oxidise the circulating glucose to carbon dioxide and water during prayer.

The Prophet (sa) said: “Food for one man is enough for two, and that for two is enough for three, and that for three is enough for four.” (Bukhari)