June 5, 2018

By Agus Budiawan Naro Putra, Ph.D.
Faculty of Food Science

In this Holy month of Ramadan, we are reminded that fasting not only brings wisdom but also benefits by improving our health. Mark Mattson, a senior investigator at National Institute on Aging, US, said that researchers supporting and providing evidences of health benefits of fasting are abundant (J Nutr Biochem 2005;16:129–37). Mattson himself has elucidated the health benefits of intermittent fasting (IF) on the cardiovascular system and brain in rats. He and his team found that the amount of ischemia induced damage to brain cells was significantly less in the rats on the IF diet compared with those on the control diet (J Neurosci Res 1999; 57:830 –9). In human, for example, Khaled & Belbraouet’s data showed that fasting during the month of Ramadan causes a significant weight loss and decrease in meal frequency as well as calorie intake (Int J Diabetes Dev Ctries. 2009;29(2):62-8).

Unfortunately, however, Khaled & Belbraouet (Int J Diabetes Dev Ctries 2009;29(2):62-8) also demonstrated that their subjects (obese Algerian women with type 2 diabetic) consume more foods rich in fat (including trans fatty acid) and dietary cholesterol during fasting. Do you know what? This condition could constitute a high risk for diabetics who are fasting, in particular when medication advice and/or healthcare control are insufficient or ignored.

Then, how about people in Indonesia during their fasting period? In my opinion, by remembering the abundance of foods, even special foods made for Ramadan, which contain coconut milk, high sugar drinks, and deep-fried snacks to be eaten for breaking their fast, we could probably get similar results as Khaled & Belbraouet did. Indonesian people commonly say that it would be better to break the fast with something sweet. Frankly, this sentence should be interpreted with caution, because majority of Indonesian people often simply translated “to break” with “to have big meal”. If it is the case, by consuming excessive amount of sugar (and even saturated fats), it would actually cause unfavorable impact.

So, what to eat to break the fast?

The best and most appropriate food to be consumed for breaking the fast, according to the Prophet Muhammad’s recommendation p.b.u.h. is by consuming 3 – 5 dates (kurma) and mineral water. This suggestion was later proven by research that dates contain high minerals (potassium is predominant), and glucose & fructose as the main sugars (J Taibah Univ Sci 2014;9(1):75-79). In addition, dates contain 8-gram of dietary fiber (per 100 grams of dates) which meet 32% of daily value (USDA). This dates’ composition not only could fulfill the needs of nutrients (minerals, fibers, etc.) (Trepanowsky & Bloomer, Nutr J 2010;9(1)57:1-9) but also immediately restore energy by providing glucose & fructose for those who are fasting.