On Saturday 28 May, well before the assigned time at which the lecture was scheduled to begin, the hall in Sheikh Zayed was packed with women of all ages eager to learn more about healthy nutritional choices that could make the fasting experience in Ramadan a kick-start for better health .
The event titled "Repair Yourself in Ramadan " was presented by Dr. Wafaa Abdel-Hadi, clinical oncology specialist at Cairo University and founder of the Aware Clinic, which specializes in providing counselling and awareness about different aspects of health, among which is nutrition and its importance in preventing disease.
" I always say that the word disease is very accurate if you think of it as the 'dis-ease'; that the body feels when its self-healing nature goes off-the-rail because of many reasons, one of which is mainly what we- and what we don’t- eat," she told Ahram online. "You eat bad food that damages your gut and causes chronic inflammations. You end up with a pile of drugs with massive side effects that mask the ailments and do not teat the source."
"Disease gives signs and symptoms, like an apparent iceberg, you only see the tip, you overlook the underlying actual cause," she concluded before starting the lecture. "The mother of all problems stems from the occurrence of inflammations, which can affect the cell's mitochondria, initiating most known diseases, including cancer, which has soared in the country in recent years," she said.
According to data provided by the WHO, 72,000 lives are claimed annually by cancer in Egypt. Regionally, Egypt has the lion's share of cancer-related deaths, followed by Morocco with 22,900 cancer deaths annually.
Abdel-Hadi explained that tackling the problem must stem from dealing with chronic inflammations, usually initiated by our food intake. "There is no magic key to reduce inflammations. It takes time. There are two ways: first are the tests, now available in Egypt, which can detect and know what you are allergic or sensitive to in order to stop inflammation. Second is the process of eliminating gradually food categories that are known to cause inflammation. Fasting can give you a head-start in that regard."
She stressed that Ramadan fasting mimics an intermitted fasting diet in which one follows a pattern of eating- stopping-eating, and it could manifest a ketogenic (a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate) diet, hailed as a main tool of reducing a host of ailments.
Research has proved that intermittent fasting regenerates stem cells, reduces insulin-growth factor, and increases breaking down fats , all of which kill cancer cells.
A May 2011 article in the International Journal of Obesity, showed that young overweight women, when subjected to restrictions in complex carbohydrates due to ketogenic fasting, showed a decrease in cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
British journal of Diabetes and Vascular diseases, 2013, showed that fasting reduces liver fat, improves insulin sensitivity, and thus benefits diabetics.
In the December 2009 issue of Aging Journal, research suggested that when chemotherapy treatment was associated with intermitted fasting under supervision, fatigue and vomiting decreased, simply due to a decrease of inflammatory food in the stomach
Abdel-Hadi added that intermitted fasting is credited for burning stubborn fat and naturally boosting growth hormones while preserving muscle, which is why it is practiced by many athletes before competitions.
"Then what happens to us in Ramadan? Unfortunately the opposite, we fatigue, gain weight and pile on fats and sugar. We overeat, and eat wrong," she said. Abdel-Hadj then gave the following tips:
Start by shopping right for Ramadan:
Buy real, whole food. Eliminate inflammation-causing foods: Gluten, dairy, genetically modified food, long-life-shelf items, items that contain unknown ingredients, and food with high sugar content.
Gluten is one of the elements that causes irritation and inflammation of the gut. Eliminating it may help ease symptoms of many ailments like arthritis and can fight cancer as well. Gluten is a protein found in many kinds of food, but its main source is wheat.
Gluten damages the intestines. Wheat has changed because of genetic modification of crops, and now the body simply does not recognize it. Gluten related diseases include autoimmune diseases, allergic reactions, and gluten sensitivity. It affects your intestines, brain, and skin.
As for dairy, increased consumption has been linked to an increase of the insulin hormone which feeds cancer, acne (due to injected hormones), and is the most common allergen in the world. Healthier calcium input from almonds, sesame, broccoli and herring is suggested.
Start by breaking your fast by drinking two glasses of water, followed by dates, then soup. A bowl of steaming hot soup will take more time to consume, and will give you a feeling of fullness more than if you consume the same mass in solid food — and the calorie count is much lower.
Screen the table, and head for proteins and vegetables, avoiding complex carbohydrates.
A healthy diet contains mainly organic crops as they are not genetically modified and are free of chemicals. Should products contain meat, opt for organic meat, as it is free of antibiotics and chemicals.
Organic food is expensive in Egypt, but with increased demand prices will decrease. Try to aim for a diet free of trans-fats, preservatives, processed meat, and artificial sweeteners. Always read the label.
Make Iftar a social event by taking your time to talk, chew and eat slowly .Chew slowly and well to break down food, as large chunks are non-recognizable for the digestive system, thus induce food intolerances.
Capitalize on the detox:
Fill up with green beverages and blends. These will replenish your deficiencies and reduce your cravings for toxins like nicotine and caffeine. Capitalize on the head start that is given to you for quitting those toxins during the fasting hours.
Hydrate your body:
Temperatures are already soaring and fasting will last 16 hours .Water will hydrate you and make you look better, and will also counter the diuretic effect of the tea or coffee you drink during and after Iftar. You have a time span of around eight hours through which you can drink up your recommended minimum of eight glasses of water daily. As for Ramadan beverages, sweeten them with raw honey or stevia (plant-based sweetener) instead of sugar.
Speaking of sugar, slow down!
The only thing that needs sugar in your body is your taste buds!
Sugar disrupts hormones, induces cravings and hunger and is associated with more tumour growth according to Annual Oncology Journal 2013.
Artificial sweeteners are still chemicals which cause mood swings and other problems, and aspartame was found in many brain tumours.
If you wait 20 minutes after finishing Iftar, your body will feel fuller and will not feel a need to indulge in deserts that are overwhelming this time of the year.
Check Vitamin D levels:
Although we are have a sunny climate, most Egyptians are low on Vitamin D due to bad nutritional options. For Vitamin D to develop, it needs Vitamin A and good fats. Fatigue in Ramadan will significantly decrease if this ingredient is replenished in the body till it reaches the level of 70. Natural sources include Chia seeds, salmon and, cod liver oil, and eggs.
Yogurt is a staple in Ramadan, and is an excellent example of fermented food. Pickles, provided that their preparation is not made by vinegar, and is low on salt, are another good example of a fermented food.