How pregnant Muslims can reduce risks of fasting during Ramadan

For pregnant people who fast during Ramadan, eating a high-fat diet outside of fasting hours might reduce some negative effects.

Ramadan falls on the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, this year beginning in Australia on the evening of March 22, and ending the evening of April 20. Healthy adult Muslims are required to fast each day from dawn until dusk. This includes abstaining from drinking, eating, immoral acts and anger. Other acts of worship such as prayer, reading the Quran, and charity are also encouraged during the holy month. 

German researchers looked at maternal lifestyle during Ramadan to assess whether diet and sleep adaptations during the month (independent of and in addition to maternal fasting) are associated with neonatal health outcomes.

They found that fasting during the first trimester (weeks 1 to the end of week 12) is significantly associated with reduced birth weight.

But this negative effect disappears when daily fat intake outside of fasting hours is increased.

“The finding that dietary intake during Ramadan potentially moderates the fasting-birth weight association is of high relevance to pregnant Muslims who wish to fast,  and their healthcare professionals, since dietary choices outside of fasting hours are often relatively easily modifiable,” the authors write in a new study in PLOS ONE.

The new German study surveyed 326 Muslims whose pregnancies overlapped with Ramadan 2017.

The authors suggest that “temporary caloric deficiencies” may be a channel through which intermittent fasting during pregnancy affects offspring birth weight.

“Since high-fat content foods tend to have higher caloric contents, eating increased amounts of such food might lead pregnant women to reach sufficient daily caloric intakes.

“Furthermore, since fat has a low glycaemic index, increasing consumption of fat on fasting days may help delay the onset of physical states that are harmful for the foetus.”

The researchers say that more research is now needed to evaluate the roles of specific  nutrients and food groups, so that specific recommendations for dietary choices for pregnant Muslims wishing to fast during Ramadan can be developed.

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