Fasting, as a religious practice, has been a part of the human tradition for many, many centuries. Many religions require fasting as an act of faith or penance - often as a means of purification. In today’s increasingly materialistic and gluttonous world, regardless of our individual faith or non-faith traditions, we can all benefit from fasting from time to time.

On a practical level, fasting has many health benefits. It provides the digestive system much-needed rest from the normal intake of food. Caloric restriction, within the limit, has been shown to detoxify the body and reduce cravings. Fasting purely for weight loss, however, is not recommended and, taken to an extreme, can lead to severe consequences (i.e., severe malnutrition, growth retardation, heart disease, neurological disorders, and death). Done correctly, and in moderation, fasting is an opportunity to flush out your system and can give you that kick start to introduce new healthy habits.

Religious fasting affords this moderation through an additional layer of guidance that not only reduces medical complications but also enables individuals to rejuvenate both body and spirit. Though specific fasting guidelines - when to fast, rigour of restrictions, and how long to fast - vary from tradition to tradition, religions add a value system and a dimension of discipline that makes the fast easier to complete. Additionally, most traditions that prescribe fasting have built-in mechanisms to reduce the medical risks of fasting.

Fasting is a good way to gain health benefits apart from receiving the divine grace of your worshipped deity. It helps to cleanse and detoxify your body and giving rest to its vital systems. The benefits of fasting are purification of the gastrointestinal tract, cleansing of the surrounding organs and balancing of the metabolic constituents. The gastric juices work to remove cholesterol from your system instead of digesting food during fasting. The rest to the intestines and related organs enables them to function better later.

Its the time of the year, for most Indian communities to start the Navratri fast.

DID YOU KNOW – The Navratri or nine days of fasting are observed twice a year, before the start of summer and before the start of winter. The reason being, seasonal changes is when our body’s immunity is naturally at an all-time low, and fasting provides the detoxification that allows the immune system to prepare for the coming season.

Let us learn how we can gain the most health benefits during these nine days.

The whole point of “fasting and abstaining from certain foods is to have only simple and easily digestible foods, which are high in nutrient value, and also have minimal processing, allergens, and additives, hence minimal toxins.

This gives our digestive system the much-needed rest from the constantly overloaded eating habits that we have become prone to.

However, nowadays, when we consume food during this period, we tend to overindulge. We have distorted the cooking techniques such that we load ourselves with fried, high-fat foods. This, instead of making our body feel light, tends to bloat it up. The market also gets flooded with fasting foods, especially the ready to eat snacks, which frankly would be of questionable origin, and best avoided.

Focus during Navratri should be on foods that are nutrient-rich, but still light on your stomach, in keeping with sattvic (pure, simple and fresh) principles. Thus, fruits, juices, dairy products and their preparations are stressed upon.

The flours allowed during these nine days are wholesome and high on nutrition. Packed with proteins, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which makes them an ideal substitute for heavy gluten-rich grains.

Buckwheat(kuttu) - which we have been having for ages is being hailed as the new superfood, it is gluten-free, high in protein and fibre. And an excellent flour packed with antioxidants to promote heart health,

Water chestnut(Singhada) – Another alternative to wheat flour, Water chestnut flour is again loaded with many antioxidants and is high in potassium, which makes it excellent for reducing elevated blood pressure, apart from many other benefits.

Amaranth (rajgiri) – these tiny pearls, which can also be ground to flour, are an excellent source of iron, calcium, proteins and amino acids.

Apart from this other carb-rich foods include tubers like tapioca, sweet potato, yams and potatoes, all of which are easily digested and rich in b vitamins, and minerals.

Simple tips to fast healthy

  • Lemon juice can be taken with lukewarm water in the morning for much better detoxification.

  • Make a meal out of fruits – starting the day with a generous portion of fruits is the best way to go light, take in all the antioxidant, and give your digestive system a rest.

  • The key to unlocking the nutritional value of food is to cook right- instead of making the usual fried wadas, paranthas and pooris.Try and make rotis, dosas, or pancakes with different flours One can have them with curds or any curd based gravy too.

  • Healthy Snacking: One can easily replace fried chips and namkeens with makhanas that can be roasted at home.Another great option is baked potato or sweet potato, instead of fried chips

  • Table salt is not allowed during fast, and rock salt is the healthy substitute, which further aids in digestion, as well as provides you with excellent minerals.

  • Explore veggies like gourds, yams, and pumpkin to make simple gravies, as well as sweets.

  • Limit the use of oil, but a moderate dollop of pure ghee can always benefit our body.

  • Take care of your proteins – during fasting most people end up focusing on more of carb-rich foods, we should remember that the use of dairy products is allowed, and make sure we maintain a good protein intake.

  • Nuts like almonds and peanuts can also be added to our diet to ensure healthy fats and good proteins.

  • Sugars are allowed, but it would be advisable to limit your sugar intake and go for more natural sugars. Avoid a lot of ready to eat laddus or Navratri sweets from outside. Prefer simple sweets made with jaggery or honey at home.

  • Stay well hydrated – the purpose of detoxification is best served by increasing your water intake to flush out the toxins. Water also prevent fatigue.

  • Practice mindfulness and self-control – the whole purpose of fasting is to be mindful of the food we eat and learn self-control, which will help us maintain healthy eating habits all year round!!!

By knowing the best ways to fast based on your body system, you can derive, along with the divine grace from your deity, a lot of health benefits too!