Fasting in Mediterranean Diet

April 7, 2014

Fasting is defined as the deliberate avoidance of eating certain food items or involuntary abstinence from every kind of food. Fasting as a religious practice was known to ancient people. Despite several variations encountered, fasting is a characteristic of many different religions. The effect of fasting on health and body function has been studied more intensely in recent years. Therefore, beyond the spiritual dimension, we have data on how fasting can affect our health or appearance.

The Christian religion considers fasting as part of the Christian life. The Greek Orthodox Christian diet is a periodic alternation between omnivore and vegetarian diet that has the basic characteristics of the Mediterranean diet. Greek Orthodox Christian fasting is therefore a part of the traditional Mediterranean diet.

The period we are now in Greece is called Lent and is one of the most important fasts. Fasting lasts throughout Lent and ends on the day of Orthodox Easter. The faithful who choose to follow it, exclude from their diet all animal products such as meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, animal fats. Fish are allowed only on two specific days in the period of these 48 days, while the rest of the time they are also excluded. In contrast, all other seafood such as squid, octopus, shrimp, cuttlefish belong to the allowed foods for the duration of Lent. During the year we find two other major fasting periods: 40 days before Christmas and the first half of August.

Moreover, Wednesday and Sunday are defined by religion as days of fasting, throughout the year. All these days are a total of about 200 days during the year, in which, as was mentioned, animal products are excluded from diet.

The value of the Mediterranean diet was known from the study of seven countries, where it was found that the good state of health and longevity of the inhabitants of Crete, is largely due to their eating habits. Because of the fact that fasting is a big part of the Mediterranean diet, in recent years it has begun to be studied as an individual period and specifically is investigated the effect it has on the body and the weight of those who follow it. It is a period where consumption of fruit, vegetables, cereals, legumes, olive oil is significantly increased. All of the above are basic components of the Mediterranean diet.

The result of this change in diet, i.e. the transition from omnivore to vegetarianism, is the increased fiber consumption and increased intake of nutrients found in plant foods such as folic acid and antioxidant vitamins.
It has been found that those who follow fasting, have very low intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, as a result of the exclusion of animal products, which are rich sources of the aforementioned. These indicators are demonstrably related to cardiovascular disease, as well as to the increase of total and LDL cholesterol levels in blood. Therefore, their absence from the diet for such a long time has a positive impact on lipid profile of people who fast.

Fasting in Mediterranean Deiet 2

Furthermore, although abstinence from animal products intake means less Fe, research has shown that those who fasted did not have a significant effect on Fe levels. Findings were similar for the antioxidant vitamins A and E. Fasting does not increase the likelihood of a deficiency of these vitamins. In case someone has low levels of specific nutrients must be very careful in his choices, to ensure that he gets enough nutrients. An expert can suggest specific food combinations to achieve maximum coverage for these items.

The Mediterranean diet has been studied in relation to its benefits on weight loss. It has been proven to be a very balanced way for weight loss, recommended by experts. Fasting is mentioned as a part of the Mediterranean diet, but it has also been studied as a single period. It was found that fasting resulted in reducing total body weight and therefore to BMI reduction while another study has linked the period of fasting with weight gain.

It is therefore advisable to observe the rules of a proper and balanced diet during fasting that is to implement small and frequent meals. Otherwise it is possible to unconsciously increase the quantity of food and lead to weight gain.

Often people who fast, constantly complain that they are hungry and feel that food does not offer them satiety. That results in an overconsumption of specific foods, such as bread.

Other times they might be lured with some snacks e.g. nuts. It is true that many foods allowed in fasting are rich in calories such as tahini (sesame paste), nuts, and olives. All the above are clearly very nutritious food, but exaggeration in their consumption should be avoided because it can lead to increased caloric intake and thus to weight gain. The consumption of all foods should be in moderation.

Therefore, it is important whenever we refer to the Mediterranean diet, to remember that fasting is a key piece of this diet and those who follow it have a better diet quality and improved lipid profile. Motivation for most people might be religious, but eventually is a good opportunity for detoxification.

In conclusion, the Mediterranean diet in the way that the Christian Orthodox Church promotes it, i.e. the alternation between omnivore and vegetarian diet, is a healthy eating pattern.


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Afrodite Loukakou
About the author

Loukakou Afroditi is a Clinical Dietitian-Nutritionist from Greece. She is qualified in planning nutritional programs to assist in the promotion of health and control of various diseases. She also teaches the course of dietetics and writes articles in newspapers, magazines and the internet

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