Ramadan, which begins on May 6 in most countries this year, is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar.
It involves abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from dawn to sunset, in the hopes that it will lead to greater “taqwa”, or consciousness of God.
Muslims were commanded to fast during Ramadan more than 1,400 years ago, the ancient Greeks recommended fasting to heal the body, and today some scientists are advocating a modified fast for its mental and physical benefits.
Known as intermittent fasting, this modified fast comes in a number of forms that require not eating for 12, 16, or 24 hours at a time. Another form, known as the 5:2 fast, advocates calorie restriction (eating only between 500 and 600 calories) over a period of 36 hours, twice a week.
Eat Stop Eat, a book by Brad Pilon published in 2007, recommended abstaining from eating for 24 hours once or twice a week, giving individuals the freedom to decide when to start and end their fast.
In 2012, Michael Mosley released his TV documentary Eat, Fast and Live Longer and published his best-selling book The Fast Diet, both based on the 5:2 concept of intermittent fasting.
“In The Fast Diet I advocate a form of fasting called ‘time-restricted eating’,” Mosley told Al Jazeera.
“This involves only eating within certain hours, similar to the form of fasting practised by Muslims during Ramadan.
“The proven benefits include improved sleep and evidence of reduced risk of some cancers, in particular, breast cancer.”