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  • [3-Minute Blog] The Scientific Truth About Milk

    Do you remember last week’s conversation? We looked into the opinion of the Qur’an and Sunnah on the matter of drinking milk. I promised you a scientific explanation of things, so, here it is! The scientific truth behind ‘the milk fear-factor’:

    The (Scientific) Truth

    Before delving into science, there is something you should know…

    When milk is mentioned, we involuntarily think of ‘cow’s milk’, right? But, when the Quran and Sunnah talk about milk (i.e. laban in Arabic), it is not referring to only cow’s milk. In fact, these sources mostly refer to cattle milk in general, which can be from camels and goats as well as cows. The nutritional value of these kinds of milk are not all the same. For example, camel milk has many more nutrients than cow’s milk. 

    During the time of the Prophet (PBUH), it was more likely for camel’s and goat’s milk to be around, than cow’s milk.

    And even the cow’s milk that the Prophet (PBUH) mentioned would have been a result of a very natural process of cow farming. This is very clear in the aforementioned hadith (see Part 1 of this article!), where he (PBUH)  says, “…as it (cow) eats from all types of trees”. From this, we see that these cows were living a very natural life.

    And by ‘natural life’, I mean, so natural that the cows are outside in the fresh air, eating fresh grass and other types of plants. Also, their birth is natural too! A cow will get impregnated by a bull through intimacy and carry the fetus for 9 months. Then, a calf is born through a very natural process. The calf is weaned naturally for up to three months and the farmer milks only the excess milk by hand for his other needs.

    My description of such an organic life is idyllic and complete, but the reality is far from that. The problem is, most of the milk you consume does not come from such natural sources. Let me explain. This milk comes from highly industrialised and modern-day farming processes that have no regard for any ethical or environmental practices.

    So, the picturesque scene that I may have created for you, unfortunately, is something of the past, as industrialisation has brought about 100s of unnatural practices to this simple and natural process.

    In modern-day industrialised dairy farming, cows are artificially inseminated and kept impregnated almost continuously, in order to produce milk. I agree, how barbaric!

    These cows are not allowed to have much rest between pregnancies and this creates a whole load of issues and diseases for the cows. What do you think the quick solution to this is? Why, of course! The use of antibiotics and hormones for the sick cows! 

    To make matters worse, these animals spend most of their lives indoors and are fed from an indoor stall or a crowded feedlot. They are expected to produce milk for more than 300 days a year! All such unnatural practices take a toll on the cow, its milk, and as a consequence, we the humans who drink it.

    So when drinking cow’s milk from such sources, there is a fair chance you may develop diseases. In this case, it is no longer a cure for us. Rather, it is something of the opposite.

    Most of the scientific studies that associate milk with diseases are exclusively about this industrialised, processed, packaged cow’s milk.

    So when consolidating all the evidence from the Quran and Sunnah as well as the empirical research about cow’s milk, here is the truth we have been searching for:

    • Cow’s milk is nutritious, healthy and wholesome, as long as the milk comes from cows that live a natural life and mostly outdoors on fresh green pastures.
    • Cow’s milk could be a source of diseases, if the milk comes from cows that live in indoor stalls, eat mostly grains and are treated with hormones or antibiotics.

    Finally, here is my ultimate recommendation when consuming milk or dairy:

    Consume dairy from pasture-raised animals that are living a natural life. Look for the organic variety when possible (organic farms mostly don’t treat its animals with antibiotics or hormones).
    I hope and pray that this enables us to take advantage of the sources of goodness that Allah subuhanwutaa’la and His messenger (PBUH) have prescribed for us.

  • [3-Minute Blog] What the Quran and Sunnah Say About Milk

    Recently, milk has been getting a bit of a bad rep amongst nutritionists and scientists. Certain experts have even gone to the extreme of branding it as a ‘white poison’, whilst others argue that milk is the ‘fountain of healthy life’. So, what is actually going on?

    I feel it is important to ascertain where the truth lies and analyse what the Quran and Sunnah have to say about milk since it has been mentioned multiple times in both.

    Before we do some detective work, let’s see what milk actually is and what it contains. 

    Milk is essentially a mix of water, proteins, fat and some natural sugar. Although 87.5% of milk is mainly water, it’s still a pretty complex food. After all,  it contains all the nutrition a little calf needs from its mother.

    One cup of full-fat cow’s milk provides roughly around: 

    • Calories: 150
    • Protein: 7.7 grams
    • Carbs: 11.7 grams
    • Sugar: 12.3 grams
    • Fat: 8 grams

    Apart from containing high-quality proteins, milk also contains loads of other essential vitamins, such as vitamins A, B12, and D. so, milk seems to be rather wholesome, wouldn’t you say?

    What the Quran and Sunnah Say About Milk

    Allah subuhanwutaa’la talks about milk in a very engaging and thought-provoking manner: “And verily! In cattle, there is a lesson for you. We give you to drink of that which is in their bellies, from between excretions and blood, pure milk; palatable to the drinkers” (Surah An-Nahl, 66).

    After reading this verse, it is plain to see that milk is a good source of food, sanctioned by Allah subuhanwutaa’la. 

    Also, a hasan Hadith mentioned in Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud reinforces the meaning of this Quranic verse: “Whoever Allah gives food, let him supplicate, “O Allah! Bless it for us and grant us what is better.” And whoever Allah grants some milk let him say, “O Allah! Bless it for us and grant us more of it,” for I do not know of a more complete food or drink than milk.”

    In another authentic hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) said, “There is hardly a disease that has been sent by Allah except He has provided a cure for it. Hence, get yourself treated by cow’s milk for indeed I hope that Allah will put cure in it as it eats from all types of trees.” (Tabarani, Nasai, and Ahmad).

    When Allah and His Messenger (PBUH) clarify to us that milk is healthy and wholesome, then there is no doubting the validity of what they advise, Alhamdulillah!

    Having said that, I want us to have a holistic perspective on milk that is informed by science just as much as by faith. Naturally then, I should explain why many scientific studies associate drinking a lot of milk with various forms of cancer, diabetes, neurological disorders and cardiovascular diseases. Right?

    Well, this is what we’ll discuss in next week’s article, bi’idhnillah. Keep an eye out!

  • Two Islamic Guidances on Eating: Simple. Powerful. Effective!

    As we know it, Islam is the perfect way of life. In it, we have guidance for all our matters, from the simple things to those life-changing decisions. Islam is a religion that cherishes ease and simplicity, and its guidance reflects this – nothing in Islam is impossible to follow.

    Allah subuhanawuta’la has even extended His beautiful guidance on matters of eating and drinking. Summarising the Islamic guidelines on eating into two sentences, we see what Islam has to say on the matter;

    1.  Eat what is halal and good, i.e. healthy for you
    2.  Eat moderately (eat until 70-80% fullness)

    #1: Eat What is Halal and Good

    In the Qur’an and Sunnah, we are encouraged to eat foods that are rich in ‘the good stuff’; vitamins, minerals, nutrients etc. 

    We are also told of the foods we cannot eat; the sort that have elements of which are harmful to our bodies. Allah subuhanawuta’la says: “O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Shaytān. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.” [Al-Quran 2:168]

    In another sūrāḥ, Allah subuhanawuta’la says: “So eat of the lawful and good food which Allah has provided for you, and thank the bounty of your Lord if it is Him you serve.” [Al-Quran 16:114]

    As you can see, Allah subuhanawuta’la goes above and beyond simply mentioning that the food we ingest must be lawful. He, subuhanawata’la, stresses the word ‘good’, so we can understand the importance of eating halal food that is also of nutritious benefit to us. So, in this context, good food actually means healthy food. This implies that, in the court of Allah subuhanawuta’la, eating well and healthy is as crucial as eating halal food. 

    So, the next time you search for “halal” food, also make sure it’s “good” food, i.e. healthy food!

    Through His infinite mercy, Allah subuhanawuta’la has made all foods that are good for us, permissible, while prohibiting foods that are more or less harmful to us. 

    #2: Eating Moderately

    The Arabs say, “the stomach is the home of disease, and restraint is the basis of the remedy.” Clearly, eating way more than we need to, is the story behind many modern diseases. 

    Our beloved Prophet (PBUH) said, “The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat a few morsels to keep him alive. If he must fill it, then one-third for his food, one-third for his drink, and one-third for air.” (Al-Tirmidhi – saḥiḥ by al-Albaani)

    To understand this hadith, we must approach it comprehensively. To do this, we have to take into consideration many other ahadith on eating. Without going into too much depth, allow me to summarise the amount of food, per day, that is permissible in Islam.

    • Up to 70-80% of fullness is the maximum recommended measure of food and drink in Islam. Occasionally, we are allowed to fill our stomachs to 100%, but anything beyond this then becomes a sin. Overeating is considered a sin in Islam. And Scholars of Islam use this ayah as evidence to that: “Eat and drink but be not excessive. Indeed, He does not like those who commit excess.” [AlQuran 7:31]
    • Islam does not trouble itself setting rules on how often we are allowed to eat. However, if you eat until you are 70-80% full and your body needs four to five meals a day, then this is fine. Provided that:
      • You eat to take care of your body and not to cause any harm to it, either through overeating or starvation.
      • The amount of food you eat gives you the strength to carry out your day-to-day activities and ‘ibadaḥ, without leaving you too tired or too hungry.

    It is also important to understand that overeating has the potential to harm not only your body but also your overall well-being and spirituality. Overeating can also make you:

    • lethargic and lazy
    • sleep more
    • be less productive
    • waste more time
    • have a shorter life span, bi’idnillah
    • be heedless of Allah (May Allah protect us from this)

    In fact, the Prophet (PBUH) attributed overeating to be a characteristic of a non-Muslim! “A believer eats in one intestine (is satisfied with a little food), and a kafir (unbeliever) or a hypocrite eats in seven intestines (i.e. overeats).” (Sahih Bukhari)

    Think this through – it is indeed a wake-up call for all of us. And remember this: every time you eat to 70-80% fullness, you are fulfilling a characteristic of a Mu’min! Subhanallah!

    Extravagance is Condemned

    Lastly, a word about extravagance in food: there is no place for it in Islam as Allah condemns everyone who is extravagant, even in permissible things. Allah says: “Eat and drink but be not excessive. Indeed, He does not like those who commit excess.” [Al-Quran 7:31]. This ayaḥ is explicit in warning us against being extravagant, by overeating.

    Bear in mind that when it comes to eating better, less is undoubtedly more. Looking at the life of the Prophet (PBUH), we see this, for he was a minimalist when it came to eating. He ate occasionally until he was slightly full, but never overate. Without a doubt, the Prophet’s (PBUH) way of eating is worth following because his way of life was perfect, and it indeed epitomised Islam.

  • [3-Minute Blog] 5 Natural Ways to Reduce Inflammation

    The past two weeks we have looked at what inflammation is and what foods can trigger its onset.  

    This week I want to show you five natural ways to reduce inflammation. 

    Sleep at least 7 hours a night

    Sleep is a topic which we have discussed extensively on this blog. And for good reason too. There has been much research on the effects of losing sleep on the body, one of which is inflammation. Sleeping less even for a single night increases inflammation in your body. 

    A crucial routine that must be established in your sleeping routine is setting a specific time in which you go to sleep and wake up. This is so that you are in line with your circadian rhythm which is an important aspect of good health.

    The circadian rhythm is basically your 24-hour internal clock which is also known as your sleep/wake cycle. It works best when you have regular sleep habits, like going to bed at night and waking up in the morning around the same times from day to day. When these routines are disrupted, it can cause a person to feel under the weather and makes it harder to pay attention. 

    In addition to that, the disruption of the circadian rhythm can also dysregulate your immune system and with it, your levels of inflammation can also go up too.   

    Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet

    There isn’t a specific anti-inflammatory diet per se. Rather it’s the choices you make. 

    In simple terms, an anti-inflammatory diet contains a lot of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, lean protein, whole grains and spices. Exactly the same “diet” that I encourage my clients to adapt. (Want to find out more about my Lean & Healthy Programme? Click here

    An anti-inflammatory diet also limits the consumption of sugar, processed foods, refined carbs and unhealthy fats. We discussed foods that can onset inflammation in the previous blog, you can read it here.

    But how does an anti-inflammatory diet combat inflammation? An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on foods which contain high levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants can be found in a lot of fruit and vegetables and contain the key to fighting off harmful by-products in our bodies called free radicals which are dangerous as they can damage cells leading to inflammation. Other key foods to combat inflammation are omega-3 containing foods found in fish and nuts. 

    If you want a simple approach to an anti-inflammatory diet, then read about my simple nutrition philosophy.  

    Exercise regularly 

    Most people exercise to lose weight. But the fact is, exercise isn’t just a weight-loss tool, it is, more importantly, a well-being tool. This is one of the crucial first lessons I teach my clients. 

    Regular exercise is essential, regardless of your age and weight. Just like our body needs food, the body also needs movement. Nearly every single cell in the body’s well-being is connected with movement. What does it mean for us? The more we move, the better we feel.

    When we exercise, inflammation is brought down by the removal of waste by the lymphatic system. The fresh pump of blood and oxygen around the body allows the build-up of toxins in the body to be removed as well as gently restoring your digestive system. So whether or not you want to shed that fat, burning your calories will help you greatly in reducing inflammation. 

    As little as 20-minutes daily exercise is shown to reduce inflammation significantly. Also, there are many research studies confirming the beneficial effects of exercise on inflammation. 

    Maintain a healthy weight 

    Most people are unaware of the fact that their own excess body fat can cause dangerous implications to their health such as inflammation. If you want to know more about how being overweight is directly linked to inflammation, I would highly recommend reading this research study

    The link between obesity and increased inflammation is pretty much an established fact in science. So if you are overweight, you certainly need to start doing something to lose your excess weight. 

    If you need my help, I’m more than pleased to help you achieve that dream ( Find out more about my Lean & Healthy Programme here).

    Use spices and herbs

    Most people think superfoods are expensive and out of reach. But the truth is, every one of us has easy access to these superfoods and don’t even know it. These underappreciated superfoods are already lying in your kitchen closet. Yep, I’m talking about spices and herbs. Spices and herbs are extremely potent when compared to any other foods. Adding them to your food can increase the antioxidant power of your meal, and they also taste good too. 

    The top two spices that reduce inflammation are garlic and turmeric. In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas shows that curcumin (an active substance in turmeric) is among the most effective anti-inflammatory compounds in the world.

    Spices and herbs like cayenne pepper, ginger, clove, cinnamon, rosemary and sage are also known for their powerful anti-inflammatory compounds. 

    So next time you cook, make sure to add those spices and herbs to increase the antioxidant power of your meal. 

    Three Take Away Lessons: 

    1. Sleep! Maintaining good sleep hygiene is an important part of regulating inflammation 
    2. Eat a balanced and anti-inflammatory diet. How? Pack in those antioxidants found in fruit & vegetables as well as spices & herbs
    3. Exercising regularly will help to reduce inflammatory factors and contribute to your overall well being
  • [3-Minute Blog] Can Certain Foods Increase Your Inflammation?

    Chronic inflammation can have a negative impact on your health. That much has already been established from my previous article.

    My goal with these 3-minute blogs is to give you simple but practical advice which you can begin to incorporate into your life in order to achieve a healthier lifestyle. When equipped with the correct knowledge, you can make the right choices when it comes to food. 

    On that note, our focus today is on reducing or eliminating foods that can cause inflammation. If you are motivated to live a healthier life, then reducing inflammation in your body is definitely the best way to start. 

    What you eat has a significant impact on the level of inflammation in your body. Without getting too scientifical, I would like to talk about three foods that no doubt trigger inflammation.

    Sugar

    Sugar is bad for us. That’s certainly not news for you. In 5 Dangers of Sugar No One Talks About I’ve already mentioned the disastrous effects of sugar. If you aren’t aware of the risks that sugar poses, I highly recommend you to read that article. 

    Most of the risks are directly linked to sugar’s ability to increase inflammation. 

    Moderation is good in all but sugar. Research from the University of Zurich confirms that just a can of soda containing 40 grams of sugar (equivalent to 8 spoonfuls) led to an increase in inflammatory markers. 

    A diet that is high in added sugar and refined carbohydrates increases inflammation like kerosine increases flames!  

    Reducing your daily intake of sugar is definitely the way to start reducing any inflammation. If you are looking for sugar alternatives, here is one of my most-read articles of all time: 6 Healthy Alternatives to Table Sugar.

    Refined Carbs

    Refined carbs are from grain products that have been processed. They are forms of sugars and starches that don’t exist in nature. They come from whole natural foods but have been altered in some way or another by processing, to “refine” them. An excellent example of a refined carb is white flour. White flour is refined to get that white and airy texture which is great for baking but has virtually zero nutrient value.

    Several studies suggest eating too many refined carbohydrates increases inflammation in your body. This Australian study suggests that even a single slice of white bread or pasta (50 grams) can elevate your inflammation level.

    It’s important to note that not all carbs are equal. In Why Carb’s Aren’t As Bad As You Think, I’ve explained the difference between the types of carbs. 

    Unhealthy Fat: Trans Fat & Vegetable Oil 

    Fat is healthy, and we should strive to get healthy fat in our daily diet. In The Fat Dilemma, I explain the healthy fats to eat as well as the right amounts. 

    While healthy fat is a health enhancer, unhealthy fat can be a health destroyer. Most unhealthy fats will increase the level of inflammation in our body. 

    Of all the unhealthy fats, the worst one is an artificial fat called trans fat. This fat is produced through hydrogenation, which is a chemical process that converts liquid vegetable oil into solid fat. Artificial trans fats are mostly found in margarine, french fries, packaged cookies, pastries, and in all processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. 

    Vegetable oil such as that from canola, soybean, sunflower etc. contains omega-6. Omega-6 is beneficial when the intake is balanced with omega-3. However, when the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 goes up, the level of inflammation level goes up too. 

    So skip the trans fat and reduce the vegetable oil intake as much as you can. 

    Three Take Away Lessons:

    1. Skip the sugar or try alternatives 
    2. Limit your intake of refined carbs. When possible, swap it with healthier natural carbs. 
    3. Abandon unhealthy fats as they do more bad than good to your body. 
  • 10 Scientific Reasons Why Water is Absolutely Essential for Your Well-being

    There’s no doubt that drinking water’s important, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself why water’s so essential to your health? This article will unravel 10 reasons why you should be drinking water for a fit and lean body. Learn why all the fitness experts and skincare gurus tout the benefits of water for your health and body.

    We’ve all seen these people; you know, the ones that carry a gallon of water with them everywhere they go. But did you ever ask yourself why these so-called fitness gurus and skincare experts are just so obsessed with this liquid?

    Well… let’s first start with the big picture.

    Did you know that water was one of the first things that Allah (SWT) created? Allah says in the Quran:

    Have those who disbelieved not considered that the heavens and the earth were a joined entity, and We separated them and made from water every living thing? Then will they not believe? (Al-Quran, 21:30)

    After 1400 years, science confirms this Quranic ayah (verse), which means that water is essential to your being.

    As an adult, your body is composed of, close to, 60-70 per cent water. Your brains, lungs, heart, liver and kidney contain between 65-85 per cent water.

    What this composition of our bodies suggests is that water is so essential to our function that even just a just a 5 per cent drop in our body’s fluid levels can lead to a 25 to 35 per cent drop in energy levels.

    But that’s just the half of the story. For example, your body has a limit to the percentage of dehydration that it can tolerate, and when your body passes this mark, you start to even damage your DNA! So, not drinking enough water is a big blow to your body.

    And I’m here to tell you why. In this article, I give you 10 reasons why water is absolutely crucial for your wellbeing—physically and mentally.

    #1: Your entire health depends on water

    Your blood is over 90 per cent water. You might be thinking, “So what?”

    Your blood system is used to transfer oxygen, nutrients and antibodies to each and every cell. If there is less water available for your blood system, you are basically stripping your system’s ability to do its job well.

    It won’t matter how healthy you eat because if you don’t drink enough water, your eating won’t help your cells function effectively.

    That’s because mitochondria, the energy power plants of your cells, need water to keep you energised. Whenever you are dehydrated, your energy plummets (#RamadanLethargy).

    Hence, the quickest and easiest way to increase your energy is by drinking water!

    #2: Removal of waste materials

    Your cells produce a lot of waste. Just like you poo and pee to relieve your body’s waste, your cells also need to ‘relieve’ this waste, and that’s why there is a cellular waste management system in your body to help with this excretion. Like the garbage trucks that clear away the streets, your lymphatic fluid is responsible for the removal of the waste products from your cells.

    If your lymph fluid is too thin because you’re dehydrated, you’re just going to start to build up all of these metabolic waste products, aka toxins. When these waste products aren’t channelled out of your body properly, you are basically asking for a lot of trouble, such as the DNA damage I mentioned previously.

    #3. Your digestion depends on water

    Have your ever-experienced constipation? Most people get constipated because they aren’t drinking enough water.

    Along with fibre, water is essential for good digestion. Water helps dissolve waste particles and pass them smoothly through your digestive tract.

    If you’re dehydrated, your body absorbs all the water, leaving your bowel movements dry and more difficult to pass.

    So, the simple trick to “push down” the waste products is to drink more water!

    #4: Water regulates your body temperature

    Allah (SWT) created a built-in thermostat in your body. This does an amazing job of regulating your body temperature by warming up or cooling down your body. But in order for this “thermostat” to work, you need to drink plenty of water.

    By drinking water, your body naturally regulates its own temperature.

    #5: Water helps you to stay slim

    Here is the thing, even being mildly dehydrated can slow down your metabolism by as much as 3%! In other words, being hydrated is critical to your ability to burn fat!

    So, just by drinking more water, you’re helping to pump up your metabolism — especially if your water is cold (somewhere 20-220 Celsius). This is because your body must work to warm the water up, thereby burning a few extra calories in the process.

    #6: Nourish your skin with water

    Most women spend hundreds of dollars on beauty creams to look better. The key to great skin? Drink plenty of water because water is nature’s own beauty cream.

    Fine lines and wrinkles are deeper when you’re dehydrated. Drinking water hydrates skin cells and plumps them up, making your face look younger.

    It also flushes out impurities and improves circulation and blood flow, leaving your face clean, clear and glowing.

    #7: Lower your stress with water

    85 per cent of your brain tissue is water. If you’re dehydrated, both your body and your mind will be stressed. If you’re feeling thirsty, you’re already a little dehydrated.

    To keep stress levels down, keep a glass of water at your desk or carry a sports bottle and sip regularly.

    #8: Water is your natural lubricant

    Just like machines need lubricants to work smoothly, your body also needs to be lubricated. The best lubricant for your body is water because it allows the smooth movement of your joints.

    Not just your joints, but water is essential for the proper function of your spinal cord, spinal disks, eyes, and brain.

    Did you know that about 70 – 80 per cent of your joint cartilage is made of water? So, when you’re well-hydrated, your joints work better and you can move easily.

    Conversely, dehydration leads to degeneration of your cartilages and severe pain in your joints.

    #9: Water improves your workout performance

    Do you experience cramps in your muscles when you’re working out? If you do, then you might want to see if you’re staying hydrated. Drinking water helps prevent muscle cramping and, as I mentioned before, lubricates joints in the body.

    When you’re well hydrated, you can exercise longer and stronger without “hitting the wall.” In other words, drinking water while working out is a great way of improving your performance.

    #10: Water improves your focus and cognitive functions

    Another benefit of drinking water is that it helps you with the ability to stay focused and with your ability to think and remember information.

    In a study, researchers found that being dehydrated by just 2% impairs performance in tasks that require memory, focus and other cognitive functions. However, by staying hydrated, researchers found that their subjects were more likely to perform better on work that was mentally strenuous.

    How Much Water Should You Drink?

    This is one of the most frequently asked questions in health forums, and you certainly have heard the reply that one should aim to drink at least eight glasses of water a day.

    The fact is, there is no consensus among scientist about the average amount of water one needs daily. Yep, this 8-glasses theory is not necessarily science based. This is because the amount of water one needs differs on many different factors, like your size, where you live, how much exercise you do, what you eat and how much you eat.

    Having said that, 8-glasses a day seems to be a reasonable and safe recommendation. So, if you can stick to it, you surely can’t go wrong.

    You may need less than eight glasses of water if you drink other unsweetened no-calorie beverages such as green tea or black tea. And you may need more than eight glasses of water if you sweat a lot, exercise and/or do a lot of manual labour!

    In most western countries, the water from the tap is much better than the water from supermarket bottles. So, save your money and start using the water from the tap. If you are in doubt, boil the water before drinking or, even better, buy a water filter.

    Here are some other great tips:

    • Start your day with two glasses of water. This is one of the best things you could do for your health!
    • Drink at least one glass of water 30 min. before your meal. You’ll not only be less hungry, but you’ll also fulfil the Sunnah of eating, which is having your meal consist of 1/3 water, 1/3 food, and 1/3 air (Saheeh, ibn Maajah).

    Drinking a glass of water will not automatically transform your body into a lean and healthy one, but it, no doubt, bring you closer to your goal.

  • How The Food You Eat Affects Your Spirituality

    Your spiritual life has different dynamics. The ups and downs of your spiritual life depend a great deal on many things in life. In this article, we’ll explore how even the food you eat can affect your spirituality and what you can do about it.

    How often you had the best intention to pray with khushoo (humility in prayer), yet only noticed at the end of Salah that you weren’t focused at all?

    How often were you determined not to glare at the opposite gender and did end up doing precisely that?

    As you may have noticed, your conscious connection with Allah subuhanawuta’ala, (your spirituality) rises and falls. Many factors affect the ups and downs of your spirituality, such as your sins, lack of ‘ibadah, bad companions etc.

    In this article, I want to make my case that even the food you eat affects your overall spirituality. As a nutrition and exercise coach, I know this to be true because I coach Muslim clients in over 30 countries around the world to improve their health and to get into the best shape of their lives.

    Whenever my clients improve their food choices, they report to me how even their connection with Allah subuhanawuta’ala improves dramatically.

    Now, to understand how food affects your spirituality, you first need to know how the rest of your body interconnects with your spirituality.

    Come, let’s jump in!

    Holistic View of Health

    If I were to meet you in person and inquire you about your health, you might say that you are healthy, because your body is currently free from any diseases. That’s great, Alhamdulillah, but it’s a very narrow definition of health.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This statement is true. However, our religion takes a much broader and a more holistic approach to defining health.

    The Islamic definition of health isn’t just related to our physical, mental and social well-being; instead, it also includes our emotional and spiritual well-being too. And these two factors tend to be neglected in discussions and definitions of health. However, our real long-term health heavily depends on such a holistic view, because the synergy of these elements of health helps us to create an optimal life, bi’idnillah!

    Now, here is what you need to know. You are a highly sophisticated creation of Allah subuhanawuta’ala. Your body, mind, emotions and spirituality are all interconnected. Anything that affects your mind affects your body too.

    For instance, when you neglect the health of your body and get sick, it takes a toll on your spirituality too. Don’t you notice, how even a slight headache makes it challenging to focus in your ‘ibadah?

    Protecting Your Intellect

    One of the aims and purposes of our Sharia is to protect our intellect. Whatever negatively affects the mind is thus prohibited in Islam.

    That’s why Quran and Sunnah prohibit specific food and drink for us, such as alcohol, drugs, blood, the flesh of swine etc., because these foods not only harm our body, they harm our mind also and thus our spirituality too.

    While the list of prohibited (haram) foods is very clear to us, there are also foods that are in fact allowed (halal) but not necessarily good for our body, mind or spirituality.

    As Muslims, we always look for foods that are halal, but sometimes we forget to ask whether or not it’s good for us. However, the commandment of Allah subuhanawuta’ala is explicit:

    “O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Shaytān. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy.”  (Al-Quran 2:168)

    Lawful and Good Foods

    So, note the emphasis on “lawful and good”. Whatever you eat should be not only halal but also good. Islam encourages us to eat foods that are rich with the ‘good stuff’; vitamins, nutrients, etc. And it discourages us to eat food that has elements of harm to our body and mind.

    Generally speaking, foods that are least processed and closest to its natural state are good foods. I call them “green foods”. These are so-called whole foods or real foods, such as

    • vegetables,
    • fruits,
    • meat, fish
    • grains and legumes
    • nuts and seeds etc.

    So strive as much as you can to include “green foods” in your diet.

    Also, work to reduce the consumption of highly processed and refined foods that come from factories and labs. I call them “red foods”.

    Most of these foods are pretty easy to identify. Here are few guidelines to remember:

    • They come in fancy packages
    • Most of these foods come with glorious health claims on the package (“good for your heart”, “low-fat”, “high in fibre”, “100% natural”)
    • These foods are in fact produced in factories and labs, not in farms
    • They have a long list of ingredients

    In my 7-day free course, I talk about these foods in more detail. If you are interested, you can sign up here for free.

    How These Foods Affect Your Spirituality

    Though there are many mechanisms how the food you eat can affect your body, mind and spirituality, I regard the following three as the most crucial ones:

    #1. Energy

    Your spirituality can be significantly affected by the level of your energy. In fact, the lack of energy is one of the reasons for you to abandon good deeds or to engage in any beneficial things.

    When you are tired and have low energy, try doing anything meaningful. You’ll soon notice how difficult it is to focus on anything meaningful.

    That’s because your brain needs glucose (a form of energy) to think and focus. When you run low on energy, focusing is the last thing your brain wants to do.

    Maintaining a constant level of energy provides you with the focus you need. Here comes the role of those “green foods”. Not only do they give the endless energy you need but they provide nutrients to improve your overall health.

    A chocolate bar or a sugar-laden beverage does give you much-needed energy, but it’s only for a short period. Such an energy spike is promptly followed by a crash that leaves you feeling more depleted of energy, so it’s not a good long-term strategy to maintain your energy level.

    #2. Optimism

    You wonder what has optimism to do with your spirituality? A lot.

    First and foremost, being optimistic is, indeed, a prophetic Sunnah. Abu Hurayrah (RA) said that the Messenger of Allah liked optimism and detested pessimism. (Musnad Ahmad).

    There are so many other examples from the Quran and Sunnah that stresses the importance of being optimistic. I think the following two are indeed relevant to our topic.

    The Prophet (PBUH) told us that Allah says: ‘I am as My servant thinks of Me…’ (Sahih al-Bukhari). In another hadith, ‘None of [us] should die except while assuming the best about Allah’ (Sahih Muslim).

    Al-Hasan al-Basri rahimahullah explained this hadith in a very succinct manner; he said: “The believer assumes the best about his Lord, so he does the best deeds. The sinner assumes the worst about his Lord, so he does evil deeds.”

    So positive thoughts about your Lord leads you to positive actions and thus impacts your spirituality positively. And negative thoughts about your Lord leads you towards negative actions and that in turn affects your spirituality negatively.

    And here comes the role of foods again. For you to keep your thoughts positive, your diet does play a humongous role.

    Among many research studies, the study that was published in the American Journal of Psychology really caught my attention. The researchers wanted to find out whether depression and anxiety have any association with the food people eat. So they compared the traditional diet with the western diet, which is a diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products etc. (a diet that consists mostly of those “red foods”).

    The result was astounding. A “traditional” dietary pattern characterised by vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains (a diet that consists mostly of “green foods”) was associated with lower odds for major depression or dysthymia and anxiety disorders.

    So the food you eat affects your thoughts and in turn, affects your spirituality.

    #3. Sleep

    In the past, whenever I was pressed for time, the very first thing I used to do was cut my sleep. I thought it was the most logical thing to do to increase my productivity.

    But I was wrong! Every time I cut my sleeping hours, I felt more irritated and had a hard time focusing on anything meaningful. So while I had more hours to work, I got less useful things done. I was feeling miserable and least productive.

    You see, getting not enough sleep is not only a bad idea, but it is also a sure-fire way to increase your risk of many serious health problems, including jeopardising your mental and spiritual health.

    Research studies show that getting less than 7 hours of sleep impacts our memory and learning ability negatively. Those who had less than 7 hours of sleep recalled more negative things than positive ones during the day.  And that’s scary because this is correlated with depression. Depressed people remember negative things more frequently.

    So getting adequate sleep is one of the pillars of a healthy, meaningful and productive life. The Quran and the Sunnah highlight the importance of sufficient sleep in many places:

    “And we made your sleep as a thing for rest” (Al-Quran, 78.9)

    The Prophet (PBUH) told one of his companions who was praying the whole night “Offer prayers and also sleep at night, as your body has a right on you” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

    The food we eat plays a vital role in determining the quality and quantity of our sleep. Here are few food-related things you can do to improve your sleep:

    • Eat at least 2 hours before your bedtime. A small snack before bed is ok, but not a large meal.
    • Avoid fatty, fried, or spicy foods just before your bedtime. They are known to disrupt your sleep
    • Avoid caffeine (that is found in coffee, tea, soda, chocolate etc.) after 2 PM.
    • Quit smoking. Research studies link nicotine with insomnia.

    So the takeaway message is this: Getting adequate sleep at night helps you to improve your mood, productivity, health and overall well-being. And maintaining that balance is crucial to enhancing your connection with Allah subuhanawuta’ala.

    How Much You Eat Trumps What You Eat

    Listen, here is a little secret :-). Overindulging in good foods isn’t a good strategy to improving your relationship with Allah. The quantity of food is as important as the quality of food.

    In a hadith, narrated in At-Tirmidhi, Prophet (PBUH) said, “The son of Adam does not fill any vessel worse than his stomach. It is enough for the son of Adam to eat a few mouthfuls to keep him going, but if he must (fill his stomach), then one third for his food, one third for his drink and one third for air.”

    In Zaad Al-Maad, Imam ibn al-Qayyim gave a beautiful commentary on this hadith. He said:

    “This is one of the most beneficial practices in both physical and spiritual terms because if the stomach is filled with food, there is no room for a drink. Then if that food is followed by a drink, there will be no room for air, and he will become tired like one who carries a heavy load.

    This is in addition to what results from that of spiritual damage, as it will make one too lazy to do acts of worship, and it will stir up physical desires as a result of eating one’s fill. Therefore filling the stomach with food is harmful in both spiritual and physical terms.”

    Healthy Eating Enhances Your Spirituality

    For you to improve your connection with Allah subuhanawuta’ala, you want to make it really easy to do the good things and really hard to do the bad things. That’s easier said than done, but from my experience and the experience of many of my clients, this is what I know:

    When you eat healthily and eat only until you are slightly full, your mood, your energy, your thinking pattern and even your sleep improves. And all these improvements help you to enhance your spirituality.

    So here is what I ask you to do. Try to eat as healthily as possible for next two weeks and see whether or not you notice these changes in your life.

    If you need help to eat healthily, I’ve created a free 7-day course for you. Even if you don’t have any weight to lose, this course will help you to improve your health and overall well-being.

    Want to be on board?

    (This is a guest post I’ve written for https://quranacademy.io and reposting it for my readers)

  • 5 Dangers of Sugar No One Talks About

    There’s no doubt that sugar’s sweet and triggers great memories. That’s because sugar is the constant ingredient in many of our beautiful celebrations and functions. Yet, this sweetness disguises many dangers of this substance too. In this article, I am exploring some of the real risks of eating sugar.

    I can vividly recall the moments of my childhood where I would chew on sugar canes with my buddies. Unlike the sugar candies, the sugar canes are full of beneficial stuff. It contains a pretty rich amount of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fibre.

    And chewing the sugar canes is even good for your teeth.

    Now looking at the benefits of sugar cane, you may think that the sugar that comes from it must also be good for you too, right?

    Sugar Facts

    When sugar canes are highly processed and refined, you get white (or brown) sugar. Through this processing, all the beneficial stuff I mentioned are lost. So the end product of sugar is just plain sugar. There is almost no nutrient attached to it. Here is a quick view of sugar nutrition facts:

    sugar nutrition facts

    Before I delve deeper into this topic, here’s what you need to know about sugar:

    Sugar doesn’t nourish you, nor is it a health food

    • Sugar doesn’t add any nutritional value to your body
    • Sugar doesn’t add any value to your mind
    • Sugar doesn’t make your body stronger, healthier, better or more functional.

    So, what does sugar really do to your body?

    Danger #1: Sugar Can Be Addictive

    In a study on rats, the researchers at Princeton University demonstrated that sugar can be an addictive substance. The lead researcher Professor Bart Hoebel suggests, “rats eating large amounts of sugar when hungry, undergo neurochemical changes in the brain that appear to mimic those produced by substances of abuse, including cocaine, morphine and nicotine.

    In another research compiled by scientists at the University of Bordeaux in France concluded that sugar and sweet rewards cannot only be a substitute for addictive drugs like cocaine but can even be more rewarding and attractive than those drugs!

    I do need to stress the point that these studies have been done on rats in a laboratory setup. More human-based studies are needed to confirm these findings in humans.

    However, Robert Lustig, a world-renowned professor of paediatrics at the University of California argues that sugar is in fact the alcohol of the child”. Based on research he argues that “dietary sugar fries your kid’s liver and brain; just like alcohol.” 

    Furthermore, he elaborates “fructose is metabolised in the liver in exactly the same way as alcohol. And that’s why, when consumed chronically and at a high dose, fructose is similarly toxic and abused, unrelated to its calories or effects on weight. And that’s why our children now get the diseases of alcohol (type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease), without alcohol”.

    If you are a parent, I highly recommend you to read the above-quoted article.

    Danger #2: Sugar Makes You Look Older

    You always have the drive to look younger, regardless of your age, right? Here is bad news for you!

    Consuming sugar make you look older than you really are. The reason for this is a process called ‘glycation’, in which the sugar in your bloodstream attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs).

    The more sugar you eat, the more harmful AGEs you develop. These AGEs damage surrounding proteins like collagen and elastin, which help to keep your skin firm and elastic. Once damaged, springy and resilient collagen and elastin become dry and brittle, which makes your skin wrinkle and sag.

    According to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, these ageing effects (catalysed by AGEs molecules) start when you hit the age of 35 and increase rapidly after that.

    So reduce sugar from your life, if you want to stay and look young!

    Danger #3: Excessive Consumption of Sugar Can Be the Doorway For Diseases

    Sugar is a contributing factor in over 35 million deaths worldwide, every year. These deaths are a result of obesity and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. There is no denying the fact that sugar is one of the worst ingredients added to foods, in the modern history of humankind.

    Excessive consumption of sugar is linked to

    • changes in metabolism,
    • increased blood pressure,
    • liver damage,
    • interference with hormone signalling,
    • high blood sugar levels, caused by health conditions like diabetes, cancer of the pancreas, skin, uterus, urinary tract and breast.

    Scientists at the University of California argue that many of the health effects caused by drinking too much alcohol are, in fact, also caused by eating too much sugar.

    For instance, too much sugar is associated with an increase in the risk of heart disease. One study found that those who got 25 percent or more of their daily calories from sugar had double the risk of having low HDL (good) cholesterol compared to those who consumed less than 5 percent of their calories as sugar.

    Those who ate the most sugar also had the highest triglyceride levels. Now if you wonder, what it means to your health, here is what you need to know: Low HDL and high triglycerides are two of the primary risk factors for heart disease.

    Danger #4: Sugar and Your Hormones

    According to a study in Journal of Clinical Investigation, high intake of fructose and glucose (aka sugar) can even affect the levels of active sex hormones testosterone and oestrogen in your body.

    Now in common language, here is what happens when the levels of these hormones are affected:

    When the testosterone levels decline in men, these are the consequences:

    • infertility
    • reduced desire for sex
    • fewer erections

    When oestrogen levels decline in women, these are the consequences:

    • decreased sex drive
    • vaginal dryness (oestrogen helps the vagina by keeping its walls moist and elastic)

    That’s basically bad news for your reproductive health!

    Danger #5: Sugar Rewires Your Brain

    In an interesting study, researchers from Cardiff University in the UK found that higher rates of sugar consumption as children can lead to higher rates of violence as adults.

    The researchers suggest, “sweet-eating children don’t learn to defer gratification and carry impulsive behaviours into adulthood. They also speculate that big candy eaters are also more likely to eat additive-laden food–which some researchers claim has adverse behavioural effects throughout life.”

    So, the next time you want to add more sugar or have a sugar-laden food, think about how your choices will impact your brain and behaviour. Train yourself to make good choices rather than choices based on whims and fancies!

    Key Message: Reduce Your Sugar Intake

    When it comes to consuming table sugar, you may not consume a large amount of sugar off the spoon. Most of the sugar you consume comes from hidden sources, such as from highly processed food or soft drinks.  So, first focus on reducing your sugar intake from such sources.

    Here is a quick guideline to follow:

    Women: No more than six teaspoons of added sugar (An important note: A can of your favourite soda has more than that)

    Men: No more than nine teaspoons of sugar (An important note: Your favourite chocolate bar has more than that)

    Take control of your life by kicking sugar to the curb!

  • How to Improve Your Health while Eating Rice

    With the increase in popularity of low-carb diets, rice is getting a bad rep. It has been vilified and associated with causing type-2 diabetes. But is rice really bad for your health? In this article, I want to show how you can improve your health while eating rice.

    Rice is a global food. It’s the primary dietary staple for more than half the global population. A whopping 6 out of 10 people in the world eat rice every day!

    And with more than 40’000 (yep, 40k!) rice varieties and its prominence in almost all world cuisines, there’s hardly any other food that can match the variety and the taste of rice.

    Yet, it’s also one of the most vilified foods among low-carb dieters.

    Is this vilification justified? What’s the truth behind the accusation? And can we eat rice and also improve our health?

    Time to uncover the facts.

    Sifting Through Classical Texts: Rice as Medicine

    The Yellow Emperor’s Classic is the oldest medical text in the world. This 3’000 year old book is the fundamental Chinese medical guide.

    This classic text holds that food therapy is key to treating any disease and it prescribes a ten-day rice gruel fast as the first remedy for disease.

    Wait, before you run to the supermarket to buy bags of rice to use it as medicine, you first need to know what type of rice they used as medicine. It wasn’t the low quality, nutrient-poor, low fibre white rice you eat. Rather, the rice they used in medicine was indigenous, whole-grain, and unpolished brown (and red) rice.

    And that’s may be the best place to start our conversation.

    White Rice vs. Brown (or any other colour) Rice

    Now, is all rice created equal? Nope. That’s because the processing of rice plays a major role in defining its healthfulness.

    When the outermost layer, called hull, of a whole grain of rice is removed, you get beneficial brown (or red) rice.

    The white rice you get in the marker is a result of further processing this brown rice. Two of the most important parts of whole grains are removed through processing:

    1. The bran of the grain is removed, where most of the fibre, minerals and vitamin B are found
    2. The germ is removed, where healthy fats and other vitamins and minerals are found

    So the white rice you eat is high in starchy carb, but low in quality, nutrients and fibre.

    Source: Harvard.edu

    But the story doesn’t end with the lack of fibre and nutrients in white rice. When you eat this highly processed white rice, it’s digested and absorbed quickly, causing your blood sugar levels to rise rapidly and to spike your insulin level. And that in return leads to hunger spikes and could put you at risk of weight gain as well.

    So, it’s not surprising why higher intake of white rice is associated with increased type-2 diabetes. In this meta-analysis, researchers found that “higher white rice intake is associated with a significantly elevated risk of type 2 diabetes, especially among Asian populations”.

    And on the other hand, researchers found in an observational study that “replacing white rice and other refined grains with whole grains, including brown rice, would help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

    And this makes sense. In His Ultimate Wisdom, Allah subuhanawuta’la created whole grains with lots of fibre, because fibre does work as an antidote to simple starchy carbs. While starchy carbs increase your insulin level rapidly, it’s the fibre in the whole grain that lessons the insulin response. (As a general rule, too often, too long excess insulin secretion could lead to obesity)

    Apart from fibre, brown rice is rich in nutrients and minerals your body needs. Check this short comparison between these two rice varieties and see why brown rice (or any other whole grain rice) is superior:

    comparison chart, white rice, brown rice

    How to Make Eating Rice Healthy for You

    Now, does it mean, you should abandon white rice for the rest of your life? No, not at all.

    White Rice, with all its variety and taste, isn’t inherently bad for you. It all depends on your health goal (e.g. lose weight and gaining weight), the serving size and your lifestyle.

    • If you are in the process of getting bigger (and building more muscle), white rice can be helpful.
    • On the other hand, if you are trying to lose weight, eating too much of it will hamper your progress of getting lean.
    • So, if most of your calories come solely from white rice, then eating this type of rice is a health problem.
    • And, if you are pre-diabetic or diabetic patient, then white rice isn’t ideal food for you.

    So most foods aren’t good or bad; it all depends on what your goal and lifestyle is.

    Here are some steps, from easiest to most challenging, that you can take to modify your rice intake.

    Step 1: If you are eating white rice every day, choose whole-grain varieties of rice (such as brown, red, black or even wild rice) at least 3-4 times a week

    Step 2: Drink 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar diluted in 4 tablespoons of water, 5 minutes before your rice (or any other starchy carb-rich) meal. As mentioned in this article, vinegar helps to lower blood sugar level up to 34%.

    Step 3: Eat white rice in moderation. That’s around ½ to 1 cup (i.e. 250 ml cup) of cooked rice. Again, it all depends on the body size, gender, your health goal and your lifestyle.

    Step 4: Eat your rice (white or whole grain) with protein, some healthy fats and lots of vegetables. This will blunt the blood sugar response much better than if you sat down to a lonely, huge plate of rice.

    Step 5: Eat rice and any other starchy carbs only in the hour or two after intense exercise. Even this small shift in your diet will help you lose some fat and gain some muscle.

    Step 6: Eliminate rice and starchy carbs entirely, especially if you are obese and have a dangerous level of belly fat. Instead, replace rice and starchy carbs with lots of vegetables, and make sure you have a good intake of lean protein and healthy fats.

    If you are already in step 1, work towards step 2 and if you are already practising step 2, work towards step 3. It’s about bringing small lifestyle changes one step at a time.

    Small Steps Lead to Major Changes

    Attempting to overhaul your life all at once will only lead you to throw in the towel and worsen your health. So, start strong by slowly incorporating these steps into your lifestyle.