Since the beginning of time, dietary practices have been incorporated into the religious practices of people around the world. Some religious sects abstain, or are forbidden, from consuming certain foods and drinks; others restrict foods and drinks during their holy days; while still others associate dietary and food preparation practices with rituals of the faith. The early biblical writings, especially those found in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy of the Old Testament (and in the Torah) outlined the dietary practices for certain groups (e.g., Christians and Jews), and many of these practices may still be found among these same groups today. Practices such as fasting (going without ...view middle of the document...
In addition to laws about the ingestion of foods or drinks, the practice of fasting, or severely restricting intake of food and/or drink, became prevalent, and is still practiced by many religions today.
The Role of Fasting
Many religions incorporate some element of fasting into their religious practices. Laws regarding fasting or restricting food and drink have been described as a call to holiness by many religions. Fasting has been identified as the mechanism that allows one to improve one's body (often described as a "temple" created by God), to earn the approval of Allah or Buddha, or to understand and appreciate the sufferings of the poor.
Fasting has also been presented as a means to acquire the discipline required to resist temptation, as an act of atonement for sinful acts, or as the cleansing of evil from within the body. Fasting may be undertaken for several hours, at a specified time of the day (e.g., from sunrise to sunset, as practiced by modern Jews), for a specified number of hours (e.g., twelve, twenty-four, or more, as observed by Catholics or Mormons who fast on designated days), or for consecutive days, such as during the month of Ramadan for certain Muslims. Regardless of the time frame or rationale, religious groups observe the practice of fasting worldwide.
Health Benefits and Risks Associated with Specific Practices
Certain groups of people must necessarily be excused from fasting and restrictive practices. These groups include pregnant or nursing women; individuals with diabetes or other chronic disorders; those engaged in very strenuous work; malnourished individuals; young children; and frail elderly or disabled persons. Recognition of these exceptions has been addressed by each religious group. Most fasting practices allow certain intakes of liquid, particularly water. In fasting regimes where water is restricted, a danger of dehydration exists, and those fasting should be monitored.
Those who fast without liquids increase their risk of a number of health problems. Symptoms of dehydration include headache, dry mouth, nausea , fever, sleepiness, and, in extreme cases, coma. When...