Navratri 2023: Expert Tips On Fasting Do’s And Don’ts
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Navratri 2023 is almost upon us and celebrations for this festival dedicated to Goddess Durga are starting up all over India, and even in nations where the Indian diaspora is settled. From massive Navratri Raas Garba in Gujarat to the sound of dhaks and conches in West Bengal, Navratri 2023 celebrations are all set to immerse everyone in the festive spirit and joy. A key aspect of Navratri 2023 celebrations is a nine-day vrat or fast that most devotees of Goddess Durga keep, especially in North India. 

Fasting, especially ritual fasting during Hindu festivals, is always done keeping sattvicism and principles of Ayurveda in mind—which is why most people keeping this fast believe it to be beneficial. However, nutritionally speaking, there are many mistakes people tend to make for one reason or the other that make a Navratri sattvik fast anything but beneficial. Keeping this in mind, we spoke to Nisha Singh, Clinical Nutritionist, Integrative Sports Dietitian, Founder of NutriWellness by Nisha Singh, to understand the nutritional and health aspects of Navratri 2023 fasting. 

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Understanding The Types Of Vrat During Navratri 2023 

“The Navratri fast is primarily for religious and spiritual purposes, and a way to connect with the deity,” says Nisha Singh, who herself keeps this vrat during the nine days of Navratri every year. “Fasting is also a way to cleanse the body and revitalise it.” That said, Nisha Singh says that there are many different permutations and combinations that people follow during Navratri, depending on their family traditions, region of origin, personal health and professional conditions. 

“Some people fast by only consuming water during Navratri,” Nisha Singh explains. “Others might take one sattvik meal a day with water, fresh fruits and avoiding salt. Then there are people who eat through the day but won’t use iodised salt in cooking and replace it with sendha namak or rock salt. These people also avoid grains, pulses, onion, garlic and non-sattvik items in their food during Navratri. Then there are people like me who will do the nine-day Navratri fast but drink water, drink milk once a day, have dry fruits, eat something sweet like a jaggery laddoo and have one sattvik, millet-based meal cooked with sendha namak.” 

The Do’s And Don’ts Of Navratri Fasting 

Though many people attempt at doing a Nirjala or waterless fast during Navratri, Nisha Singh says that this practice is best avoided. “Water is of paramount importance,” she says. “Many a times people can survive without food, but not without water. Our body starts shutting down with prolonged dehydration and you can get headaches, cramps and impaired digestion as a result.” So, Nisha Singh’s first recommendation is to drink up plenty of water, especially if you are someone who is fasting and want to dance Garba all night.   

“It’s very important to keep your hydration levels up,” she says. “There is a lot of breakdown happening in the body by keeping the sattvik Navratri fast, a lot of toxins are released, and it is important that these are flushed out of the body. So, drinking water is very important. You can also have coconut water, lemonade or nimbu pani, green tea and infused waters. Thin lassis made with honey can also be consumed.” 

Apart from the emphasis on water and hydration, here are some other do’s and don’ts Nisha Singh recommends for those keeping the Navratri 2023 fast. 

Dry Fruits Are Must-Haves: “You should eat power-packed, energy-loaded, nutrient-dense foods,” Nisha Singh says. “So, I’d recommend a fistful of mixed dry fruits, nuts and seeds. Soaked almonds, walnuts, black raisins and seeds are a must with a glass of milk. Include dates and figs or anjeer.”  

Rely On Fresh Fruits: “Consuming two to three fruits, especially water-rich fruits like musk melon, papaya, watermelon is a must,” says Nisha Singh. “These will also help with hydration. Fruits will give you complex carbohydrates and energy along with fibre, vitamins and minerals. So, the energy will be steady in your system.” 

Break Fast With A Light Meal: “Whenever you break the fast for that one meal of the day, opt for lighter meals,” Nisha Singh recommends. “Eat slowly, maintain portion control and don’t try to overcompensate the calories you haven’t consumed all day.”  

Avoid Deep-Fried Food: “For the one meal of the day, avoid deep-fried, sweets and rich or spicy items,” she adds. “People assume that because they have fasted through the day, they can eat anything. Deep-fried food must be avoided, even if you are using millets or nutrient-dense sattvik ingredients.” 

Meal Timing Matters: “Ideally, take your one meal as your lunch and stick to fruits, dry fruits and milk for the rest of the day, and end the day with a cup of milk,” Nisha Singh explains. “This would be much better than having one extra-large meal in the entire day.” 

Stay Away From Juice: You might assume that drinking fresh fruit juice is a good idea as fruits are allowed for consumption during Navratri fasting, but Nisha Singh says otherwise. “Avoid juices even if they are made with fresh fruits because these can cause a quick blood sugar spike and crash,” she says.  

Handle Sabudana With Care: Sabudana or sago pearls are a go-to for anybody keeping a sattvik fast during Navratri 2023 or any ritual fast of the year. However, Nisha Singh says that those with prediabetes, diabetes and blood sugar issues should be cautious of using this ingredient. “Sabudana can often lead to blood sugar spikes, so mix it with other ingredients like peanuts, potatoes, sweet potatoes, etc.” she explains. 

Protein Matters: While keeping the Navratri 2023 fast, you have to ensure that you also include sources of protein in your diet, like paneer and milk. “Milk is a great option for Navratri, so one or two cups a day should be sufficient,” she says. “It gives you protein as well as energy, and keeps you hydrated.” 

Explore Millet Meals: “Make use of the wide variety of millets available in India during Navratri 2023 while keeping the fasting rules in mind,” Nisha Singh says. “Singhare ka atta, sabudana, kuttu, rajgira, samak rice, etc are good choices because they are packed with nutrition and are easy to digest also.”  

Caring For Kids During Navratri 2023 Fasting 

Whether it is done consciously or unconsciously, kids of all ages often end up keeping the Navratri fast because the rest of the family is. However, Nisha Singh advices against it, especially for very young kids. “They are young and developing, so they need those nutrients from balanced meals on a regular basis. Plus, they may not be able to manage hunger like adults do,” she explains.  

“If your older kids are fasting, give them nutrient-dense foods from the options I’ve mentioned before, make sure they are well supplied with water and other sattvik items while they are in school,” Nisha Singh adds. “I would recommend that they should avoid very hectic activities like sports if they are fasting for more than one day during Navratri. Give them a few nuts, milk, milkshakes, etc every two hours to keep their energy levels up. You could also give them roasted makhanas, roasted peanuts, millet snacks. Ensure that they drink enough water no matter water.”