For many people, abstinence is an integral part of Lent. According to a survey commissioned by the health insurance company DAK, most Germans want to avoid alcohol (73 percent), sweets (68 percent), meat (56 percent) and smoking (43 percent) for the next 40 days. The reasons for giving up vary, but does giving up alcohol or sweets for a short time have any health effects?
Silke Willms says that those who do without alcohol, sweets, meat or tobacco during Lent can question how they deal with it. She is an ecotrophologist and nutritional expert at the health insurance company DAK. "Any health effect from fasting is quickly gone if I drink as much alcohol or eat sweets after giving up as I did before I gave up."
What effects the waiver has in detail:
The nutrition expert of the DAK reports that seven weeks without alcohol can help to question your own handling of it. "The effect of not drinking alcohol also depends on how much alcohol you're used to. It's a different dose if I drink a glass of wine with food or several bottles of beer a day." Many people who don't drink schnapps, wine, or beer for 40 days often report that they sleep better, feel fitter, and are better able to distinguish between hunger and appetite. "Alcohol basically always puts a strain on the organism, so giving up is good to feel whether you feel any health effects." Silke Willms advises anyone hoping to lose weight not to replace alcohol with other high-calorie drinks such as juice or lemonade. Only those who reduce the usual calorie intake can lose some weight.
Avoiding alcohol or starting to drink less alcohol can only have advantages, says Astrid Donalies, ecotrophologist at the German Society for Nutrition (DGE). "For example, men aged 25 to under 51 consume on average about six percent of their daily energy in the form of alcoholic beverages. This high intake of so-called empty calories not only contributes to the development of obesity. With regular and copious alcohol consumption there is a long-term high risk of addiction with serious damage to the health of organs (including the liver, pancreas and heart muscle) and nerves, as well as mental disorders and some cancers." Researchers from the University of Sussex and University College London found in studies of four-week alcohol abstinence that abstaining from alcohol led to lower blood pressure, better concentration and better skin among the participants.
"We like to eat sweets because the sugar activates the reward system in the brain. Our body gets used to the sweet taste, but we can also train ourselves to avoid it. Lent is a good start," says Silke Willms. It is important not to replace sugar with sweeteners in order to really reduce the craving for a sweet taste. "Those who find it difficult to completely avoid sweets can gradually eat and drink less sweets from today until the weekend in order to get used to it." Similar to those who do without alcohol, fasting people report that they feel better and fitter without or with less cake, soda or ice cream.
"Due to the high consumption of confectionery, cakes or sugar-sweetened drinks, our daily diet contains large amounts of simple or double sugars (table sugar, fructose, glucose, etc.)." High sugar intake can lead to frequent hunger pangs and frequent eating outside of meals, among other things. Astrid Donalies says this can have a long-term impact on the scales.
"In contrast to avoiding alcohol and sweets, I think the health effects of a short-term avoidance of meat are rather low," says Silke Willms. But if you normally eat a lot of sausage and meat, you have to think about how you can get full. This is a big change, and more vegetables and legumes will probably end up on the plate. "By not eating meat, I can see that there are good alternatives and that they don't necessarily have to be meat substitutes, but that beans refined with spices and olive oil can be processed into a delicious spread." If you eat mostly fruit and vegetables when you avoid meat, you can lose some weight due to the lower intake of animal fats, says the nutrition expert.
Astrid Donalies says: "Meat contains readily available iron as well as selenium and zinc. Meat and especially sausage contain unfavorable ingredients such as cholesterol and fat. Only animal foods contain available vitamin B12 in appreciable amounts. However, there is no need to worry if if you go without meat for a while, there is a shortage here." However, you should always pay attention to a balanced diet. As part of a wholesome diet, a small amount of meat can facilitate the supply of vital nutrients. A weekly amount of meat and sausages ranging from a total of 300 grams for adults with a low calorie requirement to 600 grams for adults with a high calorie requirement is sufficient for this. "Meat consumption in Germany is about twice as high, so it can make sense to go without it for a certain period of time," says Donalies.
"The vapors that I absorb from smoking have to be processed by my body, and if I no longer smoke at all, the body can recover relatively quickly from substances such as nicotine that are absorbed through the vapor," says Silke Willms. According to "Lungenärzte-im-Netz.de", the oxygen content in the blood improves after just eight hours, and after 24 hours the risk of a heart attack is even lower. The senses of smell and taste begin to improve from the third smoke-free day, and after a few weeks blood circulation stabilizes and lung function increases.
However, smokers would have to reckon with the fact that giving up from one day to the next would be very difficult. "Withdrawal symptoms such as trembling hands, headaches or restlessness can occur," says Silke Willms. For many a smoker, giving up a cigarette for 40 days can be the start of a smoke-free life.