March 18, 2016

Advice for Healthy Fasting During Great Lent

By Dr. Popi Karatzis,
Clinical Dietitian-Nutritionist, MSc, PhD

The fasting of Great Lent for many is a period of physical detoxification of the body from the widespread consumption of animal products we observe the other days of the year.

Nutritionally, it is recommended to abstain from all animal products. Foods excluded from the diet are dairy, meat, fish, eggs.

The effect of the exclusion of such foods from the diet is the consumption of fruits, vegetables, pasta, bread, legumes and food cooked in oil to achieve an energy balance.

The Benefits of Fasting

We observe the above recommendations of fasting as being quite similar to those of the Mediterranean diet, one of the healthier diets of the world.

When we analyze these foods we observe that during fasting:

- there is an increase of fiber intake for the smooth functioning of the digestive and cardiovascular system and it reduces cancer of the colon.

- there is an increased intake of microelements with antioxidant effects, such as vitamin C, bioflavonoids, which improve the functioning of the immune system.

- the body is kept from the negative effects of free radicals shielding the walls of blood vessels and the body from various forms of cancer.

- there is an increase in the intake of the B vitamins, which are related to the proper functioning of our nervous system and beyond.

- there is an increased intake of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which allow increased amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, improving heart and nerve function, and the lipid profile of the body.

Disadvantages of Fasting

The exclusion of two basic food groups (milk and meat groups) from the diet creates increased chances of a lack in essential nutrients that in other periods of the year we usually get.

Such nutrients may be:


A basic macronutrient that is obtained in reduced amounts are proteins, which we tend to receive daily from animal products.

Adequate protein intake is responsible for the normal growth and maintenance of muscle tissue in the body.

Muscle tissue is the main metabolically active tissue that defines the levels of the basal metabolic rate (ie, the burn rate) of every person.


An important nutrient that can also be observed to be in shortage during the fasting period is calcium.

The fasting diet is unable to provide the necessary amount of calcium in the body due to the lack of milk and the low bioavailability of foods that contain it from plants.


A very important nutrient, which helps to better oxygenate the body and provide energy. Particularly necessary for children, athletes and people with intense activity.

The lack of meat and animal foods from the fasting diet can cause problems in groups of people with high demands, such as women with a history of anemia.


Vitamin B12 contributes to the smooth production and development of red blood cells. A reduction in intake leads to anemia.

Who is at risk of developing deficiencies

- Children and adolescents

- Pregnant and lactating women

- Athletes

- Women with a history of osteoporosis or osteopenia

- Women with a history of anemia

Essential tips to make fasting complete

Put in your diet good quality proteins

Plant foods that contain proteins of 'high biological value', which show a similar amount with those of meat, such as legumes and nuts, seafood, rice, wheat, sesame, tahini, soy, fungi, particularly when combined together (e.g. lentils with rice, risotto with mushrooms).

Increase the intake of foods containing iron and vitamin B12

Foods that will help you not show these defects during fasting is primarily seafood and secondly legumes, nuts, sesame seeds and spinach.

Find alternative calcium sources

Good sources of calcium during the fasting period are nuts (especially almonds), halva, sesame, tahini, milk and soy cheese and green leafy vegetables (spinach, lettuce, Swiss chard, sorrel, broccoli).

So how do we translate these instructions into practice?

Serve as:

Main meals

- Cuttlefish with spinach

- Octopus with pasta

- Risotto with seafood

- Combinations such chickpeas with rice, lentils with rice, risotto with mushrooms, salads

- Green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach) with some sesame

- Seafood salads


Unsalted nuts, almonds, sesame seeds

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.