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We're coming up on the final week of the month of Ramadan. Most Muslims fast during the holy month's daylight hours. When Ramadan falls during the height of summer with its long days, as it does this year, that's a lot of hours. Reporter Deena Prichep headed into one family's kitchen for a meal before the sun came up.
DEENA PRICHEP, BYLINE: Manar Alattar moves around the kitchen in pajamas. She's preparing food for suhoor, the meal before the Ramadan fast. And in Portland, Ore., this meal needs to be finished by about 330 in the morning.
MANAR ALATTAR: You know that you're going to have to fast for a long time so you kind of just have to push through if your stomach's not feeling like working the graveyard shift.
PRICHEP: Even though it's early, Alattar manages a good spread - leftover frittata, lots of water, a creamy date smoothie and some warmed up granola and milk. Alattar and her husband, Mohamed Abdelkader, are used to eating a variety of foods for suhoor.
ALATTAR: My dad is Palestinian and my mom is American, born and raised in North Carolina. So it wasn't uncommon to have, like, turkey bacon for breakfast with humus and pita bread and grits sometimes.
MOHAMED ABDELKADER: I like dried fruits so much. But in Egypt, I used to have beans. It stays a lot in your stomach.
PRICHEP: These are suhoor meals with protein, fat, complex carbohydrates, meals that keep you hydrated and stay with you, well, up to a point.
NOUR ZIBDEH: There is no meal that will hold anyone for 16 hours. That's just basic physiology in the body.
PRICHEP: Nour Zibdeh is a dietitian and nutritionist who works with fasting patients and observes Ramadan herself.
ZIBDEH: After six to eight hours, the body uses up all of the glucose that it obtained from a meal and then it starts to go into its glycogen.
PRICHEP: That's the sugar stored in your liver and muscles.
ZIBDEH: So I know this is a little bit of chemistry here - so - but after 10 hours, the body even runs out from this energy reservoir, and it has to tap into the fat stores.
PRICHEP: Zibdeh says there are some good points to burning fat, namely you burn fat. And not eating gives your intestines a chance to clean out and your stomach a chance to shrink in.
ZIBDEH: There is research coming from NIH showing that there are health benefits to fasting. There is even a popular principle of intermittent fasting to encourage people to lose weight.
PRICHEP: But what happens during a long summer fast isn't just about getting rid of fat or cleaning out your gut. For Muslims like Manar Alattar and Mohamed Abdelkader it's about cleaning things out on a deeper level.
ABDELKADER: You have to push yourself to change, and that's what fasting does. So it's a practical Islam teaching.
ALATTAR: We're really taught to clean out our kind of like behavioral closet, or whatever you want to think about it as, as, you know, the bad habits, which is a little bit even more difficult if you're hungry and grumpy.
PRICHEP: And though it's difficult, even with a good breakfast, this work is what Ramadan is about.
ALATTAR: So the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, said that if you don't leave bad speech and bad actions, then God has no need for you to leave food and drink.
PRICHEP: It's up to each individual Muslim to figure out how long bad speech and bad actions can be left behind. But the Ramadan fast, that ends this week. For NPR News, I'm Deena Prichep in Portland, Ore.
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