The rigours of an all-day fast, combined with soaring temperatures can take its toll on your health. We get expert tips from nutritionists on eating right during Ramadan.
You probably already know how important it is to have a healthy and balanced diet during Ramadan. But, it can be quite easy to forget that, and get carried away in the spirit of the month, with over-indulgent feasts.
Fasting for hours can lead to fatigue and dizziness. “When a person fasts, the digestive system gets a chance to rest and the body uses its fat reserves for energy. It slows down the metabolism, which is why it is important not to over-work the body with too much food in one meal,” says Lovely Ranganath, senior nutritionist at Dubai World Trade Centre.
Kay Voslo, Nutritionist at Chiropractic Health and Physio Polyclinic, describes fasting as being “a shock to the body in terms of the body clock, change in routine and change in meal times.”
Fasting, while difficult for some, can be a great way to detoxify the system, and is of course, integral to the spiritual nature of Ramadan. All the benefits of the holy month can, however, come to nought if a day of fasting is followed by extravagant eating.
According to the experts, it is critical to eat well and not consume sugary sweets and heavy meals loaded with fats and carbohydrates, especially after a long fasting period. “The intake of a balanced diet is critical for maintaining good health, sustain an active lifestyle and attain the full benefits of Ramadan," says Lovely.
Contrary to popular belief, fasting doesn't automatically lead to weight loss; it can, in fact have the opposite effect if the fast is not properly managed. "When you skip a meal, the brain assumes that you are going to starve and thus attempts, not to burn, but to conserve the reserved fat,” says Dr Chandy George, Ayurvedic lifestyle consultant at Balance café.
The best thing to do is to break your fast with a light snack and refreshing drinks, followed by Iftar after a small gap. For iftar, consume foods from all groups but in small portions, in order to avoid weight gain and other related health problems. For Suhoor, a light and healthy meal containing carbohydrates and fibre is essential as it prevents tiredness, lack of concentration and migraines. Additionally, Kay suggests drinking more than ten glasses of water in order to not stress out the organs and avoid dehydration, particularly during a summer Ramadan.
Here is a list of dos and don’ts to ensure you have a happy, healthy Ramadan month.
Increase fluid intake
It is absolutely necessary to increase your fluid intake during summer in order to avoid dehydration. “Drink at least ten glasses of water from Iftar till Suhoor, in order to stay hydrated,” says Kathleen. Lovely recommends drinking fresh fruit juices during summer, as it helps combat lethargy.
Chew every bite
Kathleen Farren, nutritionist at Zest4life coach, suggests chewing each bite at least 30 times in order for food to digest completely.
Include complex wholegrain carbohydrates
Instead of opting for white rice, choose a healthier alternative, such as brown rice, as it is low in blood sugar, and gives a slow release of energy throughout the day. Similarly, choose wholemeal or rye bread instead of white bread.
Maintain your electrolyte balance
“Eat fruits like banana, kiwi and drink tender coconut water, especially during Suhoor,” says Dr Chandy. This helps maintain the electrolyte balance before beginning the fast in the morning.
Eat fried foods
“Fried foods can lead to constipation, indigestion and gas,” says Lovely. Choose foods that are grilled, steamed, boiled or baked, as they are healthier cooking methods.
Consume caffeine and fizzy drinks
A cup of coffee or a fizzy drink might be the first thing you reach out for as soon as you break your fast, but it is best avoided as it can lead to mood swings, headaches and gas. Aim to remove caffeine from your diet at least one week before Ramadan, in order to let your body adjust to the change.
Drink too much tea
“Having too much tea will increase urine output and inevitably cause the loss of valuable mineral salts,” says Lovely. Have a glass of herbal tea, if you must.
Break your fast with a citrus fruit
“It is not advisable to have citrus fruits to break the fast, as throughout the day, the stomach is filled with acidic gastric juices,” says Dr Chandy. Instead choose vegetable or lentil soups, as they hydrate the body and are gentle on the stomach.
From PM to AM
Meals in Ramadan should be well balanced with just the right amount of foods from each food group, such as fruits, vegetables, meat, chicken, fish, cereals, bread and dairy. When you break your fast, have a light meal that includes either a lentil soup or yoghurt with fruits, nuts and seeds. Kay recommends eating a slightly bigger meal only after an hour or two, in order for the body to function in a healthy manner. Also make sure to drink water with every meal. Here are some ideas on what sort of foods to eat at each meal:
The traditional way of breaking the fast is by eating a date and drinking water, followed by a light nourishing meal. “Dates bring low blood glucose levels to a normal level,” says Lovely. You could also mix it up with these options:
- Fresh juice or smoothies not only quench your thirst and hydrate, but also give you the right amount of nutrients to energise your body after the long fasting period. Add energy boosters such as ginger and ginseng to mixed berry or fruit juices and smoothies.
- “Fibre-containing dried fruits such as apricot and prunes are a good option as they are take approximately eight hours to digest, keeping you full for longer,” says Kay.
- You could also opt for a light and refreshing soup, “This helps to maintain water and mineral balance in the body,” says Lovely.
Iftar should include salads, chicken, fish or lean meat with grains, a small tub of low-fat yoghurt and fruit. Here are a few healthy choices:
- Wholemeal bread roll filled with egg, tomato, grilled or boiled chicken and a side of salad with low fat cheese.
- Wholemeal pasta with fresh tomato based sauce and a large salad.
- Baked or grilled fish, with lemon and herbs sprinkled on top and a small portion or brown rice or wholemeal bread.
- Jacket potato with tuna or grilled chicken and low-fat cottage cheese.
The pre-dawn meal is essential as it keeps you healthy, hydrated and active throughout the day. Don’t overeat in the morning simply because you have to fast until Iftar. Here are a few nutritions Suhoor ideas:
“Choose a liquid-focused diet, which includes juices, tender coconut water and soups,” suggests Dr Chandy. These will keep you hydrated until Iftar. Kathleen recommends including foods rich in fibre, such as banana, kiwi, eggs on wholegrain bread, semolina, and yoghurt with berries and fruit.
“Eat a bowl of oats porridge, warm millet or drink a green vegetable juice diluted with water, and steamed vegetables to aid digestion,” says Kay. She also recommends keeping portions small in order to avoid indigestion, heart-burn and weight problems.
Foods to include in your Ramadan diet:
Grain: Whole meal breads, buns, bagels, muffins, bran flakes, oat bran, whole wheat pastas, whole grains such as barley, air popped popcorn, corn, brown rice.
Fruit: Dried fruit such as apricots, dates, prunes, and raisins; berries such as blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries; oranges, apples, grapes, kiwi, bananas, pears.
Vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, green beans, dark leafy vegetables, dried peas and beans, lima beans, black eyed beans, chick peas and lentils.
Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts and flax seeds.