Fasting can take its toll on your diet and health, if not managed properly. Make sure you and your family have a safe and healthy Ramadan this year, by making note of these expert tips from nutritionists.
As anyone who’s undergone a day-long fast before will tell you, it’s all too easy to over-indulge and reach for any food in sight as soon as the fasting hours have come to an end. And a summer Ramadan poses an even greater challenge, with staying hydrated and proper nutrition intake becoming that much harder. While tucking into heavy, deep-fried, junk food might curb your hunger pangs for the moment, it could leave you feeling stuffed and lethargic, and also lead to more serious health problems, especially if said foods are loaded with carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. This Ramadan, follow the experts’ advice for adopting a healthy eating regime to ensure you fast safely, avoid fasting-related health problems, and keep your energy levels balanced.
The sweltering heat can leave you feeling parched and dehydrated, so stay out of the sun, drink lots, and eat foods that keep you hydrated during the fasting hours. “It’s important to stay hydrated as we sweat a lot during summer. Drinking less fluids makes urine concentrated, which, in time can lead to kidney stone formation, urinary tract infection and hard stools,” says Deepa Almeida, nutritionist at Cedars-Jebel Ali International Hospital (www.cedars-jaih.com).
“Have one litre of water during Suhoor and around two and a half litres, post-Iftar to keep yourself hydrated. The minerals help curb cravings for sodium-rich savoury dishes, which lead to bloating,” says nutritionist Rashi Chowdhary (rashichowdhary.com). To complement water intake, reach for homemade iced tea, fresh, natural fruit and vegetable juices, or herbal teas, which will cleanse and hydrate the body too, instead of fizzy drinks. “Drink herbal tea in the evening to cleanse the body from excess waste accumulated during the day, due to decreased urination. Teas such as chamomile, ginger and peppermint are great, as they not only hydrate but also keep the digestive tract healthy and boost the immune system,” says Deepa.
Victoria Tipper, nutrition coach at Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre (www.dubaihtc.com), recommends rooibos tea during Ramadan, as it is caffeine- free, packed with antioxidants and also helps with digestion.
Apart from drinking liquids, make sure to consume hydrating fruits and vegetables with high water content too. Watermelons, strawberries, and apples are great options – combine all these fruits to make a fruit salad, a great alternative to sugary and calorific desserts. Include vegetables such as cabbage and carrots in your diet too, as they have a high water content (carrots are made up of 90 per cent water) as well as cucumbers, as they contain caffeic acid, which cools the skin while replenishing lost water in the body. Include these vegetables in salads, or liquidise them to make nutritious soups.
Soups, whether consumed warm or chilled, are a great option for summer. However, make sure to choose fresh homemade soups instead of packet or canned soup. “The last thing you want is a sodium rich packet soup with a poor nutritional profile. The sodium content in packet or canned soups, along with thickening agents and chemicals, leads to water retention,” says Rashi. Some nutritious soup examples are chicken and rice soup, or fresh spinach and tomato soup, which are good for digestion. Cold cucumber and ginger soup instantly refreshes and cools down the body, while carrot, tomato and red pepper soup is packed with antioxidants and vitamins, and is also good for the skin and heart.
Boost energy levels
Fasting for a period of up to twelve hours can drain energy, and leave you feeling lethargic, so eat low Glycaemic Index (GI) foods, which slow-release energy during the fasting hours. Low GI foods include grains, seeds, barley, wheat, oats, semolina, beans, lentils and rice. During Iftar and Suhoor, meals should be balanced, and contain foods that have complex carbohydrates (which are usually low GI too), to reduce hunger pangs during the fast, and sustain energy levels. “When you eat complex carbs, they are broken down and digested slowly in units of glucose, which is then either used for immediate energy or stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver; an energy reserve which is utilised during the fasting hours of Ramadan,” says Victoria.
Include foods from each food group – fruits, vegetables, protein (meat, chicken and fish), and wholegrain bread, cereals and dairy products. When cooking food, always grill and bake instead of frying. Fried foods may be quick to prepare, but they are loaded with unhealthy fats and low in nutritional value.
Get the most out of your meals by splitting them into two sessions. For Iftar, break your fast with dates, a nutritious homemade soup and salad. Then include a variety of protein and fibre-rich foods such as falafel, hummous, cooked vegetables, grains and fruit. If you really must have a sweet treat, choose one that is baked, and go easy on the sugar syrup.
Control your sugar
Mindless eating and drinking of calorific foods can lead to a spike in sugar levels, and even stress diabetes (a short-term form of the condition which can occur during fasts), in some cases. This is not only caused by sugar-loaded drinks and desserts, but also from heavily-processed foods and refined carbohydrates found in fast food. Eating junk food in Ramadan is a major mistake as refined carbohydrates and trans fats don’t offer a sustainable source of energy for the fasting period. Instead, they cause a sudden increase in sugar levels which may lift your mood and make you feel full and energetic in the short term, but you will end up feeling more lethargic later on, as your blood sugar drops quickly.
It is important to stabilise and control sugar levels, as, if it drops, you could experience headaches, dizziness, anxiousness, hunger pangs and fatigue. Furthermore, if sugar levels rise, you could suffer from hunger, dehydration and blurred vision.
It is important to include foods that are low GI and are rich in fibre. “Dietary fibre is a type of complex carbohydrate, and men and women should consume 38g and 25g daily, respectively. The slower rate of digestion achieved by including dietary fibre, avoids spikes in blood sugar levels,” says Victoria. Increase fibre levels by keeping the skin on fruit and vegetable, and adding beans and lentils to soups and salads.
When breaking your fast, Rashi recommends having one or two coconut-coated dates, as coconut helps increase insulin production and prevents a sudden spike in sugar levels. Apart from eating nutritious foods, you could also control sugar levels by including a few spices when cooking. “Cinnamon helps control blood sugar and reduces cholesterol levels. Sprinkle it on desserts, or over fruit salads and oats for Suhoor. Ginger also helps promote the production of insulin and helps clear blood sugar levels after meals, which is vital for diabetics,” says Deepa. Herbs such as cilantro also reduce bad cholesterol levels and maintain blood sugar levels. Eat them chopped as a garnish for any savoury dish, or in salads.
Ramadan for kids
Fasting during Ramadan can be a big challenge for children, especially if it’s their first time fasting. To ensure they stay healthy and get optimum nutrition, follow these simple rules of thumb:
1 Avoid serving salty, greasy and oily foods to children.
2 Involve them in the planning process prior to meal times.
3 Make sure they are hydrated at all times and do not play in the sun.
4 Limit sweets during Suhoor – as sugar tends to make them thirsty during the day.
Healthy and hydrating!
To cool and soothe the body from inside, make this nutritious concoction recommended by wellness and lifestyle expert, Padma Coram: Mix together 1l of water with 1 tbsp of yoghurt, a slice of ginger and a pinch of salt and pepper.