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Healthy Fasting: The Ramadan Guide

 

Every year, dietitians and nutritionists from all over express their opinions on what a healthy diet consists of during the holy month. As many have mentioned previously, food choice and variety is vital to provide your body with all the essential nutrients it needs as well as preventing problems such as weight gain, dehydration and constipation.

My basic suggestions on how to stay healthy during the holy month involve the following:

  • Make sure you include foods from all the main food groups. They are: Breads & Cereals, Meat/Meat alternatives, Milk & Milk products, Fruits, Vegetables.
  • Consume foods that are slow-digesting in order to keep you fuller for a longer period of time. These foods include: wholegrain breads and cereals, beans, lentils, chickpeas, Basmati/Long grain rice, low fat dairy products.
  • Instead of having two large meals, you could divide them into 3 meals: Iftar, Dinner, and Suhoor.
  • Avoid foods that contain high amounts of fat such as fried foods (samosas, meats fried in butter, French fries). Substitute full fat dairy products to low fat varieties such as low fat yoghurts, labneh, low fat laban, low fat or skimmed milk.
  • Eat less refined sugar containing foods and they include sweets, cakes, and biscuits. You could substitute such foods with fruit (either fresh or tinned ones in Natural Juice and not those in syrup.)
  • To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of water between Iftar and Suhoor. Avoid consuming a high amount of drinks containing caffeine such as soft drinks.

Here are a few common FAQ that many of you might want to know the answers to… What happens to our bodies when fasting during Ramadan?

The way the body responds to fasts depends on the length of the fast. You need to be aware that the body’s first line of energy is glucose (aka body sugar that is produced when carbohydrates are ingested then broken down in the intestines). Glucose gets taken up into cells and either gets immediately broken down to produce energy or gets converted into glycogen and is stored in muscles and liver. When people fast, glucose stores are used up first for energy. When glucose stores run out later in the fast, our bodies uses fat as the next source of energy. If a fast is prolonged for days or weeks, then our bodies would start breaking down protein for energy. This would involve the breakdown of muscles. Getting to this state is unhealthy and can have serious consequences as the body goes into “starvation mode”. Since energy stores are usually replenished at Suhur and Iftar during Ramadan, the breakdown of protein is prevented and our body’s fuel sources tend to alternate between glucose (first) then fats.

Why is hydration so critical during the month of Ramadan?

Making sure that your body is getting enough water is important in order to prevent dehydration – which is a common occurrence during Ramadan. Water is a cheap, healthy, readily available drink that is vital for many functions in our body. Keep in mind that your body looses water and salts through sweat, urine and breathing. Also, water loss depends on how physically active you are throughout the day. The weather can also affect your hydration status. Therefore, replenishing water losses before the fast is important in order to prevent common symptoms of dehydration: dizziness, fatigue, headaches, muscle cramps and disorientation. Simply put; good hydration during Ramadan is vital to replenish water losses and is a prevention method from the many symptoms of dehydration.

Is our metabolism affected during Ramadan?

In order to answer that, you will need to know what metabolism really is. Metabolism can be defined as all the chemical processes that go on in your body to keep you alive. Metabolism turns the fuel from the foods we eat into energy to power these chemical processes. During a fast or when calories are restricted, a lowering in the BMR or basal metabolic rate occurs. BMR is the minimal amount of energy/calories required at rest or basically to stay alive. Your body’s efficiency with using calories and nutrients increases the longer you fast therefore, your metabolism slows down.

Can I continue exercising during Ramadan?

My first advice is yes, keep it up! I find that a lot of people during Ramadan tend to become more sedentary due to lack of energy during the day and being more caught up with social events throughout the evening. Working out at a time where your energy levels are high and rehydration is possible can guarantee a “good workout” where your performance is not affected. Therefore, 2-3 hours after Iftar can be an ideal time to exercise or engage in some sort of activity. I wouldn’t advise people to engage in high intense sports/activities during the day as it could increase their risk of dehydration. If you do decide to work out while fasting, then about an hour before Iftar would be advisable as that gives you a short amount of time until you will have to rehydrate and replace water losses after exercise. Also, you will be able to replenish your energy stores and help with muscle recovery quicker.

How important is it to watch our intake of salt during Ramadan?

A high concentration of salt (sodium) and a low volume of water will usually trigger thirst. Sodium is vital for fluid balance in our body since water goes where sodium goes. A high intake of sodium is usually excreted by the kidneys so water is also lost. A high salt intake will also affect people will high blood pressure problems so it is important to avoid foods that have a high salt content such as processed meats, canned products, pickles and so on.

Why do we need to reduce the intake of caffeine and fizzy drinks during Ramadan?

Caffeine is a diuretic which means it makes you urinate more. This can lead to an increase in fluid loss from your body and in turn, promote dehydration. Fluid lost also contains important minerals such as calcium. Therefore, the more fluid is lost due to caffeine consumption, the more the absorption of important minerals is affected. Caffeine is also a stimulant drug, where large amounts can make people anxious or cause headaches. Fizzy drinks also contain a high amount of sugars which will add a whole heap of empty calories to a person’s diet.

Bottom line is, eating healthy during Ramadan is not impossible even when sweets, desserts and common dishes only served during the holy month make an appearance on your dining tables. There’s always a way to modify such meals or to have control over how often they are served. The key is variety, frequency and portions! Ramadan Kareem!

5 Comments
  1. nicely explained. it’s indeed an art to stop new visitors with your attractive writing style. truly impressive and nice information. thanks for sharing.http://www.maladiretasegmentada.com.br

  2. Excellent article with helpful tips! I just have one question, most people aim to LOSE weight during Ramadan, but I was wondering what tips you have for preventing losing weight during a whole month of fasting?

  3. I am not a Muslim and so, not observing fasting during Ramadan, but I have many Muslims friends who are following the ritual and I am quite excited about this all. This is really a wonderful and helpful post and I would love to share this with my friends to help them stay healthy this Ramadan.
    Happy Ramadan Quotes 2014

    • Dear Atul,

      Many thanks for your feedback!
      My aim is to help provide guidance during all religious celebrations and cultures so please do share and spread the knowledge!
      Have a good day wherever you are.

      Sandra

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