The holy month of Ramadan falls every year during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is a great time to build self-discipline, give your digestive system a rest and help your body get rid of toxins. Ramadan is the month in which Muslims all over the world fast from dawn until sunset and prevent themselves from drinking or eating anything during this time. People with diabetes, kidney disease, women who are pregnant and lactating mothers are exempted from the fast. For people who have other specific medical conditions and wish to fast during this time should always do it under the supervision of their doctor, dietitian or health care provider. A doctor will be the best judge about whether fasting is appropriate for you. It is extremely important to know whether fasting will be safe or a health risk. If it is safe for you to fast, then your health care provider will guide you through the best possible schedule for safe fasting.
During the month of Ramadan, all Muslims are spiritually closer to God by abstaining from bad habits like smoking, drinking, etc. By abstaining, this further helps people reduce stress and improve spiritual healing by increasing their endorphins. This year, Ramadan starts in early May in most parts of the world. There will be around 16-18 hours of fasting each day for an entire month.
BENEFITS OF FASTING
Fasting during Ramadan helps Muslims in many ways as it detoxifies the liver and kidneys and produces a ketogenic state in the body where some of the body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood. Some studies suggest that there is a significant improvement in overall cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This helps to reduce blood pressure, improves insulin sensitivity, lower oxidative stress and sometimes improve beta cell functions as well. It is recommended that one should get complete blood labs taken before and after the 30 days of fasting to analyze the effects that fasting has on your health.
MAINTAINING HEALTHY NUTRITION
To be more efficient and productive during the month of Ramadan, these factors should be considered:
- Suhoor is a must (meal consumed early in the morning before fasting).
- Keep taking important medications during this time.
- Do not overeat and stuff yourself with too much sugar, fried foods and refined foods as soon as you break your fast each day.
The increased intake of refined foods, lots of sugar, fried foods and overall poor nutritional choices in terms of the decreased intake of whole grains, vegetables and fruits along with less physical activity can wreak havoc on your health and might result in constipation and acidity problems during this time of Ramadan.
WEIGHT LOSS DURING RAMADAN
There is an opportunity for people who want to reduce their weight and drop a few pounds during Ramadan if they follow proper guidelines and stick to a customized plan from a qualified dietitian. Eating enough calories, micronutrients and drinking an adequate amount of water are required for proper weight loss. Consuming several smaller meals after you break the fast may help to replenish your entire nutrient intake in this limited time period. Proper calcium and omega-3 fatty acid intake can help to increase your metabolism during the fasting period and affect leptin hormones in your body which will reduce your overall hunger and appetite.
KEY POINTS FOR RAMADAN
MEDICAL ISSUES – Always speak to your doctor about the safety of fasting if you are diabetic or have any other health concerns. Islamic faith forbids Muslims to fast who have physical issues that can harm them during Ramadan.
BREAKING THE FAST – The ideal way to deal with “iftar” (meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan) is to consume 2-3 dates with milk or a bowl of soup or fruit salad. After the Maghrib prayer (daily prayer just after sunset) have your dinner which should include complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and veggies. Dates are a dense source of calories (energy) and are packed with potassium, iron, copper, manganese and fiber which gives you instant energy and replenishes the lost electrolytes during the day. Milk will also have a cooling effect during the hot summer days. You can try other dried fruits which are somewhat similar, such as dried figs, prunes, apricots and raisins.
HEALTHY SNACKS – It is recommended to have healthy snacks like popcorn, boiled corns, salad, fruits and nuts as a snack. Ideally, you should reduce your caffeine intake by drinking less than 2 cups of tea or coffee per day. Consuming more caffeine will dehydrate you and may cause light-headedness and acidity issues during the fasting period. Always make sure to drink plenty of water and even some fresh fruit juice to avoid dehydration.
IFTAR MEAL (DINNER) – Eating a balanced diet is essential to maintaining good health and obtain the full benefits of Ramadan. Some examples of foods to eat include:
- COMPLEX CARBS – Include complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, multigrain or wholegrain bread/chapati or macaroni and vegetables in place of white rice, white potatoes and white bread.
- LEAN PROTEIN – Include skinless chicken, fish, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, chickpeas, beans and lentils.
- FRUITS AND VEGETABLES – Include raw vegetables or fruit salad in your meal to supply the required enzymes for proper digestion. Add flaxseed, chia seeds, basil seeds, walnuts, olives and avocado to add healthy omega-3 fatty acids to your diet which will aid in satiety (feeling of fullness) and optimal brain functioning.
Examples of Different Meals To Include:
- A bowl of porridge or toast with beans and nuts.
- Chickpea curry with rice and grilled fish.
- Fresh apple and beetroot juice with chicken tikka and rice.
- Chicken and lettuce wraps with vegetable soup.
SUHOOR MEAL (morning meal): Suhoor is a very important meal during Ramadan. It is the only meal which is going to help you maintain your energy for the entire day. It is the meal which is consumed 2 hours before sunrise (dawn) and will the only meal you eat until later in the day after sunset. It should contain enough carbohydrates to sustain yourself as you fast during the day. Some of the important points to remember for the Suhoor meal include:
- Do not overeat which can cause gastric problems and belching.
- Avoid fried foods, salty foods and too much sugar which might dehydrate you.
- Prepare your meal before bedtime to ensure you eat healthy and make sure to get enough sleep.
- Include complex carbs with enough fiber along with slow digesting protein sources like egg whites, cheese and Greek yogurt. Healthy fats with help with delayed gastric emptying.
Examples of Different Meals To Include:
- Dates and whole wheat bread with milk or some yogurt and eggs.
- Chapati with vegetables, omelette or a milk shake with almonds.
- Toast with nut butter or some milk or yogurt with dates.
- Roti with hummus or a milk shake with chia seeds.
- Chapati with a kebab and beans or a mango milkshake.
- Oats or porridge with nuts, berries and honey.
- Soup with low-fat cheese and toast.
It is very important to adopt healthy eating habits during Ramadan by choosing a variety of nutrient dense foods in order to supply your body with the required macro and micro nutrients along with supporting your energy needs without inducing toxicity or excessive weight gain. A healthy nutritious diet combined with light physical activity will make you more productive in the holy month of Ramadan. You may continue these eating habits and lifestyle changes to reap the health benefits after Ramadan is over since it would be very beneficial for you in the long run for your overall health!