The most sacred and holy month of the Islamic Calendar, Ramadan has begun. Ramadan is a time when Muslims all over the world fast during daylight hours and abstain from pleasure to become closer to Allah (SWT). Throughout Ramadan, Muslims eat two meals every day, a pre-dawn meal called the ‘suhoor’ and a post-dusk meal called the ‘iftar’.
Ramadan helps one exercise self-control and is a great opportunity to keep bad habits at bay while adopting healthy habits.
So, what happens to our bodies when we fast and what do you need to do to stay healthy?
During fasting, the body uses carbohydrates and fats obtained from food consumed the night before. Fats utilized thus, aid in weight loss and help reduce the cholesterol levels in the body. Kidneys help reserve water as much as possible, which means you go to the toilet less.
Staying hydrated during Ramadan is key, considering that fasting can sometimes last up to 18 hours or more. Hydrate yourself by drinking plenty of fluids during your ‘suhoor’ and ‘iftar’ meals. Consuming foods with a high-water content, soups, stews and natural fruit juices could prove to be beneficial to your Ramadan fasting. Salt in foods induce thirst – staying away from salty snacks or food preparations with a high salt content for suhoor or iftar, is definitely a good idea.
Ensure that your Ramadan meals are nutritious and healthy by evaluating what ingredients you choose for your meals. Consume more of oats, beans, plain rice, Arabic breads, fish, grilled white meat (chicken and turkey), eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, for a pleasant and more fruitful Ramadan. These food groups contain complex carbohydrates which release energy slowly throughout the day. Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber and are digested very slowly, ensuring that you are energized throughout the day. Baking, boiling or steaming vegetables rather than frying them, will help ensure that your meals are wholesome and balanced. Choose low-fat options when selecting dairy products for your desserts by using skimmed or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Staying away from consuming food to which ghee/ clarified butter or sugar has been added, such as artificial juices, pastries, fried rice, vegetables and meats, ice creams, etc. is a step in the right direction. Consumption of these foods during Ramadan can enhance the impact of fatigue and exhaustion caused by fasting, serve to dehydrate you, cause you to lose fluids at a faster rate and most importantly have poor nutritional value to our bodies. It is advisable that women consume cranberry supplements during their suhoor or iftar meals to keep urinary tract infections (UTIs) away.
Dates are truly a great way to break one’s fast, in fact this has been done since the days of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and rightly so. They are packed with natural sugar, are a great source of antioxidants, provide fiber to the body, help balance blood sugar due to a low glycemic index (GI), help support bone mass development and are rich in in minerals such as Magnesium, Potassium and Copper.
Considered a blessed fruit during Ramadan, dates help restore low-blood sugar after fasting throughout the day. Having 2-3 dates to break your fast, can help you adjust to the headache or dizziness you might have experienced through the day. Once you break your fast, consume plenty to water to make up for dehydration that might have occurred during the fasting period.
Does everyone fast?
People who may be exempt from fasting include pregnant women, the elderly and those living with a long-term condition. Those who cannot fast during Ramadan, celebrate the spirit of Ramadan by reciting the Quran, offering prayers to the Almighty, almsgiving, donating meals to the poor and helping the needy. We may advise you to speak to your doctor in the event that you do decide to fast, despite these conditions.
Diabetics, especially those dependent on insulin therapy are advised to take special care. Keep your blood sugar testing kit always at hand and do remember to check your blood sugar more often than normal during Ramadan. If you are taking blood glucose lowering medication, make sure you have a form of quickly absorbed sugar with you as well.
If you are a patient of a heart condition, it is likely that you might experience tiredness and dizzy spells due to fasting. Consuming smaller and healthier portions of food that contains lean meats and fruits over fats and oils, monitoring your blood pressure and avoiding smoking can serve to greatly benefit your heart. If you are pregnant, remember to rest adequately, consume nutritious food with the right number of calories and stay hydrated.
The Holy Month of Ramadan is one’s best opportunity to form good habits and live healthy lives. Let this blessed month be a time to give up our bad habits such as smoking, ensure that we maintain a regular sleeping pattern, visit friends and family more often and indulge in prayer and charitable works.
In conclusion, as always, let this Ramadan month be a time of prayer, reflection, good habits and traditions for you and your family. Let us go ahead and receive the month of Ramadan with repentance to Allah (SWT), perform more virtuous deeds, abundantly mentioning the name of Allah (SWT) and donating generously to worthy causes. Ramadan Kareem!
Aster Clinic, Al Qusais