During the Holy month of Ramadhan, healthy adult Muslims practise daily fasting from dawn until sunset. Muslims across the world fast during daylight hours for 29-30 days. Traditionally, one breaks the fast at sunset with a meal called iftar and then eats again with a pre-dawn meal called suhoor. While Muslims focus on the spiritual, mental and physical benefits of fasting, it is also important to make health a priority and pay better attention to dietary recommendations during Ramadhan. Healthy fasting is possible if you consume the right foods and in the right quantity.
You may wonder, how does our body cope and function during fasting? During fasting hours when no food or drink is consumed, the body uses its stores of carbohydrate (stored in the liver and muscles) and fat to provide energy once all the calories from the foods consumed during the night have been used up. However, the body cannot store water. So, the kidneys conserve as much water as possible by reducing the amount lost in urine. Depending on the weather and daily activity, most people who fast during Ramadhan will experience mild dehydration, which may cause headaches, tiredness and difficulty in concentrating. However, studies have suggested that this is not harmful to health, provided that enough fluids are consumed after breaking the fast to replace those lost during the day. Hence, a balanced diet with adequate quantities of nutrients and fluid intake is important between fasts. To ensure health and nutrition is still optimised during Ramadhan, here are a few tips that you may want to practice for the month.
- Keep yourself hydrated
You must drink plenty of water between iftar and suhoor meals. High temperatures or excessive energy expenditure during the day can make you perspire more, so it is important to drink fluids to replace what you lose during the day (at least 8 glasses or 2 litres). You can increase water intake by eating hydrating foods too. Try adding watermelon to your suhoor meal or eat it as a sweet treat after iftar. Green salad contains plenty of hydrating vegetables such as cucumber and tomato. Avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea and cola, because caffeine can make some people urinate more often, which may lead to dehydration. Also, avoid large amounts of sodium to avoid feeling thirsty throughout the day.
- Make healthy choices and eat in moderation
While iftar meals are often a time for celebration to break fasts, it’s important not to go overboard when eating during Ramadhan. We should remember that a simple yet complete meal that contains all the nutrients a body needs will be sufficient to break a fast; otherwise the body will store excess calories as fat. Consuming a lot of deep fried, creamy and sweet foods may actually cause you to gain weight during Ramadhan. Always remember to fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, quarter of your plate with healthy protein, and another quarter of your plate with carbohydrates, the quarter-quarter-half rule. Also, do not eat too quickly as you tend to overindulge, savor your meals and put your fork down in between chewing.
- Consume fibre to avoid constipation
The changes to eating habits and lack of fluids during the day may cause constipation for some people. Consuming plenty of high fibre foods, such as wholegrains, high fibre cereals, bran, fruit and vegetables, beans, lentils, dried fruit and nuts alongside plenty of fluids may help to ease constipation as well as doing some light physical activity, such as going for a walk after iftar. Eating three dates to break your fast is a traditional and healthy way to begin iftar. Dates are an excellent source of minerals like potassium, copper and manganese and a good source of fibre. You can also try other dried fruits such as apricots, figs, raisins or prunes, which also provide fibre and nutrients.
- Don’t skip Suhoor (pre-dawn meal)
Suhoor is the light meal before the beginning of the fast every day. This meal, which constitutes a light breakfast, should include vegetables, a serving of carbohydrates such as bread/bread roll made from wholewheat, protein-rich food such as dairy products (cheese, milk and/or egg), as well as healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil or nuts. An example of a suhoor meal can consist, 2 slices of bread, vegetable omelette or hard-boiled egg, sliced vegetables and fruits, milk for adequate calcium, and don’t forget to drink an adequate amount of water.
During Ramadhan, some people may not undertake physical activity, and consequently, may gain weight during the month due to the adoption of unhealthy eating habits or overindulging during night time such as bubble teas, sugar sweetened beverages, fried foods, chocolate, chips, instant mac and cheese, creamy instant soups and so on. You don’t have to beat yourself up if you find yourself indulging in desserts, fried foods, creamy foods, or sugar sweetened beverages late at night. These foods do provide a sense of comfort and happiness. However, it is important for us to limit them and replace them with healthier options.
Remember that you’re in control of your body, set your mindset and intentions right, so you can be in control of your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Ramadhan is often seen as a time to practise self-control, self-discipline, sacrifice and empathy for those less fortunate. It is encouraged to try to maintain these practices even outside of fasting hours. Have a blessed Ramadhan with your loved ones at home this year. May this Ramadhan bless you and your family with joy, peace and health.
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- WHO EMRO INT. 2020. Dietary Recommendations For The Month Of Ramadan. Nutrition-Infocus. Nutrition.
- British Nutrition Foundation. 2020. A Healthy Ramadan.
|Brenda Yeong Huai En|
|BSc (Hons) Nutrition|
|Product Development Specialist|
|One Green Solution Sdn Bhd|