In all the chaos of everyday life, the Holy month of Ramadan is a rare and precious time to take a step back, reflect, and set spiritual compasses back on track. But even for the most dedicated of followers, replacing food with faith during daylight hours requires resolve, not to mention a healthy approach, to see your mind, body and soul safely through.
Watching your weight in the face of Iftar feasts and staying hydrated are two fundamentals not to be overlooked, but there is more to fruitful fasting than meets the eye. Leila Smaily, Clinical Dietician at Dubai’s City Centre Clinic shares her top tips for getting it right.
- Staying hydrated is a must but you don't need to chug down liter upon liter of water. Soups, stews, and water-packed produce, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, watermelon, and oranges, hydrate your body too.
- Go easy on sweetened beverages like sodas, fruit juices and traditional Ramadan drinks. Limit those to no more than one 8-oz cup a day since calories and sugar easily add up.
- Breaking your fast with water, and other hydrating food will prevent the urge to binge on less nutritious, high fat food and replenish for lost fluids.
- Watch your caffeine intake. It's worth avoiding caffeine-based drinks such as tea, coffee and cola. Caffeine is a diuretic and stimulates faster water loss through urination.
- Breaking your fast with three dates as the Prophet (PBUH) tradition will give you an instant burst of energy and great source of fiber.
- The underlying message behind Ramadan is self-discipline and self-control. Don’t let your diet fall apart at the end of the day.
- Those fasting should have at least two meals a day, the pre-dawn meal (Suhour) and a meal at dusk (Iftar) and one small snack a few hours after Iftar.
- Food intake during Ramadan should be simple and not differ too much from your normal diet covering all the food groups: grains and breads, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, proteins, and oils and sweets.
- When there are only so many hours to eat, make every calorie count by choosing foods that are rich in nutrients. Your meals should consist of healthy carbohydrates, lean sources of protein, vegetables, fruit, low-fat dairy and healthy fats.
- Avoid fried food, pastries, and others foods with too much fat and sugar that won't deliver much nutrition.
- Enjoying traditional Ramadan desserts doesn't have to be a daily ritual. Instead of fried and syrup-drenched desserts, opt for a bowl of fruits with low-fat yogurt for a few days each week.
- While you can't completely prevent hunger pangs from happening, you can delay them by eating protein and fiber at Suhour. Examples of protein food include eggs, cheese, peanut butter, beans, and meats.
- Don’t forget yogurt too. Low fat yogurt is a great source of protein, calcium and will help prevent thirst throughout the day. It will also help in keeping you regular!
- Oats, whole wheat bread, apples, and pears are high in fiber. Those are great choices to include in you Suhour. Besides keeping you full, fiber helps you go, which is important for your digestive system health.
- Watch your portions! Don’t eat until you’re full! At that time your stomach has started to get uncomfortable. Follow the Sunnah: 1/3 drink, 1/3 food, 1/3 air.
- If you’re one of those people whose appetite goes down in Ramadan, and you’re not meeting the recommended daily servings of all the food groups you might want to consider taking a daily multivitamin. Just to give you the assurance that you’re not missing out on any nutrients while you fast.
- It’s recommended to consume complex carbohydrates. Foods such as barley, wheat, oats, millet, semolina, beans, lentils, and wholegrain flour, help release energy slowly during the long hours of fasting.
- Fiber-rich foods are digested slowly and include bran, cereals, whole wheat, grains and seeds, potatoes with the skin on, vegetables such as green beans, and almost all fruit, including apricots, prunes and figs. Including such food in your Suhour will keep you fuller during the fasting hours.
- Avoid food that contains refined carbohydrates (sugar and white flour). Those foods are higher in calories, lower in nutritional content and are often high fat as well!
Exercise & Sleep
- Keep your activity moderate! A brisk walk is fine but it’s not a good idea to run a marathon or swim the English Channel on a day when you’re not eating or drinking as much as usual.
- It’s not recommended to exercise during the fasting hours. Exercise when you’re able to drink and make sure you drink enough water to compensate for any water loss.
- Get a good night sleep. Families and friends often gather to break the fast and visit until the wee hours—then get up early for another meal before the fast begins again. This can affect one’s concentration and work performance especially since the morning coffee is missing!