By Shaista Tariq
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Muslims worldwide observe this as a month of fasting. This annual observance is regarded as one of the five Pillars of Islam. The holiest of months, Ramadan lasts 29-30 days based on visual sightings of the crescent moon and it is a very special time for Muslims.
During fasting, we abstain ‘completely’ from foods and drinks before the break of the dawn till sunset, for an entire month.
Benefits of Fasting
- Fasting rests the digestive system: During fasting, we rest our system from the constant onslaught of food.
- Fasting allows for cleansing and detoxification of the body: We get rid of the build-up of toxins in the body, as a result of pollutants in the air we breathe, chemicals in food and water we consume and other means. Fasting can detoxify and repair cells, tissues and organs, eliminating natural metabolic wastes (which are also toxins) produced by even healthier cells.
- Fasting creates a break in eating patterns: It gives one the opportunity to get over the many addictions which have become a major part of modern life e.g. tea, coffee, cola, and smoking. For instance, caffeine, found in teas and coffee, is a diuretic, it stimulates water loss through urination. Through fasting we can cut down on our caffeine intake.
- Increased energy levels: Fasting will lead to a feeling of physical lightness, increasing energy level.
A Balanced Diet
Dr Razeen Mahroof, an anaesthetist from Oxford, says that your food intake should be simple and not differ too much from your normal diet. It should contain foods from all the major food groups:
- fruit and vegetables
- bread, cereals and potatoes
- meat, fish, or alternatives
- milk and dairy foods
- foods containing fat and sugar
Wholesome foods at Suhoor…
Suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, should be a wholesome, moderate meal that is filling and provides enough energy for many hours. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest and make you feel less hungry during the day, which again keeps you feeling full for longer.
“Suhoor should be light and include slow digesting food like pita bread, salad, cereal (especially oats) or toast so that you have a constant release of energy,” says Dr Mahroof.
“It’s important to have some fluids with vitamins, such as fruit juice or fruit. Some people have isotonic drinks to replace any lost salts.”
If you are not careful, food eaten during the pre-dawn and dusk meals can cause weight gain.
All experts agree that ‘breaking fast’ or Iftar is a critical phase of fasting. Solid food must be reintroduced very slowly. It’s customary for Muslims to break their fast with dates, in accordance with Prophetic traditions. They are also known to provide a burst of energy.
Fruit juices will also have a similar, revitalizing effect. Start by drinking plenty of water, which helps in rehydration and reduces chances of overindulgence. Avoid rich, special dishes that are traditionally made to break the fast.
Digesting, assimilating and metabolizing are activities that require a great deal of energy. It is estimated that 65% of the body’s energy must be directed to the digestive organs after a heavy meal. By reintroducing solids gradually, many problems such as belching, indigestion and acidity can be avoided.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) used to consume a very light meal before dawn and a moderate meal at Iftar to break his fast at sunset, while scrupulously avoiding a full stomach.
Foods To Avoid
We are often tempted by the sights and smells of rich, special food and snacks but we would be better off if we avoided certain kinds of food at Iftar:
- deep-fried foods, for example pakoras, samosas and fried dumplings
- high-sugar and high-fat foods, including sweets such as gulab jamun, rasgulla and balushahi
- high-fat cooked foods, for example, parathas, oily curries and greasy pastries
The underlying message behind Ramadan is self-discipline and self-control.There are ways to ensure that your body is getting the nutrients it needs so you can remain safe and healthy during your fast.
Another key factor in maintaining optimum health during fast is to limit your physical activity. Exercise only moderately, and rest as much as your schedule will permit. Short naps are helpful as well.
A healthy Ramadan is one where you achieve a calmness of mind and strength of character but also are able to maintain good physical health.
Have a happy and healthy Ramadan !
About the author:
Shaista Tariq is an M.Sc., B.Sc. in Applied Science in Nutrition and a Registered Holistic Nutritionist.