By Arooj Ali
Fasting during the Holy Month of Ramadan has many benefits – spiritually, physically, psychologically as well as socially. However, there can be serious health problems if fasting and the breaking of fast are not carried out sensibly.
In long hours of fasting, we should consume slow digesting foods that are rich in fibre, instead of fast-digesting foods. Slow digesting foods last up to 8 hours in our system, while fast-digesting foods last for only 3 to 4 hours.
Food groups to mind in Ramadan
Slow-digesting foods contain grains and seeds like barley, wheat, oats, millet, semolina, beans, lentils, whole meal flour, unpolished rice, etc. They are also called complex carbohydrates.
Foods to avoid during this month include heavily processed and fast-burning foods that contain refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour or fattening snacks like cakes, biscuits, chocolates and sweets.
It is also better to avoid caffeinated drinks like tea, coffee and cola since caffeine is a diuretic and stimulates faster water loss through urination.
Fibre-rich foods contain bran – whole wheat, grains and seeds, vegetables like green beans, peas, marrow, corn, spinach, and other herbs like methi (fenugreek), leaves of beet root (iron-rich), fruit with skin, dried fruit especially dried apricots, figs and prunes, almonds, etc.
Food eaten should be well-balanced, containing something from each food group, i.e. fruits, vegetables, meat/chicken/fish, bread/cereals and dairy products. Fried foods are unhealthy and should be limited. They cause indigestion, heart-burn, and weight problems.
Foods to avoid
-Fried and fatty foods such as french fries, sweets, fried samosa, pakoras, parathas, greasy curries and biryani. High-fat foods are high in calories and are nutrient deficient which will lead to an imbalanced diet, thereby increasing sluggishness and fatigue during Ramadan.
-Too much tea or coffee at suhoor. Both of these are diuretics when consumed in large quantities and the body can lose valuable minerals, salts and fluids that you need throughout the day.
– Avoid caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, energy drinks or cola after Iftar, instead drink plenty of fluids to keep yourself adequately hydrated – plain water and fresh fruits juices are good.
-Avoid eating fried and salty foods, they are unhealthy and might make you thirstier during the day as you fast.
-Avoid excessive exercise during fasting times – if you want to go to the gym, consider doing so after Iftar.
-Stop speed eating at suhoor, take it easy, it is not an eating contest!
If you have chronic health problems (diabetes, cancer, heart disease etc.), are pregnant or lactating, or are over 65 it is advisable to seek medical attention before starting your fast. Medications often require some adjustment. Vitamins and mineral supplements may be added to help ensure nutritional adequacy during fasting. Also keep in mind:
– Adequate fibre helps reduce gastric acidity and maintains digestion regularity. Include dates, granola, fruits and nuts in your diet.
– To minimize heartburn and indigestion avoid spicy foods and greasy high-fat foods.
– Eat small portions and space your courses over time to minimize blood sugar and blood lipid fluctuations.
– Avoid overeating sweets and high sugar foods which may interfere with blood sugar control and alertness.
A balanced Ramadan diet
Pre-Suhoor: Should be eaten within first 2-3 minutes of waking up, even if there is an interval of 45 minutes between waking up and azan. For pre- Suhoor you need to sleep at night. In case you miss on the sleep, you can proceed to eat your Suhoor meal directly and skip pre-Suhoor snack.
Choose four options for your pre-Suhoor meals and follow a rotational pattern. Also make sure you drink at least 2-3 glasses of water between pre-Suhoor and eating your Suhoor meal.
Tea or coffee can be taken 5-10 minutes before taking Suhoor meal.
Suhoor: Eat wisely, do not eat cookies , pheni, yogurt, or lassi every day. It’s better to take roti or whole wheat bread with egg, kebob, potato cutlets or bhujia, cheese, butter, honey, gravy or yogurt on a four days rotational plan.
Vegetable stuffed paratha, though better than a plain one, should be taken only twice a week. If you do not feel like eating a heavy meal, you can opt between wheat daliya (cracked wheat or bulgur), milk shake, yogurt shake, smoothies and raw cane sugar (shukkar) – just take a very fulfilling Suhoor meal.
Also include a few sips of green tea with some shukkar in this meal. Patients who are on medications can take their dose with a little water after eating their Suhoor.
Iftar: Avoid white flour products and do not mix sweet and salty foods.
If you break your fast with sweet foods like dates, fruit salad, milk drinks, juices, lassi, shakes, cold coffee or lemonade then take your dinner after 30-60 minutes. Water has to be taken before dinner. Take salty foods with your dinner or break your fast with all the salty foods like pakoray, chana chat, dahi barey but avoid dates and drinks. Now fruits or desserts will come three and half hours after dinner.
Frying should be in the olive oil. Do not deep fry and avoid flour products like samosa, rolls or sandwiches that absorb a lot of oil.
Healthy alternates to popular Ramadan food
Remember, Ramadan is an excellent time for beginning and maintaining proper balance in your life!
About the author:
Dr Arooj Ali is a health coach, nutrition consultant, weight management and raw food expert. She has free diet plans on her website: Ali Diet & Health Clinic.