Healthy Eating in Ramadan
During the Summer months here in the northern hemisphere, fasting during Ramadan can be a special challenge. When you are fasting during Ramadan it is still important to eat healthily during the hours of darkness. Here are some suggested nutritional "do’s and don’ts" to help you to stay healthy during this important time of the year.
For many people, the key question regarding fasting is whether it is good or bad for your health. The health concerns that can arise are not from the fast itself, but rather what and how much is consumed in the non-fasting hours. A diet that has less than a normal amount of food, but is nevertheless properly balanced, will keep a person healthy and active during this time.
You should include complex carbohydrates in your meals. These are essential for a healthy fast as they will help to release energy slowly during the long hours when you are not eating. Complex carbohydrates are found in green leafy vegetables, green salads, sweet potatoes, jacket potatoes (in their skin), and fresh or dried fruits. These should make up the biggest percentage of your meal. Complex carbohydrates also include grains and seeds, like barley, wheat, oats, millets, semolina, beans, legumes, lentils, wholemeal flour, basmati rice, to name but a few, that you should eat in small amounts. This will make sure that you have a good intake of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes. They will also help you to feel fuller for longer during the day.
Fibre-rich foods are digested slowly and include vegetables such as green beans, almost all fruit including apricots, prunes and figs, bran, unprocessed cereals, whole wheat, grains and seeds, and potatoes with the skin. These will also help you to maintain a healthy digestion and regular bowel movements.
I strongly encourage the addition of super nutritious dense foods like chia seeds, goji berries, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, all nuts and you can also include fresh fruit juices for a fresh revitalizing effect.
Foods to avoid are deep fried foods (e.g. pakoras, samosas, fried dumplings), high-sugar/high-fat foods (e.g. Baklawa), and high-fat cooked foods (e.g. oily curries, greasy pastries, etc ). As well as being high in calories, frying foods in oils at high temperatures can create toxic compounds in the food. This increases oxidative stress on our bodies. In turn, this can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Also avoid any heavily-processed foods that contain refined carbohydrates in the form of sugar or white flour, especially those combined with fats, such as cakes, biscuits, chocolates and sweets. These provide unnecessary 'empty' calories that will make you put on weight but provide no nutrient content.
Frying should be avoided altogether. Instead adopt healthier cooking methods instead like steaming, grilling or baking.
Suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, should be a wholesome, moderate meal that is filling and provides enough energy for many hours. It is therefore particularly important to include slowly-digesting foods in the suhoor.
Iftar is the meal which breaks the day’s fast. This meal could include dates, following the Prophetic traditions. Dates will provide a refreshing burst of much-needed energy. Try and resist the temptation to turn your meal into a feast at this point and minimise the rich, special dishes that traditionally celebrate the fast and keep to the healthy choices to ensure there is a correct balance of nutrients in your foods.
Potential health complications and possible remedies
The stomach is an acidic environment, designed to digest food and kill bacteria. Fasting usually reduces the amount of acid produced, but thoughts of food or the smell of it stimulate the stomach to produce more acid. If there is an overall increase in acid, then heartburn can become a problem during your fast.
The control of heartburn or belching can be aided by eating in moderation and avoiding oily, deep-fried or very spicy food. Reducing your caffeine intake and/or stopping smoking can also be of benefit, if relevant. Herbal teas like Mellow Mallow Digestion Tea containing meadowsweet, marshmallow leaf, chamomile, lemon balm or liquorice can help.
Peppermint tea is excellent for indigestion caused by eating too fast or two much. However, if stomach acid is the problem then peppermint should be avoided as it relaxes the valves at each end of your stomach. In this case try Mellow Mallow Digestion Tea or some organic Chamomile Tea.
Headaches during a fast could commonly be due to dehydration or hunger, inadequate rest, or the absence of addictive substances such as caffeine or nicotine.
A moderate and balanced diet, especially not missing the pre-dawn meal, and consuming adequate quantities of fluid may either prevent or reducing the risk of developing headaches.
If stress is a contributing factor in headaches, try massaging the back of your neck with our Napiers Capsicum and Ginger Cream for relief. Capsicum is the natural active ingredient in cayenne that helps to block pain. Napiers Cayenne Tablets are useful for some people.
Dehydration is a common occurrence during a fast. The body continues to lose water and salts through breathing, sweat and urine; the quantity of water loss will vary depending on the weather, how much you had to drink before your fast, the degree of physical exertion and the ability of the kidneys to retain water and salts.
Rehydrating should have its own focus. I recommend a large glass of water before both of your meals, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables , fruit juices and watery meals to satisfy your body’s minimum fluid requirements. On the same note I suggest having a low salt intake to keep a healthy water turnover in your body.
When you are fasting it is worth avoiding caffeine found in drinks such as tea, coffee and cola. Caffeine is a diuretic and stimulates faster water loss through urination. During a summer Ramadan when water may only be consumed in 4 1/2 hours at the end of June, conserving water in your body is very important.
If your skin becomes dry, you can spritz your skin with a floral water, as your skin will absorb some moisture this way.
Constipation could be a very irritating problem for someone undertaking a fast. Drink plenty of water outside the fasting hours, eat healthily, with lots of fruit and vegetables in your diet, increase the fibre content of your food using bran or flaxseeds, and stay active during the day to help to keep your bowel motions regular.
If the problem persists, taking a spoonful of psyllium husk (with a full glass of water) every evening can help to make sure you have the fibre you need to keep you regular. Aperient teas before bed-time can also help in more severe cases.
Strange, but true! For those not careful about eating sensibly, food consumed during the pre-dawn and dusk meals may lead to some unintended weight gain.
We call psyllium husk "the dieter's friend". Taken to increase fibre content it also helps to make you feel less hungry. Fennel teas, which help with wind or flatulence, also dull hunger pangs!