Our penchant for pakoras and samosas during Ramazan gives the impression, especially to non-Muslims, that these are as necessary as dates for iftar. Rather than stuff ourselves with such food and then feel lazy and lethargic we should remember that Ramazan is not a month for eating but a month to be robust and active.
With the fast lasting as long as 15-16 hours, especially in this hot weather, proper nutrition and rehydration are highly important as our body undergoes a number of changes when we fast for a whole month. The body enters into a fasting state eight hours or so after a meal, when the nutrients from the food have been absorbed. Body glucose, which is stored in the liver and muscles, is the body’s main source of energy. During a fast, this store of glucose is used to provide energy.
Once the stores of glucose run out, the body starts to burn fat so that it can make energy. When we have been fasting for weeks, the body eventually starts breaking down muscle protein for energy, which is unhealthy. As the fast only extends from dawn till dusk, there is ample opportunity to replenish energy stores between iftar and sehr. This allows the body to use glucose and fat as the main source of energy, and prevents the breakdown of muscle for protein.
For overweight people Ramazan is an excellent opportunity to lose weight. The use of fats for energy aids weight loss, preserving the muscles, and in the long run reduces your cholesterol levels. In addition, weight loss results in better control of diabetes and reduces blood pressure.
If you want to lose weight during Ramazan you must understand how your body works. The body has regulatory mechanisms that are activated during fasting to ensure efficient utilisation of body fat. Basal metabolism (calories used during rest) slows down during fasting. A slow metabolism means that the food is converted into energy at a slower rate, which can actually result in weight gain, particularly after Ramazan when normal eating habits are resumed. A diet that is less than your normal food intake but balanced is sufficient enough to keep a person healthy and active during Ramazan.
Thirst is a sign that the body is dehydrated. It is better to avoid all caffeinated drinks and replace them with water. Caffeine does not provide the amount of hydration which our body requires; instead it acts as a diuretic. Drinking around eight to12 glasses of water between iftar and sehr is advisable so that your body can adjust to the fluid intake while staying hydrated. Although water is the best option to hydrate the body, it is fine to consume other liquids such as milk-based drinks and fruit juices. Try to avoid fizzy ice-cold drinks, because they can block your blood vessels when you drink after a long fast. It might also lead to nausea, tiredness or vomiting.
Include a variety of foods in your daily diet from all of the food groups. To maintain good health our body requires different types of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats and proteins. For sehri, it is best to consume slow digesting food like yoghurt as it gives extra energy which your body requires throughout the day. Taking egg in sehri is not recommended during this warm month as it can cause thirst in early hours of the fast, though it provides the proteins that we need. Croissants, almonds and fruit jams are excellent choice for sehri.
To get some instant energy and hydration after iftar eat at least three dates and a cup of fresh seasonal fruit juice. Bananas are energy boosters at iftar but can cause constipation and their intake has to be balanced with adequate fibre intake. Avoid sherbets with lots of sugar in them. Replace sugar-based items with fruit salads which are rich in vitamins and have high nutritional value. A small bowl of chickpeas and potato salad is healthy when taken with no extra toppings and unhealthy sauces.
Include pasta, spaghetti, brown rice, milk, bread, potatoes, white meat, high-fibre cereals, porridge, oats, beans and lentils in both the meals. At iftar it may be more beneficial to consume simple carbohydrates to begin with, as these are digested faster in order to replenish blood sugar levels more quickly.
Cooking methods should also be considered if you plan to eat healthy food in Ramazan. Try baking, steaming or grilling the food instead of frying. While frying decrease the quantity of oil and restrict yourself to a small portion of fried items just once or twice a week. Make sure to cut out all that excess fat from the meat. Prepare soups or sauces in advance and refrigerate them so that the excess layer of fat can be removed from the top.
For dessert, fresh fruit is the best option and as a starter, chicken or lamb soup is a good choice.
Do not overindulge at iftar; eating too much and too fast causes indigestion. Eat slowly and take small bites. Chew your food properly; this way it is much easier for the digestive system to digest the food consumed.
Avoid smoking. If you cannot give up smoking, cut down gradually starting a few weeks before Ramazan. Smoking adversely affects utilisation of various vitamins, metabolites and enzymes in the body.
It is also important to follow good time management for religious activities, sleeping, studying, work and physical activities or exercise. A good balance in the amount of time attributed for each activity will lead to a healthier body and mind in Ramazan. Have a healthy Ramazan!