The Quran specifically instructs Muslims to fast during the month of Ramadhan from sunrise to sunset, but also gives clear exemptions for those who may become ill. It explicitly exempts the sick from the duty of fasting (Holy Qur’an, Al-Bakarah, 183–185). Muslims therefore do not eat during daylight hours eating one meal (the suhoor) just before dawn and another (the iftar) after sunset.
Depending on geography and the time of year when Ramadhan occurs, fasting may range from 10 hours in the winter months to more than 17 hours in the hot summer. Long fasts put you at a higher risk of hypoglycaemia (Low blood sugar) and dehydration which can make you ill.
To ensure adequate nutrition and continued good health, follow these tips (recommended by team of experts) when practicing the fast during Ramadhan:
Individuals with health conditions i.e. chronic condition, including coronary artery disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, are encouraged to consult with their primary care physician, to ensure he or she remain in the best possible health during Ramadhan. In case of diabetes for example certain medications require dose adjustment to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Avoid overeating. Our digestive system in particular the stomach is very busy and hard-working for eleven months, which requires high amounts of energy; in fact, it can drain energy needed for healing, repair and general maintenance of the body. Therefore, it makes sense to give it a vacation once a year! Ramadhan is the opportunity to give annual leave to your stomach! The prophet said “if one has to fill his stomach then he should allow a third for his food, a third for his drink and leave a third empty for easy breathing.”
To break the fast start with dates (Breaking the fast with dates or water is a tradition of the Prophet), water followed by soup, and a bowl of salad. Dates are very important source of natural sugars for energy that will replenish the energy you lost throughout the long hours of fasting. It is rich in fibres that will regulate your bowel movements. And starting your iftar meal (before main meal) with warm soup comforts the stomach after a long day of fasting, replenishes your body with fluids and helps prepare the digestive system for this meal.
Eat suhoor (pre dawn meal), and avoid the temptation to sleep in and skip the predawn meal. Yes, it’s hard to get up at that hour, which is why it has many benefits and rewards. It will help you to wake up for the Fajr prayer. The suhoor meal is Sunnah, prescribed behaviour for Muslims. And this morning meal is generally recognized as the single most important meal of the day. Eat slow release energy food that are rich in complex carbohydrates i.e. Porridge (without added sugar) and protein, plus fruits or vegetables and plenty of water. This will minimise the effect of feeling the hunger during the day.
During the early evening (after Maghrib), have a healthy and balanced dinner. This includes all the five major groups. You should have a balanced diet with the right proportion of carbohydrates, fat and protein. Islam emphasises moderation in every aspect of life and it is essential that this concept be applied.
Sip on water throughout the evening between iftar (breaking of fast) & Suhoor (pre dawn meal) to keep you hydrated during the day, to prevent formation of kidney stones and assist with digestion. Usually men are required to drink about 2.5 litres, whilst women are required to consume about 2 litres a day. At least, aim for 8 glasses by bedtime.
Avoid fried and spicy foods as they may cause heartburn or indigestion, which is a common problem in Ramadhan.
During the hottest part of the day, stay in cool areas (indoors or in shade) and limit your physical activity. Rest if possible.
Light exercise, such as walking for 15 to 20 minutes, is best done in the evening hours and will assist with sleep. Avoid heavy exercise.
Ramadhan provides a great opportunity to amend many bad habits, and smoking is very definitely one of them as is unhealthy causing heart and lung diseases.
Organize your schedule so that you get enough sleep to avoid fatigue during the day.
Take the most of Ramadhan both spiritually and health wise to sustain the learnings!
Ali Said Ali Al-Mandhry
Ali Said Ali Al-Mandhry is a retired Head of Medical Laboratory & Former Editor of Health newsletter Petroleum Development Oman, PDO