Healthy fasting is possible if you consume the right foods in the right quantity. Unfortunately, most people find that they have gained weight even after their month long fast. It is not uncommon for those who are fasting to reward themselves with rich, fried and sweet dishes when they break their fast. While these foods may make people feel good in the short run, they usually have an adverse effect on the body and makes fasting the next day tougher. This unhealthy eating not only causes weight gain, but also leaves one feeling sluggish and tired all day.
Fasting during Ramadan slows down our metabolism due to the long hours without food and drink. The key to eating healthy is choosing the right foods to sustain you through the fast. This is why the pre-dawn meal – Suhoor is so important. Getting up before the sun rises to eat can be challenging for most and the urge to skip the meal for a few more hours of sleep can be tempting. However, not eating at Suhoor basically means that you are prolonging the period of fasting, as your body will be without food right from Iftar the previous day. This will naturally cause you to feel tired, dehydrated and drowsy the entire day. What will naturally follow, in the evening, is over-eating during Iftar, which can cause unhealthy weight gain.
Ideally, Suhoor should be nutrient-packed and not too heavy, and contain a balanced combination of high-quality protein, in addition to hydrating fruits and vegetables and plenty of fluids. Making good food choices for the pre-dawn meal can fortify you through the rest of the day and ensure that you are able to sustain your energy levels, avoid blood sugar crashes, and be free from mood swings and headaches. Adding fibre-rich foods like oats, whole grain breads, rice and cereals will help you avoid hunger pangs, as these are digested slower than processed foods, and keep you feeling full for most part of the day.
When cooking meals, try recipes that call for stewing, roasting, steaming, grilling and baking. This will ensure that meals are lighter and healthier. Avoid fried foods as they make you feel lethargic and cause acidity. Up the taste quotient by adding a wealth of vegetables, herbs, spices and seasonings. Avoid using too much salt as it causes dehydration and induces thirst. Keeping this in mind, reduce your intake of canned or processed foods, salted nuts and pickles.
When breaking your fast, following the traditional way is recommended. Since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), dates have been the best way to break the fast as they provide a nutritious burst of natural sugar to fuel your body with energy. They also contain vital minerals like potassium, copper and manganese and are a good source of fibre. At times, fasting causes blood sugar levels to fall and this results in dull headaches. This can be remedied when you eat 3-5 dates with a glass of water or milk as this helps the body restore nutrient levels. You could also try other dried fruits such as apricots, figs, raisins or prunes, which like dates, provide fibre and nutrients. Avoid drinks with added sugars when breaking the fast as these only lead to a piling on of calories. Consider instead, having coconut water or making smoothies, coolers and fruity drinks which are super-hydrating. These can be followed by nourishing soups before your main meal.
If you feel full quickly and are unable to complete your Iftar, it is best to delay your main course until after the Maghreb prayer. This will ensure that you have enough time to digest your dates, soup and salad, preventing you from feeling uncomfortable as a result of eating after a long day of fasting. In general, try and keep the Iftar meal simple and not much different from your normal everyday diet. Stick to regular dinner portions and don’t make the mistake of increasing food intake because of the fasting. This can be counter-productive and unhealthy. Consuming rich meaty dishes, hearty biryanis and those irresistible desserts after a long day of abstaining from food may take a toll on your digestive system and cause bloating. Avoid combining citrus foods with milk-based foods as the citric acid curdles milk which can upset your stomach. Also consuming proteins and starch alone is not a great idea, try balancing it out with some fresh veggies.
After dinner, allow time for your body to digest and register the feeling of fullness. It takes 20 minutes for your body and mind to know that you are full. So, don’t rush your dinner, instead pace yourself and appreciate the food you have been blest with. For balanced nutrition, try not to rely solely on Iftar to meet your nutritional requirements. You can have other light meals before bed time, such as low-fat yoghurt and a whole-wheat cheese sandwich, or some dried fruits and nuts. If you feel slightly hungry later at night, choose small healthy snacks, which will keep hunger at bay without feeling overly full.
This year, as we observe Ramadan, temperatures are already soaring above 40 degrees. It is important therefore to make every effort to drink at least 8 glasses of fluids daily before dawn and after sundown. Ideally, cut down on caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea and colas as these have a diuretic effect and promotes fluid loss. Drink 1 – 2 glass of water before your meal and not during your meal to avoid delaying your digestion process. You can also increase water intake by eating hydrating foods. Try adding watermelon to your Suhoor meal or eat it as a sweet treat after Iftar. The traditional Arabic fattoush salad contains plenty of hydrating cucumber and tomato.
Take your time eating. If you eat too fast, your body will feel fuller faster and you will not eat the proper amount of food that is necessary. Give thanks for the blessing of food received and avoid food waste in Ramadan by watching portion sizes, planning meals, freezing excess, and re-use leftovers in ‘makeover’ recipes. As an example, ripe or excess fruits can be blended with yoghurt or milk to make smoothies for Suhoor. Remember, Ramadan is a time of prayer and fellowship with family and friends. It is a time to be thankful for the presence of those around you and the blessing of food lovingly prepared. Keeping a limit on what and how much you eat will ensure that your joy is complete and that you are rewarded with a healthier body.