Ramadan is a blessed month for Muslims when people concentrate their commitments to God and faith. It is a month where they fast from predawn till sunset for 29 or 30 days. It is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar which is lunar. The day duration therefore varies according to the season and country where fasting takes place. During fasting hours, no food or drink is consumed.
Benefits of fasting:
Other than the spiritual and religious benefits, Ramadan fasting have some proven medical benefits for both the physical and the mental health. It allows your digestive system to rest and helps in lowering the blood glucose and cholesterol levels as well as blood pressure, and of course helps you lose weight and get in shape. On the mental level, it helps in self-discipline and control, and teaches you to avoid bad habits like anger and helps you start good habits of compassion and forgiveness.
What happens to the body during fasting?
The body starts using its carbohydrate stores from the liver and the muscle, then shifts to fat to provide energy once all the carbohydrate stores are used up. This is why people who fast have a meal before dawn which is called Suhour. That will help fill up the carbohydrate stores for the following day.
However, the body cannot store water. The kidneys conserve as much water as possible by reducing the amount of urine. However, the body cannot avoid losing water through sweating and transpiration. Therefore, depending on the weather, most people who fast will experience mild dehydration. This may cause headaches, tiredness and difficulty concentrating. This is not harmful to health, provided that they consume enough fluids after breaking fast to replace the lost fluids during fasting. People who consume coffee and other caffeinated beverages may suffer from headaches and tiredness especially in the first few days of fasting after which the body adjusts.
Drinking plenty of fluids, and consuming fluid-rich foods, is very important to replace fluids lost during the day. Salt stimulates thirst and so I recommend to avoid consuming a lot of salty foods.
The changes in the eating habits and lack of fluids during the day may cause constipation for some people. When you can eat and drink, consuming plenty of high fiber foods, such as whole grains, high fibre cereals, bran, fruit and vegetables, dried fruit and nuts alongside plenty of fluids may help to ease constipation as well as doing some light physical activity, such as going for a walk after Iftar.
Families break fast together at the meal of Iftar. This meal usually contains soups, salads, and deep fried foods which causes people to gain weight during Ramadan. Ramadan can be a good time to make changes to improve the balance of your diet and sustain it after the month is over.
What to eat and drink at Iftar and Suhour?
This is the meal when you break fast. This is the chance for the body to re-hydrate and refill the emptied energy stores that were exhausted during the long hours of fasting. Below are some examples of what you can best eat at Iftar:
1. Break fast by drinking a cup of water and 2-3 dates before you pray. Dates are a good source of sugar and minerals and they are high in fiber, which can alleviate the constipation problem. Try to have as much water as possible from sunset to dawn.
2. Soups are great for you to regain the lost fluids. They are also light on the stomach. Just be careful to choose light soups and avoid creamy soups that are very high in calories and saturated fats. I advise you to consume vegetable soups and those based on meat or chicken broth. Lentil soup is a good option as well. It not only provides you with fluids, but also is high in carbs and proteins.
3. Salads that provide fiber that alleviate constipation. Have salads with healthy dressing. Avoid adding too much oil and fats to it.
4. Try having meals that provide adequate amounts of proteins and complex carbs, such as beans, meat, fish, wholegrain wheat and rice.
If you can, once you have had a chance to digest your food, you could try doing some light exercise such as going for a walk. If you attend Taraweeh prayers (special night-time prayers for Ramadan and good exercise as well) in the evening, perhaps you could walk all or part of the way there.
It is the last meal you can have before you start to fast again. Choose the foods you consume at this meal wisely
1. Wholegrain, oats and high fiber cereals are a good choice. They will help delay the hunger. They are also consumed with milk which will also keep you hydrated.
2. Yogurt and dairy products that are low in salts are good sources of protein and calcium
3. Eggs and beans can also be consumed at suhour. They are rich in protein and take long to digest.
4. Avoid adding salt and consuming salty foods at suhour. These will make you thirsty the next day.
If you are diabetic, or suffer from any other disease and under medication, consult your doctor before fasting. He may require you to modify your medication so that you won’t suffer from any inconveniences or side effects.