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Diet during Ramadan

By Lovely Ranganath, Dietician, Al Zahra Hospital, Sharjah

Courtesy-womenone.org

Diet during Ramadan should not differ much from a normal healthy, balanced diet and should be as simple as possible. Usually, most health problems at this time are likely to arise from inappropriate diet or as a consequence of over-eating and insufficient sleep.

The dietary guidelines based on variety, moderation and balance holds true during Ramadan as well. A balanced diet improves blood cholesterol profile, reduces gastric acidity, prevents constipation and other digestive problems, and contributes to an active and healthy lifestyle.

There is no need to consume excess food at iftar (the food eaten in the period immediately after sunset to break the fast), dinner, or suhur (the light meal generally eaten about half an hour to one hour before dawn).  The reasons are, of course, firstly it contradicts the spirit of Ramadan …over-eating can be seen as a reflection of weak discipline and irresponsibility. Secondly the metabolic rate of the body is reduced and also people assume a more sedentary lifestyle while fasting. The net result is that a balanced diet, which consists less than the normal amount of food intake, is sufficient to keep a person healthy and active during the month of Ramadan.

Medical problems like constipation, muscle cramps, peptic ulcer, heart burn, gastritis, kidney stones are all a result of too much fried and fatty foods, too much refined foods, too little water and not enough fiber in the diet.   

More 'traps'

Be aware … there are more “traps” during Ramadan than any other month.

For many it helps to keep a food diary for a reality check. For those who think they are eating less, the food diary helps them to find out otherwise when they write things down.

Ramadan is often the time when women like to display and share their cooking abilities.  The best way is to eat the right proportions from the various food groups to ensure good health. Think of vegetables as the main food. Treat meat, milk and grains as condiments. Start thinking of carrot sticks with hummus instead of pita bread. Don’t give up eating breads and meat, just de-emphasize them.

Drink lots of water

You should not ignore your water consumption. It seems obvious but drink lots of water between Iftar and sleep, to avoid dehydration. Drinking too much tea will increase urine output and inevitably cause the loss of valuable mineral salts. Avoid caffeinated drinks such as coke, coffee or tea four to five days before Ramadan, gradually reduce the intake of these drinks since a sudden decrease will result in headaches, mood swings and irritability.

Smoking is a health risk factor. If you cannot give up smoking, cut down gradually starting a few weeks before Ramadan. Smoking negatively affects the utilization of various vitamins in the body.

Discontinuing exercise is not necessary for most people. You need to have a good twenty to thirty minutes of non-stop brisk walking. Keep in mind that you should not overwork and that moderate exercise will be just right.

Meal plan

Your meal plan should include:

Bread/ Cereal/ Rice, Pasta Group – 6-11 servings/ day

Meat/ Beans/ Nuts Group – 2-3 servings/ day

Milk & milk products – 2-3 servings/ day

Vegetable Group – 3-5 servings/ day

Fruit Group – 2-4 servings/ day

Added sugar & fat – use sparingly.

Breakfast (Iftar): 2-3 dates, a serving (4 oz) of unsweetened juice, a cup of light vegetable soup with some pasta or Graham crackers.

The body’s immediate need at the time of iftar is to get an easily available energy source in the form of glucose. Dates and juices in the above amounts are sufficient to bring low blood glcose levels to normal levels. The juice and soup also helps to maintain water and mineral balance in the body. An unbalanced diet and too many servings of sherbets and sweets with added sugars have been found to be unhealthy.

Dinner: Consume foods from all the food groups. Include salads, chicken or fish or lean meat, some grain as rice or bread or pasta, a small tub of low-fat yogurt, and a serving of fruit. Try out good healthy choices such as:

  •      Whole-meal bread roll without butter (choose herbs instead), filled with egg and tomato, chicken and salads, low fat cheese and salad, or tuna with cucumber and tomato

  •      Whole meal pasta with tomato based sauce with a large salad

  •     Salad with grilled / baked fish or chicken or lean meat along with a small portion of rice or wholemeal bread.

  •     Baked potato with tuna or low-fat cottage cheese.

 

Pre-dawn Meal (Suhur): Consume a light suhur. Eat whole wheat or oat cereal or whole wheat bread. Have a salad along with 1-2 servings of fruit. In view of the long hours of fasting, the so-called “complex carbohydrates” or slow digesting foods should be consumed at suhur, resulting in less hunger during the day. These complex carbohydrates are found in foods that contain grains and seeds like barley, wheat, oats, millet, semolina, beans, lentils, whole meal flour and unpolished rice.

Golden rules to follow during Ramadan:

  • Avoid too much fat / sugar / salts and caffeine.

  • Always have fresh food available

  • Stick to a low-fat diet. Cut out fried foods.

  • Choose fresh fruits and vegetables when possible.

  • Don’t worry if you are tempted by rich desserts which can’t be avoided during this month. Just try to eat them in moderation.

Health problems can emerge as a result of excess food intake, foods that make the diet unbalanced, and insufficient sleep. Ultimately we need to remind ourselves that such a lifestyle contradicts the essential requirements and spirit of Ramadan. In summary, intake of a balanced diet is critical to maintain good health, sustain an active lifestyle and attain the full benefits of Ramadan. With a little thought, this can be attained without much trouble, giving you a healthy body and mind.