Bridget Benelam of the British Nutrition Foundation offers Muslims some nutritional advice during the holy month of Ramadan and examines whether fasting is actually good for your body.
On Monday, July 12th, Muslims around the world, including myself, began to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan. During the month, many Muslims fast during the day and eat only one meal („suhoor” or „sehri”) just before sunrise and another („iftar”) after sunset. While enjoying the celebrations, it is very important to keep an eye on health because of the effects of fasting. My top three pieces of advice are to keep them hydrated, replenished with nutrients, and avoid over indulgence.
Hydration, hydration, hydration!
With both Suhoor and Iftar, hydration is key. Unsurprisingly, water is usually the best option. Juices and smoothies that contain natural sugars can provide both energy and moisture. However, to avoid excessive sugar consumption, it is best to have them in moderation. Low-fat, water-rich foods, including soup or yogurt, are also great options for hydrating and refueling while the fast is broken.
Fresh fruit is a traditional way of breaking the fast in many South Asian cultures. This is a good and healthy option because fruits contain fiber, natural sugars, liquids, and some vitamins and minerals. Dates, which are an essential part of Ramadan, also contain fiber, natural sugars, and minerals like potassium, copper, and manganese. They’re another nutritious, delicious way to start or end your day of fasting – you can also try other dried fruits like plums, raisins, or ricots.
Keep your balance
When we are celebrating and after a long fast, it is natural to want to pamper yourself with delicious food. While enjoying this time with your family is important, you should also remember to maintain balance. During the non-fasting hours, we need to focus on the quality of our diet and eat a good balance of foods to keep our bodies healthy. Once the fast is broken and you are rehydrated, it is time to prioritize the most important foods and nutrients that will enable you to live your life healthily and support your endeavors throughout the month.
Whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and high-protein foods like lean meat, fish, eggs, and beans should all be part of the diet. As a meal, you can enjoy a variety of fish, meat, or legume curries, including plenty of vegetables, served with rice, chattis, and yogurt. Although meat is typical in the cuisine of many Muslim countries, dishes with more vegetable sources of protein such as beans and lentils add extra fiber and are naturally lower in fat.
At the start of the day, not only can you prioritize hydration, but you can also provide starchy and high-fiber foods like oats, whole grain breads, and whole grain breakfast cereals (ideally less sugar) with energy for the day. Avoid anything that is too salty like processed meats, olives, and cucumbers as it can lead to a long day of thirst!
Is Fasting Good For You?
This time of year often triggers a conversation about the general health and weight loss benefits of fasting. When it comes to fasting during Ramadan, there are some studies that suggest it may have benefits in terms of weight loss and metabolic health, although we need more research to confirm this. Studies have also been conducted on intermittent fasting as a weight loss strategy. One of the most common methods is the 5: 2 diet, in which the calories are severely restricted two days a week. Research suggests that this approach may be effective in some people, and while intermittent fasting is not superior to other types of weight loss diets, it may be suitable for certain people who do not want to restrict their food intake all the time.
Provided you are generally in good health, fasting during Ramadan is not harmful, but it is important that we maintain a balance between eating healthy foods and staying hydrated. It’s a time to celebrate with loved ones, and although COVID-19 restrictions mean we can’t enjoy the grand celebrations we would have in a normal year, we hope everyone has a good and healthy Ramadan at home or outside near you.
For more information on good food during seasonal celebrations like Ramadan, visit this British Nutritional Foundation (BNF) website.