Ramadan is one of the most important events for Muslims everywhere, occurring in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Fasting plays an important role in many major religions and is a central feature in all the Abrahamic faiths. In Islam, adult Muslims, who are able to, are required to fast during the month of Ramadan. This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are also concerns among Muslims about having their Covid vaccination during Ramadan. In this article, we have put together the latest health tips for you (including the Covid jab considerations).
Healthy Ramadan fasting</2>
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims won’t eat or drink between dawn and sunset. This is called fasting. Being held from April 12 to May 12 this year, this traditional time of reflection is observed by a strict fast from dawn until dusk.
According to Dr Javid Ahmed Shah, Physician and Medical Director at the Lotus Group Of Medical Centres based in Dubai, dehydration is one of the most serious problems that can occur during this period – especially in Dubai and other parts of the Middle East, thanks to the hot and humid conditions that characterise the region.
While young children, the elderly, pregnant (and menstruating) women and those suffering from illness are not required to fast during Ramadan, Dr Shah reveals that many of his patients still choose to do so. This can be particularly problematic for insulin-dependent diabetics, who must fine-tune their dosage during this period.
Preparing the body for fast
Good planning is the key to a healthy fast, says Dr Shah. He advises his patients to gradually reduce their intake of caffeine-based drinks such as cola, coffee or tea around three to five days before Ramadan is due to begin.
Dr Javid Ahmed Shah
Physician and Medical Director at the Lotus Group of Medical Centres
Sahur (dawn break of fast) is important for all, according to Dr Shah, as it provides the body with the necessary food and energy for the day and helps individuals endure long periods of fasting.
As a rule, delaying the Sahur is better than taking it early, Dr Shah advises, as it diminishes the feeling of hunger or thirst.
At Iftar (the dusk break of fast), the body’s immediate need is for an easily available energy source in the form of glucose for every living cell, particularly the brain and nerves.
“Dates and juices are good sources of energy,” says Dr Shah. “Dates represent an excellent source of sugar, fibre, carbohydrates, potassium and magnesium. In general, three dates and a four-fluid ounce glass of juice would be sufficient to bring low blood glucose levels to normal.”
In order to best benefit the body, both the Sahur and Iftar meals should be balanced – with any high-fat/sugar foods best avoided.
While any reports of headaches and other symptoms must be carefully assessed, Dr Shah says that such issues tend to subside in healthy people once they have grown accustomed to the fasting pattern – with the body beginning to thrive.
Health tips for Ramadan and eating healthy:
- Drink lots of water and fluids after the Sahur
- Get enough sleep to avoid dehydration
- Balance Sahur with different nutrients – preferably low-calorie, easily digestible and low-fat foods
- Ensure meals are thoroughly cooked to aid digestion
- Eat green salad for essential vitamins, minerals and salts, and fibre to avoid constipation
- Ensure the Sahur meal contains fluids and dairy products such as yoghurt and cheese, as well as fruit
- Avoid sugary foods
- Make sure your Iftar includes complex carbohydrates and other slow-digesting foods – such as barley, wheat, oats, semolina, beans, lentils and wholemeal flour
- Avoid spicy foods and caffeine-based drinks
Positive effects of fasting
“Many studies have shown that fasting helps improve blood pressure, cholesterol levels and insulin sensitivity – as well as weight loss,” he says.
Detoxification is another important benefit of fasting, with the body transitioning into self-cleansing mode. “This occurs because the energy normally used in digestion can get to work elsewhere,” Dr Shah explains, “removing built-up toxins, healing old wounds and building new cells.”
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The end of Ramadan is celebrated with Eid-ul-Fitr – the festival of ‘fast-breaking’.
On the morning of Eid, Muslims go to the mosque for a special prayer. This is usually followed by visits to families and friends, exchanging gifts and socialising.
If the social distancing due to COVID-19 remains enforced during Eid-ul-Fitr, staff are advised to observe those measures.
Vaccination during Ramadan
BIMA has issued specific advice urging Muslims observing Ramadan not to delay getting the vaccine, drawing on analysis from Islamic scholars which says that injections for non-nutritional purposes do not invalidate the fast.
There is no material of foetal or animal origin in either of the available vaccines. All ingredients are published on the MHRA’s website.