Ramadan is one of the most important events for Muslims everywhere, occurring in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
Being held from May 26 to June 24 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.
“A sudden decrease in caffeine prompts headaches, mood swings and irritability,” he says, ”while smoking also negatively affects the body’s utilisation of various vitamins, metabolites and enzyme systems.
“So if my patients are unable to quit entirely, I recommend they begin reducing their number of cigarettes a few weeks before the fast.”
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.
Key tips for healthy eating:
- 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
“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.”