By Zaineb Al Hassani
The holy month will begin for most Islamic countries on July 21, meaning long hours of sunlight and very hot conditions, making it important for those who are fasting to pay attention to their health.
One of the biggest mistakes people can make is to alter their sleeping habits, said Dr Jamal Rasem Saadah, a consultant at Mafraq Hospital’s emergency department. Sleep should not be relied on as a way to keep hunger pangs at bay.
“Hibernation during Ramadan is not at all healthy.
“This is a common activity, and is highly discouraged. If folks make their days their nights, and their nights their days, during Ramadan, they are bound to gain weight.”
While people might not find they are consuming as many calories as they would during a normal day, a person’s basic metabolic rate, the minimum number of calories needed to keep the body functioning at rest, will change according to their sleeping pattern, he said.
For some, the habit is hard to break.”I do sleep. All day,” said Sulaiman Tall, from Senegal.
“I keep it easy for myself. When I have days off, I avoid going out during the day. I stay at home and hide from the sun and the heat.”
Whatever your sleeping pattern, the timing of when you eat is almost as important as what you eat, said Dr Saadah.
“It is never healthy to eat just before retiring for the night. All that food is converted into unhealthy weight gain via ‘bad’ calories. The fact is, a small dessert with a bottle of water is appropriate just before bedtime, but not mandatory.
“It is far more appropriate for observers to wake up in time for Sohour and have a very light meal or snack.”
Another hurdle to overcome is how to resist the temptation to overeat.
Breaking his fast at home with his family and other relatives during the first week of Ramadan helps Firas Hurieh, a 32-year-old from Jordan, to control his food intake.
But in the weeks that follow, when people begin to break the fast outside of the home with friends, overindulgence can become easy.
“At home, we eat traditional foods like dates, but that is only for a week. After that, we look for other places to eat, like iftar tents. Some people, they will eat, eat, eat, but that is not necessarily their fault – the food is there in front of them,” said Mr Hurieh.
People should break into their fast at a slow pace, said Dr Saadah.
Should someone be unable to resist the temptation to eat as much as possible, and after hours of having starved themselves, the body’s blood sugar will drop, resulting in lethargy.
“A normal – not oversized – meal for iftar should be consumed. A variety of soups, yogurts, breads, fruits and vegetables … can be consumed for iftar along with maybe a bowl of white rice.”
Those fasting should also avoid salty, oily and spicy foods during suhoor, which can increase thirst during the day, said the doctor.
“We receive a large variety of gastrointestinal illnesses during Ramadan and, ironically, we see more of these cases in the mornings because people decide to have a huge meal at suhoor time, which is just before the crack of dawn, and subsequently, they set off to sleep.
“At about 9 or 10 in the morning, they present with all shades of vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pains”, added Dr Saadah.”
Six quick tips
Advice on safe fasting from the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department in Dubai:
1. Eat regularly during suhoor, as it helps maintain energy levels during the long hours of fasting.
2. It is preferable to end suhoor with dates, milk or tea.
3. It is preferable to break the fast with dates (in odd numbers).
4. Drinking a lot of liquids and juices between iftar and suhoor will help prevent dehydration.
5. Avoid overeating, and consuming fizzy drinks and foods high in fat and spices, since they can make you feel more hungry. This is especially important during suhoor.
6. Avoid direct exposure to the sun and keep away from hot places. Use head protection when walking outside during the day.
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