Did you know around 1.5 billion Muslims world-wide are fasting during the holy month of Ramadan and that Muslims are only able to have meals and drinks pre-dawn and after dusk during this period?
Ramadan usually lasts between 29 and 30 days every year and this annual observance is seen as one of the ‘Five Pillars of Islam.’ The Pillars are responsibilities every Muslim must fulfil to live a good and responsible life according to Islam.
Muslims are not only given the opportunity to fast during Ramadan, but also to establish healthier lifestyle habits such as eating balanced diets and quitting smoking. If you are feeling unwell, pregnant or travelling, you are exempt from fasting. To compensate, you can fast after the month of Ramadan and give the poor a regular meal.
If you are observing the fast, you should be looking to have at least two meals a day, a pre-dawn meal (Suhoor) and a meal at dusk (Iftar). Fasting can have the benefit of weight loss as when your body is starved of food, it will begin to burn fat. However there are potential risks when it comes to fasting and if you fast for too long, your body will start breaking down muscle protein for energy which is unhealthy.
Gurvinder Kaur, dietician at Heartlands Hospital, explains some of the risks of fasting: “Heartburn is a common problem. To control heartburn, eat moderately and avoid oily, deep fried and very spicy food. Quitting smoking and lowering your caffeine intake can also reduce your risk of getting heartburn.
“If you have diabetes, you should seek advice from your GP before starting a fast. Monitoring your blood glucose levels on a regular basis is vital and if low blood sugar levels are left untreated, this can lead to fainting or fits.
“Another common problem is headaches. Dehydration and lack of sleep can result in headaches. To reduce the risk of getting a headache, do not expose yourself to direct sunlight. Wear a hat and sunglasses to reduce the effect of glare from the sun. Taking painkillers can also help reduce the risk of headache.
“A lack of food and water as well as shorter periods of rest can cause stress. Not taking on more than you can handle, not playing sports in the sun and not smoking can help prevent stress.”
Here are some foods to avoid during Ramadan:
- Deep fried foods such as pakoras and samosas.
- High sugar and high fat foods, including gulab jamun and barfis.
Here are some healthier alternatives:
- Fruit and vegetables.
- Baked/grilled chicken or meat.
- Bran cereals.
For more information on how to stay healthy during Ramadan, please visit the NHS Choices website at www.nhs.uk.