"Fasting is good for one's health because it has spiritual, physical, psychological, and social benefits. However, man-made problems may occur if fasting is not properly practiced," says Priya Rao, Dietician, Al Rafa Poly Clinic.
She advises that the diet during Ramadan should not differ from the normal one. "There is no need to consume excess food at iftar or suhur," she says.
"Fasting also improves blood cholesterol profile, reduces gastric acidity, prevents constipation and other digestive problems,"
"Benefits of fasting appear only in those who maintain their diet, avoiding the high calorie and highly processed foods prepared during this time," explains adding that as fasting may last for as much as 18 hours, the best things to eat are those which release their energy slowly and are rich in fibre. "These foods can last for up to eight hours, while foods which release their energy quickly last for only three or four hours," she says. Priya says that slow energy releasing foods include grains and seeds like barley, wheat, oats, millet, semolina, beans, lentils, whole meal flour, unpolished rice.
"It is very important to have a pre-dawn meal. This helps reduce the time of food deprivation and prevent ketosis. Ketosis is a stage in metabolism occurring when the liver has been depleted of stored glycogen and switches to a chronic fasting mode during long periods of starvation. This is the same reason why breakfast is considered as an important meal of the day," they both advise.
Priya advises people to consume a light suhur. "Preferred foods to be taken at suhur are whole wheat bread, milk, vegetable salads, fruits, tea or coffee," she adds.
Talking about Iftar, Priya says that the body's immediate need at that time is to get an easily available energy source in the form of glucose for every living cell, particularly the brain and nerve cells.
"Dates, juices and soups are good sources of sugars and helps bring low blood glucose to normal levels. They also help maintain water and mineral balance in the body," she says while explaining the benefits.
"Have your meal at suhur at the proper hour before sunrise, not at midnight, as this will spread out your energy intake more evenly and result in more balanced blood glucose levels during fasting, She also says that one should drink as much water as possible between Iftar and bedtime, include fruits, vegetables, dal, and yoghurt in the meals at Iftar and at Suhur, limit the amount of sweet foods taken at Iftar, limit the intake of fried and fatty foods.
A SAMPLE MEAL
FOR Iftar, 2-3 dates, a serving (4 oz) of unsweetened juice, a cup of light vegetable soup with some pasta or Graham crackers would be ideal.
For dinner, consume foods from all the food groups, including salads, chicken or fish or lean meat, some grain as rice or bread or pasta, a small tub of low-fat yogurt, and a serving of fruit. She also says that a light suhur should be consumed.
Avoid caffeinated drinks such as coke, coffee or tea four to five days before Ramadan.
"Gradually reduce the intake of these drinks since a sudden decrease will result in headaches, mood swings and irritability. The dieticians say that constipation (too little fibre and water in the diet) is among the main complaints during Ramadan. Other problems include indigestion (from over-eating, especially of fried, fatty or spicy foods), muscle cramps (not enough vegetables, fruit, meat, or dairy products in the diet) and headaches (due to caffeine and tobacco withdrawal). "If you have diabetes the additional problems you may experience are a ‘hypo’ attack (low blood sugar), dehydration, high blood glucose levels that can lead to ketoacidosis (‘diabetic coma’) if not treated," says Priya, adding that it is very important to break the fast at once if you are feeling unwell."Smoking is a health risk factor. If you cannot give up smoking, cut down gradually starting a few weeks before Ramadan. Smoking negatively affects the utilisation of various vitamins in the body,"