Eating right when fasting

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Eating right when fasting

RAMADAN is an opportunity for Muslims to change their lifestyle. They can eat less, quit smoking and increase physical activities. With the small window of time for eating your meals, and the nightly tarawih prayers, this is the perfect start to re-calibrate one's way of living.

Unfortunately, many people fail to understand the real concept and the benefits of fasting. Some even equate fasting with feasting after, and in the end, they do not reap the health benefits that fasting brings, including lowering of blood sugar, cholesterol, systolic blood pressure and obesity.

Here are several tips on what to do and what to miss during Ramadan and hopefully, you will continue on so you can live healthier throughout the year.

Things to do

1 PLAN YOUR MEAL: It is important to plan your meals for sahur and iftar. As you will be fasting for more than 16 hours, you need a balanced meal consisting of vegetables, carbohydrate, fat and protein for sahur. These slow-digesting food will prevent you from feeling hungry and lethargic during the day, especially at work.

More importantly, do not skip sahur because it can trigger a starvation response in your body and you will be likely to overeat during iftar.

For iftar, it is best to eat in moderation. Start with small meal such as fruit and nuts before you go for tarawih prayers and then eat another small meal after that.

2 EAT FIBRE: For sahur, fibre-rich food is recommended as these are slow to digest and will make you feel full during the day. They also keep us alert and are essential for our digestive health as they help reduce stomach acid. They also sustain blood sugar levels so we won't experience an unhealthy spike and crash.

Foods rich in fibre include bran, cereals, whole wheat, grains and seeds, potato with skin, vegetables such as green beans and almost all types of fruits (including apricot, prune and fig). Dates, an excellent source of sugar, fibre, carbohydrate, potassium and magnesium, provide much-needed energy.

3 DRINK MORE WATER: With hot we a there xpected to last until September, expect, dry days during Ramadan. Since Muslims are without water when fasting, they are at risk of dehydration. It is vital to drink plenty of water between iftar and sahur to stay hydrated during the day.

4 EAT MORE PROTEIN: Protein is excellent for sustaining energy and metabolism as it takes longer to digest. One of the slowest digesting proteins is casein which has a time-release effect. This means it is digested much more slowly than other types of protein. Good sources include cottage cheese, cheese, milk and casein protein powder. Try to get one serving of protein at sahur and iftar.

5 EXERCISE: While you may not be able to engage in vigorous or intense activities, there are light and simple exercises that you can do during the fasting month, such as walking, cycling, stretching and lifting light weights. This will make you energetic, fit, alert and able to engage in the tarawih prayers.

Things to avoid

1 SUGAR: Sweet food and drinks cause the dreaded sugar spike and crash that makes us feel lethargic and hungry just a few hours after a meal. Heavily processed, fast-burning foods that contain refined carbohydrates such as cake, biscuits, chocolate and sweets can cause health problems, so limit your intake. They also cause indigestion, heartburn and weight problems.

2 FRIED AND SALTY FOOD: Many people go for greasy, fried food for iftar. High in calories and lacking in nutrients, they cause sluggishness and fatigue. Also avoid salty foods such as pickles, papadum, sauces, chips and olives as these can lead to dehydration if your fluid intake is insufficient.

3 OVEREATING: The biggest pitfall during iftar is overeating. With a bundant food at the Ramadan bazaar or buka puasa buffet, people tend to eat a lot to compensate for not eating during the day. If they don't follow up with physical activities, it will result in weight gain. You should also avoid going back to bed immediately after sahur as your body requires time to digest the food. In addition to weight gain, this may cause heartburn.

4 EATING OUT: Avoid eating out for iftar every day. It may not be easy to find healthy dishes at buka puasa buffets. Restaurants tend to fill their buffet line with high-calorie food. When you are there with so many dishes laid out, you tend to linger and savour everything. If you do this every day during Ramadan, you are likely to put on weight.


HERE'S how you can prevent and deal with some common health complications which can arise when fasting.

HEARTBURN: Fasting usually reduces the amount of stomach acid, which digests food and kills bacteria. However, thoughts of food or the smell of it, make the brain tell the stomach to produce more acid and this can lead to heartburn.

People who regularly take medicine for indigestion - such as antacids, antihistamines or proton pump inhibitors -are advised to continue taking them. A good time to do this would be during sahur.

You can control heartburn and belching by eating in moderation as well as avoiding oily, deep-fried or very spicy food. It will also help if you stop smoking.

Sleeping with your head raised on a few pillows and using peppermint oil may help reduce belching or abdominal discomfort. Long-term weight loss may also help prevent heartburn.

DIABETES: It is not advisable to fast if you regularly inject insulin as the potential risk to health - short and long term - of not taking insulin is too great. If you take pills to control diabetes, you should seek advice from your doctor before fasting.

Regular self-monitoring of blood glucose is strongly advised. Low blood sugar levels ('hypo') are dangerous and, if untreated, may lead to fainting or fits.

Feeling dizzy, sweaty and disoriented are symptoms and if a diabetic shows such signs, he should immediately have a sugary drink, or place sugar or a sugar-rich sweet under the tongue.

HEADACHE: This common problem has many causes. Headaches when fasting may be due to dehydration or hunger, poor rest, or the absence of addictive substances such as caffeine or nicotine.

Eating a moderate, balanced diet, not skipping sahur, drinking enough fluids and, if necessary, taking a painkiller such as paracetamol, can help prevent or reduce the risk of headache.

Headaches can also be prevented by not exposing yourself to direct sunlight, by wearing a hat outdoors, using sunglasses to reduce the effects of glare and giving tense muscles a short, gentle massage.

DEHYDRATION: Dehydration is common when fasting. The body loses water and salts through breathing, perspiring and urinating.

If you don't drink enough before a fast, your risk of dehydration is increased. This risk is higher in older people and in those taking medications such as diuretics.

If you are unable to stand up due to dizziness or you are disoriented, you should immediately drink moderate quantities of water - ideally with sugar and salt.

If someone faints from dehydration, raise the person's legs above the head and when the person wakes, offer a drink immediately.

CONSTIPATION: Being active, drinking regularly and eating healthily will help to keep your bowels regular when fasting. Include plenty of fruit and vegetables in your diet and increase the fibre content of your food using bran. If the problem persists, a short course of laxatives may help.

STRESS: Lack of food and water, changes in routine and shorter periods of sleep can cause stress. To prevent stress, it is important to deal with the sources such as managing anger, not taking on more than you can handle, not exercising in the hot sun and not smoking.

WEIGHT CONTROL: Food consumed during sahur and iftar may lead to some weight gain. But if you approach fasting with discipline, it can be an opportunity to lose weight and become healthier. Source :

By Kasmiah Mustapha

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