How to stay healthy during Ramadan?
The word Ramadan is Arabic and can be translated into extreme heat or dryness. People observing Ramadan, the fasting month for Muslims around the world can stay healthy during this period, if they stick to some lifestyle habits.
At any given time, the body has to maintain all body functions. Under certain circumstances the metabolism has to adjust. The body needs time to cope and thus any abrupt change can affect one person more than the other. In regular times, our body digests the consumed food and receives energy from it. Excess energy can be stored in the tissue as fat. Physically more active people use more of this energy to build more muscle tissue rather than fat cells. Insulin is a hormone regulating food consumption, as it tells the brain if more food is required or not. When the body needs energy again, but does not receive food to digest, it will start breaking down glycogen, protein and fat from the human body. Glucagon is the counterpart to insulin and is responsible for raising the blood sugar level.
There are some easy ways to make the fasting period a more comfortable time. The following tips can help.
During the eating window, starting with the Iftar after sunset and ending with the Suhour before sunrise, it is important that not only the main meals are nutritious but also the foods in-between. The first meal after sunset is often served as a large meal, where quantity is often put more focus on than nutrient content. Taking it slow at the beginning is better for your body after several hours without food. Dates are fruits that help warm up your digestive system again. Also soups are a good starter as they are warm, rehydrating and contain vegetables. Salt may only be used in small amounts. Snacks should be light meals and contain fruits and vegetables such as watermelons as these have a high water content. Cakes and candies are commonly eaten snacks, however these only result in quick short-term energy and lack vitamins and minerals. Besides Suhour, the last meal before sunrise, also the other main meals can be kept healthy by adding some ingredients and leaving out others. Just as with the snacks, also in these meals a high sugar content and processed foods are no-goes. Fatty and deep-fried foods may add to a more intense flavor; however, they are often lacking nutrients. Therefore, use oil in moderation, and preferably from olives, coconuts or canola.
With all meals, hydration is key for maintaining all body functions. Water and pure fruit juices are the healthiest. Processed sugar is to be avoided in all drinks. Caffeinated drinks are diuretic and make you thirstier. Therefore, you will only lose more liquids and at the same time crave for more to drink.
Suhour is the meal that is eaten before dawn. It is very important as it is the last meal before the sun rises. It must be rich in energy and liquids to keep your body hydrated and with fuel for several hours until Iftar. This meal should contain complex carbohydrates such as lentils, grains and beans which slowly raise the blood sugar level and help keep it steady for longer. As a result, you will have less food cravings and your stomach will feel filled, but not too full during the day. Fibers are also supporting a feeling of satiety. These occur in cereals, grains and fruits and vegetables. Proteins available in eggs and dairy products are also a good source of energy.
Some people wish to use the time of Ramadan to lose weight. Fasting is often associated with weight-loss. However, the human body has mechanisms to prevent starvation. While the body is not receiving food to convert into energy, it burns molecules such as fat from the stomach. Once, you start eating again it will instantly refill the same area with body fat, resulting in maintenance of your weight. Even if you know now, that you will not lose weight, staying at least moderately physically active is just as crucial as a healthy diet. Preferably, do this a few hours after Iftar as your body is then energized. Remember to stay even more hydrated during exercise due to sweating.
Every person has a different body and reacts to fasting in a different way. Therefore, it is important to consult a doctor before doing it, especially for women, children, people with medical conditions and elderly people.
Written by: Benjamin Sydney Pretsch