Staying well this Ramadan
“The fasts of Ramadan can improve a person’s health but - if the correct diet is not followed - can possibly worsen it! The deciding factor is not the fast itself, but rather what is consumed in the non-fasting hours.” NHS Ramadan Health Guide: a guide to healthy fasting.
The food during Ramadan should not be too different from what one eats as normal everyday diet. It should be nutritious and must contain foods from all the main food groups. Slight modifications to normal everyday diet can help a person stay healthy and active during fasting, consuming less amount of food than normal.
The health benefits of fasting are more likely to be lost if the non-fasting hours of Ramadan are spent on consuming large amounts of food, especially unhealthy choices.
Haaru, the pre-dawn meal, should be a well-balanced moderate size meal that should be filling and be able to provide slow releasing energy for several hours. For this reason, food items containing complex carbohydrates such as basmati rice, wholemeal flour, wheat and oats are good for Haaru. Food rich on fiber such as bran, cereals, grains, seeds, potatoes with skin, green beans, apricots and figs are also good choices.
Roadha-veellun, the meal that breaks the days fast, should include foods that can provide quick energy and contribute to hydration. Include dates, fruits and nutritious non-sugar-laden fruit juices in this meal. It is important to ensure Roadha-veellun is a meal and not a feast.
Foods to avoid and healthy alternatives:
- Deep fried foods such as Bajiya, Gulha, Kawaabu, etc. are best avoided. Alternative cooking methods like baking can make the same food healthier
- Food containing high sugar and high fat content, like Gulab Jamun, Zileybi, Dhonkeyo Kajuru, Huni-Hakuru, Balaksham are best avoided. Milk and dairy based sweets and puddings are a healthier alternative.
- Oily and fatty foods such as Faratas, fried chicken and oily pastries are best avoided. Roshi made without oil, baked or grilled chicken and meat are healthier choices.
- Drinks rich in caffeine, such as coffee, energy drinks are best avoided. Caffeine causes diuresis (increased formation of urine) leading to faster loss of water from body. Caffeine also increases gastric acidity and incidence of heartburn.
Common Health Concerns during Ramadan
Heartburn and Indigestion
During the first few days of fasting, this is a common problem. The body is used to making acidic gastric juices responsible for digestion of food at meal times. As a habit, the stomach may produce some gastric juices at the previously habitual time of meals. In the absence of food, the excess acid may lead to discomfort and pain in some individuals.
Those people on regular medications for Gastritis and Peptic Ulcer Disease must continue taking those medicines. As most of these medicines are taken once or twice a day, the timing of those doses can be adjusted to coincide with Pre-dawn Haaru and Roadha-veellun break-fast.
Other measures such as avoiding oily, deep fried or spicy food and caffeine containing drinks can reduce symptoms of heartburn.
People with diabetes have special risks associated with fasting. It is very important to discuss these risks with a doctor to see if fasting can be safely practiced for those with diabetes.
Those people with diabetes who are on oral medications may be able to safely fast. The timing and dosage of medicines may need to be changed. The content and timing of Haaru and Roadha-veellun will need to be individualized as well.
Commonly those individuals on Insulin therapy, especially those on multiple daily doses of Insulin, should avoid fasting as they are very likely to have severe hypoglycemia (low sugar) that can have catastrophic consequences. Only those on very specific insulin regimes who have very good sugar control should, if at all, consider fasting. Then too, it is better to discuss with their doctor before making the decision. It is important to practice sugar monitoring during fasting. Those at risk of hypoglycemia should be aware of emergency homecare of symptoms and signs of hypoglycemia.
This is a common problem. Dehydration and inadequate sleep and rest are common causes. Staying well hydrated, not missing out of Haaru is important in preventing headache.
Thos people with severe migraine headache should avoid triggers with lifestyle changes and medications if required, in preparation for fasting.
This is also a common problem in Ramadan. The degree and severity of dehydration depends on how much fluid was consumed before starting the fast, weather condition and degree of physical exertion during the fast. The risk is higher in the very young, the elderly, those with kidney diseases and those individuals on medications that cause increase urine production (diuretics).
Signs and symptoms of dehydration include tiredness, muscle cramps, dizziness, disorientation and fainting. It is extremely important to treat these symptoms if they appear. Treatment is ideally with plain coconut water, ORS, Hydralyte and other electrolyte solutions.
Consuming adequate volume of such fluids and plain water during the non-fasting hours of the night can prevent dehydration.