THE holy month of Ramadan is the time for Muslims to practise restraint both physically and spiritually.
From a food aspect, this is the month Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset.
Fasting for a whole month can be a challenge as you may experience certain dietary discomforts due to the change in eating routine. All these discomforts can be minimised with some preplanning and forethought. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
DON’T SKIP SAHUR
Sahur or the pre-dawn meal is not one to be missed. Unfortunately, some find it difficult to get up for their sahur. They would rather have a heavy meal before bedtime and sleep through to the morning. After a night of sleep, your body needs to replenish its nutrient stores so you can last throughout your fast with minimal digestive discomfort. Starting your fast without your sahur meal can cause you to feel sluggish during the day and make it difficult to sustain.
Throughout the fasting month, keep yourself hydrated by drinking the recommended two litres or eight glasses of water a day. Drink at least two to three glasses of water before the start of your fast to help you stay hydrated during the day. Dehydration is the leading cause of common fasting discomforts such as constipation, lethargy and headaches. Also, once you break fast, be sure to sip on water regularly between iftar and your bedtime. Having foods with a high water content such as soups, fruit and vegetables also add to your total fluid intake for the day as well.
Be aware that drinks containing caffeine such as coffee, tea and carbonated sodas draw water out of your body due to their diuretic effect. So during Ramadan, better drink choices would be water, fresh fruit juices, young coconut water or milk. These types of drinks will not only hydrate you but also give your body the extra nutrients it needs during fasting to combat dehydration.
MODERATION AND VARIETY
Ensure that your meals during Ramadan are a variety of fresh foods such as grains, lean protein, vegetables, fruit and dairy to ensure you get all the important nutrients for good health. Limit processed foods that are high in excess fat, sugar and salt.
Home-cooked meals are always the better choice as you can control the ingredients plus the amount of oil, salt and sugar you use to make the meal healthier. One time- saving tip is to cook extra and keep in the fridge for another meal. One-dish meals such as home-cooked fried rice, oat porridge with fruit and nuts or noodle soup with lean meat, or eggs and an assortment of vegetables are simple meals that everyone in the family will enjoy.
BREAK YOUR FAST GENTLY
When it’s time to berbuka or breaking of fast, avoid filling up on greasy foods in the form of cakes and deep-fried savouries snacks.
Go for dates, fruit or nuts to satisfy your hunger. If you often get caught in the rush hour traffic, consider keeping these preferred choices handy in small containers in your handbag or backpack so you don’t have to delay your breaking of fast. This will prevent you from getting overly famished at dinner after the prayers, where you risk overeating and causing indigestion.
CHOOSE HEALTHIER COOKING METHODS
Limit deep-fried foods and oily dishes during Ramadan as they can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, heartburn and indigestion. Go for dishes cooked with less oil such as grilled meats, braised dishes, soups and lots of vegetables. Instead of rich desserts, have fresh fruit instead. Eat slowly and chew your food well.
Never overbuy at Ramadan food bazaars even though you may want to try all the different variety of foods there. That temptation at that moment is also partly because you are hungry. However, be mindful of the amount you buy to avoid ending up overeating and having indigestion.
For diabetics, it’s advisable to start practising in the months of Rejab and Syaaban. Having these practice times of fasting allows you to recognise warning symptoms of dehydration, low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) and other potential complications.
Make adjustments to your food intake and medication regiment so that you can manage your fast safely. Seek the advise of your doctor and dietitian.
* Indra Balaratnam is a consultant dietitian who believes in simple practical ways to eating well and living healthy. She can be reached at email@example.com