With the month of Ramadan upon us it is useful to look at ways of trying to maintain a healthy diet whilst fasting. Fasting for 12 to 24 hours or more can lead to dizziness and fatigue and a lowering of metabolic rate as a means of conserving calories or energy. Here are some simple guidelines to make sure that your diet remains balanced and healthy during this fasting period:
Don't skip breakfast (Sahur)
Even though sleep may seem far more appealing than waking up to force down some food, don't skip breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Research has shown that breakfast provides the essential energy and nutrients needed for concentration, while keeping hunger symptoms like headaches, fatigue, drowsiness and restlessness at bay. In addition, it speeds our metabolic rates. It is therefore vital to ensure an adequate intake at breakfast time.
Eat a wide variety of foods
When your daily intake is limited to two meals per day, you need to put extra effort into including foods from all the food groups. Our bodies need at least 40 different nutrients daily, to ensure that we grow properly and maintain good health. Although most foods contain more than one nutrient, no single food provides all the necessary nutrients. Moreover, foods have benefits that can't be replicated by a pill. So it is important to eat a wide variety of foods every day, to ensure that we get all of these nutrients. Select foods each day from each of the five food groups:
· Breads, cereals and other grain products
· Fruit and vegetables
· Meat, fish and poultry
· Milk, cheese and yoghurt
· Fats and sugars (these are low in nutrients & high in calories, so limit intake!)
Eat low glycaemic (GI) foods at breakfast to help control blood sugar levels
Carbohydrates are classified according to their glucose response or glyceamic index (GI). The GI measures how fast the carbohydrate of a particular food is converted to glucose and enters the bloodstream. The lower the GI, the slower the food is converted to sugar and the longer it satisfies your hunger. Selecting low GI foods helps maintain normal blood sugar, minimises hunger pangs & satisfies appetite without providing excess calories. Also, by controlling blood sugar levels, you prevent excessive eating binges as a result of low blood sugar levels. Remember to include low GI foods at each meal, and to avoid eating high GI foods on their own, but rather to mix them with low GI foods, which will give an intermediate GI overall.
Be aware of your cooking methods
By making small changes in your cooking habits, you can create great-tasting foods that are also healthy for you. Many of those treasured family-favourite recipes have a very high fat content for today's health-conscious living. Don't give up on your favourites – just convert them! Here's how:
· Always trim off excess fat from before cooking, or use venison, chicken and soya as lower fat options. Remove poultry skin & choose light meat (eg. breast).
· Cut down on fat intake during cooking:
- cook onions in a little water or vegetable stock rather than oil or butter
- use non-stick frying pans & non-stick sprays rather than oil or margarine
- bake, grill or roast foods rather than frying
- cook roasted meat or poultry on a wire rack so that the fat can drip off
- Steam or boil vegetables
- when preparing rice, noodles & other grains, season with herbs, spices & broths rather than added fat
- prepare soups, gravies & sauces in advance, so that they can be refrigerated, allowing you to remove the layer of fat that forms on top.
- Use herbs and spices to add flavour & zest to low-fat cooking. Basil, bay leaf, oregano, & rosemary add distinctive flavours & colours to meat & vegetables. Spices, like cinnamon, ginger & nutmeg enhance the sweet taste of foods, & seasoning blends, such as chilli powder, curry powder provide a complex array of flavours
· Avoid taking in too much salt- Use garlic, dry mustard, pepper, onions, mushrooms & tomatoes to add flavour to meat and vegetables
- Add sliced lemon or lemon juice to white meats & fish
· Make healthy changes to recipes
Cut the fat in half - if a recipe requires cream or whole milk, use evaporated or fresh skim milk. If a recipe requires a whole egg, use two egg whites, etc.
Eat enough carbohydrate foods - especially those rich in fibre
These foods provide the body with energy. They are rich in B vitamins, and are an excellent source of fibre. Hi-fibre foods also fill you up more than low-fibre counterparts. Foods high in fibre include brown rice, wholegrains, fresh fruit and raw veggies.
Remember your fruits and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables add colour and variety to the menu. They are "protective" foods as they help the body fight off sickness and disease. They are also rich sources of a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, and are low in calories.
Drink sufficient fluid
Always include water in your diet, and cut down on caffeine-containing beverages. Caffeine is a diuretic and will not provide adequate hydration.
We all know that maintaining a balanced diet by eating healthily has a vital influence on your well being. Try following the above principles so that this fast period does not sway too much from the principles of good nutrition.
This article provides useful advice on how to avoid some common problems encountered in Ramadhan. The advice should enable one to fast comfortably and enjoy fully the spiritual benefits of Ramadhan.
During Ramadhan, our diet should not differ greatly from normal and should be as simple as possible. We should be able to maintain our normal weight, neither losing nor gaining. However, if one is over-weight, Ramadhan is an ideal time to lose weight.
We should aim to consume slow digesting foods including fiber-containing foods. Slow-digesting foods last up to 8 hours, while fast-digesting foods last only 3 to 4 hours.
Slow-digesting foods are foods that contain grains and seeds like barley, wheat, oats, semolina, beans, lentils, whole meal flour, etc. (complex carbohydrates).
Fast-burning foods are foods that contain sugar, white flour, etc. (refined carbohydrates).
Fibre-containing foods are bran-containing foods, whole wheat, grains, seeds, vegetables like green beans, peas, sem (papry), marrow, mealies, spinach, methie, fruit with skin, dried fruit especially dried apricots, figs and prunes, almonds, etc.
Meals should be well-balanced, containing foods from each food group, i.e. fruits, vegetables, meat/chicken/fish, bread/cereals and dairy products. Fried foods should be limited. They cause indigestion, heart-burn, and weight problems.
Fried and fatty foods.
Foods containing too much sugar.
Over-eating especially at sehri.
Too much tea at sehri. Tea makes you pass more urine taking with it valuable mineral salts that your body would need during the day.
Smoking cigarettes. If you cannot give up, cut down gradually starting a few weeks before Ramadhan.
Complex carbohydrates at sehri so that the food lasts longer.
Haleem is an excellent source of protein and is a slow-burning food.
Dates are excellent source of sugar, fibre, carbohydrates, potassium & magnesium.
Almonds are rich in protein and fibre with less fat.
Bananas are a good source of potassium, magnesium and carbohydrates.
As much water or fruit juices as possible between iftar and bedtime so that your body may adjust fluid levels in time.
Problems to Avoid
CONSTIPATION - Constipation can cause piles (haemorroids), fissures (cracks in anal canal) and indigestion, with a bloated feeling.
Causes: Too much refined foods, too little water and not enough fibre in the diet.
Remedy: Avoid refined foods, increase water intake, use bran in baking, brown flour when making roti.
INDIGESTION AND WIND
Causes: Over-eating. Excessive fried and fatty foods, spicy foods, and foods that produce wind e.g. eggs, cabbage, lentils, fizzy drinks like Cola also produce gas.
Remedy: Do not over-eat, drink fruit juices or water. Avoid fried foods, add ajmor to wind-producing foods.
LETHARGY ('low blood pressure')
Excessive sweating, weakness, tiredness, lack of energy, dizziness, especially on getting up from sitting, paleness and feeling faint are symptoms associated with "low blood pressure". This tends to occur towards the afternoon.
Causes: Too little fluid intake, decreased salt intake.
Remedy: Keep cool, increase fluid and salt intake.
Caution: Low blood pressure should be confirmed by taking a blood pressure reading when symptoms are present. Persons with high blood pressure may need their medication adjusted during Ramadhan. They should consult their doctor.
Causes: Caffeine and tobacco-withdrawal, too much exercise, lack of sleep, hunger usually occur during the day and worsen towards the evening. When associated with "low blood pressure", the headache can be quite severe and can also cause nausea before Iftar.
Remedy: Cut down caffeine and tobacco slowly starting a week or two before Ramadhan. Herbal and caffeine-free teas may be substituted. Reorganise your schedule during the Ramadan so as to have adequate sleep.
LOW BLOOD SUGAR
Weakness, dizziness, tiredness, poor concentration, perspiring easily, feeling shaky (tremor), headache, and palpitations are symptoms of low blood sugar.
Causes in non-diabetics: Excessive sugar consumption i.e. refined carbohydrates especially at suhur (sehri). The body produces too much insulin causing the blood glucose to drop.
Remedy: Eat something at sehri, and limit sugar-containing foods and drinks.
Caution: Diabetics may need to adjust their medication in Ramadan, consult your doctor.
Causes: Inadequate intake of calcium, magnesium and potassium foods.
Remedy: Eat foods rich in these minerals e.g. vegetables, fruit, dairy products, meat and dates.
Caution: Those on high blood pressure medication and with kidney stone problems should consult their doctor.
PEPTIC ULCERS, HEART BURN, AND GASTRITIS
Increased acid levels in an empty stomach aggravate the above conditions. It causes a burning feeling in the stomach area and can extend up to the throat. Spicy foods, coffee, and Cola drinks worsen these conditions.
Medications are available to control acid levels in the stomach. People with proven peptic ulcers and hiatus hernia should consult their doctor well before Ramadhan.
Kidney stones may occur in people who have less liquids to drink. Therefore, it is essential to drink extra liquids so as to prevent stone formation.
Causes: Extra solat during Ramadhan increases pressure on the knee joints. In the elderly and those with arthritis this may cause pain, stiffness, swelling and discomfort.
Remedy: Lose weight so that the knees do not have to carry any extra load. Exercise the lower limbs before Ramadhan so that they can be prepared for the additional strain. Being physically fit allows greater fulfilment, thus enabling one to be able to perform solat with ease.
Source: Dr. Farouk Haffejee
Islamic Medical Association of South Africa - Durban