During the holy month of Ramadan most Muslims are required to abstain entirely from food and drink between sunrise and sunset. It can be challenging to obtain the proper nutrients during this time, and to avoid health risks.
Previous Health24 articles have shown that fasting can lead to headaches, dehydration, low blood sugar levels, dizziness and fatigue.
It is however possible to eat healthily during Ramadan and have enough energy to last you throughout the day.
A nutritious diet
“Ramadan is a great opportunity to break the chains of bad eating habits, but the majority of people are not reaping the full benefits of this month,” says Salaamah Solomon, a registered dietitian at Tygerberg Academic Hospital in Cape Town.
What we eat outside our fasting hours is crucial to our health.
“To fully benefit from fasting, a person should put a great deal of thought into the type and quantity of food they indulge in throughout this month [Ramadan],” Solomon said.
The diet should be a simple meal – not a feast – and should not differ substantially from your normal everyday diet.
“A diet that has less than the normal amount of food but is sufficiently balanced will keep you healthy and active for the duration of Ramadan,” said Solomon.
To maintain a balanced and nutritious diet, a person should consume food from all the major food groups, equally distributed between the two meal times.
The major food groups are:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Breads, cereals, and potatoes
- Meat, fish and chicken
- Dairy products such as milk and cheese
- Foods containing fat and sugar iStock
Suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) should encompass a wholesome meal that provides long-lasting energy throughout the day. Foods that provide long-lasting energy are complex carbohydrates and high-fibre foods.
Complex carbohydrates are foods that are rich in energy but release this energy slowly throughout the day. Examples include wholewheat, oats, beans, and rice.
Foods that are rich in fibre and are also digested slowly include fruits (raw and unpeeled) and vegetables.
Also don't forget the all-important fluids as they maintain water and salt levels in the body. Water and fluids with vitamins – like fresh fruit juices – should replace caffeinated drinks.
Caffeine – cold drinks, tea, and coffee – is a diuretic and promotes faster water loss through urination, which can lead to dehydration.
It is customary for Muslims to break their fast – Iftar (the post-dusk meal) – with dates and water. This helps restore sugar and salt levels in the body. It also rehydrates the body.
The benefits of dates are:
- Easy to digest
- Decrease the feeling of hunger, preventing one from overeating
- Prepare the stomach to receive food after many hours of fasting
- Rich in sugar and energy, restoring nutrients in the body
- Prevent constipation as a result of altered meal times
Foods to avoid
- Deep fried foods – fried samosas, fried chicken, fried spring rolls and fried potato chips
- High sugar and high fat foods – Indian sweetmeats like gulab jamun, jalebi, badam halwa and barfi
- High-fat cooked foods – oily curries and greasy pastries
- Baked samosas, baked spring rolls, oven baked potato chips
- "Dry frying" – using a non-stick pan or non-stick food sprays
- Grilled or baked meat, chicken, fish as a healthier alternative – while retaining the flavour and taste of the food
Balanced food and fluid intake is important between the fasting periods. In order to prevent muscle breakdown, meals must contain adequate levels of energy-rich foods, including carbohydrates and a portion of fat. Hence a balanced diet with ample quantities of nutrients, salts and water is vital.
“In the end, the focus shouldn’t be entirely on body weight, but rather on being mindful of how you fast and how you break your fast,” said Solomon.
“This can help to improve your overall health, and to maintain that behaviour – making it a lifestyle that can be continued even after the fast has passed.”
For a more detailed eating plan click here:
Heart-healthy tips for Ramadan
Use Ramadan to quit smoking
Safer fasting for diabetics during Ramadan