Ramadan is a blessed month of spiritual fulfillment. Each year during this blessed month, Muslims around the world unite and abstain from food, water, and smoking cigarette from sunrise until sunset. It is a time to truly put our differences aside and enjoy the spiritual cleansing that we are so easily blessed with.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan can be good for your health if it’s done correctly. Yet with all that said, for ordinary Muslims Ramadan may take a toll on the physical body. Certain habits and traditions have turned Ramadan into an excuse for being unhealthy. Fight the harmful habits. I would like to share some practical tips to keep you healthy and enjoying all of Ramadan.
When we eat throughout the day, our body takes much of the food and stores it as energy in our fat cells, muscle fibers and glycogen molecules. It does this through a chemical called insulin, the body’s main storage hormone. Insulin tells the body that it is full and thus will need to store some food as energy. When the body is not eating or has not had food in a while, it begins to break down and expend the stored energy. As the body’s main “un-packing” hormone, glucagon increases the amount of energy in the form of sugar in the blood. Our bodies are very clever; they know we are not eating as much as we normally do when we are not fasting, thus it breaks down the stored energy very slowly. Using up energy slowly in this way compensates for not eating throughout the day. The body then stores a whole lot of the food that we consume upon breaking our fast to be the energy supply the following day. This is why we generally do not lose too much weight in Ramadan, and in many instances, actually gain it.
Food eaten during the break in the fast is important to keep energy and hydration levels up during the fasting hours. Complex carbohydrates are foods that will help release energy slowly during the long hours of fasting. These are found in grains and seeds, like barley, wheat, oats, millets, semolina, beans, lentils, wholemeal flour and basmati rice. Fibre-rich foods are also digested slowly and include bran, cereals, whole wheat, grains and seeds, potatoes with the skin, vegetables such as green beans and almost all fruit, including apricots, prunes and figs.
Split your meals into two sessions. Start light by breaking your fast with dates, soup and salad. Soup is quick, easy and can be made far in advance. Soup is deep nourishment and is easily absorbed by the body. It is also a great way to meet your water needs. After you break your fast, have a wonderful soup for iftar. Later on you can choose from a variety including protein, falafel, hummus, cooked vegetables, grains, and fruit. If you’re really good, you can have an occasional dessert.
Foods to avoid are the heavily-processed, fast-burning foods that contain refined carbohydrates in the form of sugar, white flour, etc., as well as, of course, too much fatty food, such as cakes, biscuits, chocolates and sweets.Sweets also make you need more water. It may also be worth avoiding the caffeine content in drinks such as tea, coffee and cola – Caffeine is a diuretic and stimulates faster water loss through urination.
Replace sugar with fruit, when possible. Sugar robs our bodies of minerals and vitamins. During a fasting period we want to hold on to as much of our minerals and vitamins as we can. Also, remember that white rice and white bread act the same way in our bodies as sugar.
Many fasters decide to skip suhoor, the late-night meal before dawn. However this is not recommended. Having suhoor will provide you with the energy that you’ll need for a good portion of the following day. The later you have suhoor, the less time your body will have to go on without fuel. Be sure to consume plenty of water and try to include wheat bran contents in your suhoor meal. Also try to have some protein, such as eggs or cheese, and healthy fats such as sesame paste or avocado. Seal it with a glass of milk or yoghurt.
Proper hydration is essential. Just because we are fasting does not mean that our regular bodily functions stop requiring water. Headaches, fatigue, fuzzy thinking, irritability and illness are often caused by inadequate hydration. Our bodies are mostly made of water. We need half our body weight each day just to maintain normal bodily function. Carbonated drinks and certain juices, among other liquids may not be the best option after fasting all day, as they may interfere with digestion. Water is always the best solution but always make sure that it’s close to room temperature and drink it at a moderate speed.
Unfortunately our food is no longer as nutritious as it once was. Poor soil, lack of crop diversity, improper storage and cooking methods are all reasons for this. So when we fast, we are taking in even less of what our bodies needcompared to past generations. The top nutrients to look at are vitamin C, the B-complex vitamins, zinc, selenium, vitamins E and A. Vitamins C, A, E, selenium and zinc are known as anti-oxidants. They help our bodies repair themselves, remove waste and keep us looking young. They are abundant in fresh fruits and vegetables. The B-complex vitamins help our bodies deal with stress, amongst other things. Even though there is much blessing in fasting, it is still considered a stress on the body.
Most smokers reach for a cigarette after breaking their fast. Some do so within a few minutes of eating or drinking. Smoking is bad for your health. Ramadan is a great opportunity to change unhealthy habits, including smoking.
Most people see the blessed month of Ramadan as a time when they will lose strength and muscle mass; some think they can only “maintain” themselves during this month, while many women actually gain weight! If your goal is to maintain your weight, improve your blood circulation, or relieve stress and tension, then it’s best to exercise after iftar by three or four hours and to keep your work out light to medium. On the other hand if your goal is to lose weight or to reduce your cholesterol levels, it’s best to exercise before iftar by an hour or two. Make your workout rigorous in order to burn the unwanted fat.