An open letter from Farah, a WSLHD dietitian, sharing advice to stay healthy during Ramadan

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Farah Kalakech is a dietitian at Auburn Hospital. She has penned the below letter to be published on the Pulse to share her advice for anyone fasting during Ramadan.

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Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar for millions of Muslims around the world. The Muslims practising the fast abstain from eating, drinking, and smoking from pre-dawn till sunset each day over around 30 days.

Social interactions and physical states change during Ramadan, which might affect people’s mental health especially during long summer days and working hours. Social gatherings and visits are primarily centred on the meal that breaks the fast (Iftar), which is a rich and festive meal, served with various delicious foods. The following are some tips that can help you adjust to the daily fast if you are observing Ramadan this month.

It is challenging to have a relatively short time each day to provide your body with all the essential nutrients and fluids it needs to ensure healthy fasting, so the quality of your diet is especially important during Ramadan. Quality nutrition during Ramadan focuses on having a balanced diet and getting enough hydration.

Start your Iftar (post sunset meal) with a date and a cup of milk (or milk alternatives) or a bowl of healthy soup to quench your thirst. You will then want to pace yourself and go for prayers before jumping into eating your main meal.

You may use “My plate model” as a great visual to help you balance your macronutrients. Your main meal plate should be composed of three main components:  quarter plate of lean protein (fish, skinless chicken and lean read meat), quarter plate of complex carbohydrates (whole grains, breads or rice) with half a plate of vegetables (salad or stew).

Given a lot of cultural foods are fried, moderation and mindful eating are the key to feel satisfied and energetic. During Ramadan, some people overeat and may not undertake physical activity, and consequently, may gain weight during the month.

After a long fast it’s natural to want to treat yourself but try to limit fried and processed foods high in fat and/or sugar. Grilling, baking or barbecuing fresh meat and veggies are great cooking alternatives.

Remember not all you crave is good for you so try these healthy swaps to satisfy your cravings!

Because most of Ramadan sweets (Gulap jamun, katayef, kunafa, etc.) are covered with sugar syrup, eat fluid rich fruits for desserts. Choose a variety of high potassium and high fibre fruits like watermelon, cantaloupes, bananas and oranges that are also rich in vitamins, minerals and water. It is best to eat sweet treats in moderation.

Avoid adding too much salt to your meals and stay away from overly spicy and salty foods like pickles, fast foods, chips and pastries that are known to increase thirst during the fast.

Suhour (pre-dawn meal) is a blessing that keeps you going to Iftar next day. Aim to delay it as much as you can before dawn and make sure it is a balanced light meal. Focus on having protein and healthy fat as major sources of energy because they are slower to digest and give you sustained energy throughout the day.

Examples of this would be oatmeal made with milk and topped with dried fruit and nuts, boiled egg or cheese and avocado on a multigrain toast, greek yoghurt with a piece of fruit and seeds.

Our body cannot avoid losing some water through urination, sweat and breathing, which may lead to mild dehydration, some headaches, tiredness and difficulty concentrating. So, make sure to drink water frequently throughout the night, because unlike camels we cannot fill up with water only at Suhour. Aim for 8-10 cups of fluid per day. Replace sweetened drinks and soft drinks that may increase your caloric intake and thirst, with less sugary ones: low fat dairy, coconut water, lemon mint drink, hibiscus or herbal tea, and no more than 1 cup of fresh unsweetened juice.

Choose fluids that don’t contain caffeine, because caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea, cola can lead to dehydration. Otherwise, if you feel coffee is an essential part of your diet, you may choose to have it at Suhoor meal.

Though fasting can be physically exhausting, find what works for you to stay active. You may consider walking after main Iftar to help with digestion. If feeling low energy levels during fasting, ease into it with a mild intensity exercise, a walk or some gentle stretches.

Ramadan is a month of self-discipline, gratefulness, mindfulness and a good opportunity to adopt healthier lifestyle habits and worship.

According to the World Health Organisation, fasting has several bonuses, including improved insulin sensitivity, cardiometabolic benefits and weight loss.

It is best to consult with your doctor or your accredited practicing dietitian if you have any medical conditions including pregnancy, breast-feeding, or diabetes or another illness.  Discuss with your GP to see if there are ways that medications and their timing can be adjusted too.

Ramadan Mubarak (Blessed Ramadan)!