The Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar during which Muslims fast by abstaining from all food and drink from dawn to sunset. The month lasts either 29 to 30 days. In 2016 Ramadan will be in the month of June which is usually a dry and humid month in Malaysia.
Since during fasting there will usually be only two main meals per day, which is during dawn and after sunset with maybe some snacks at night the main focus should be on hydration and having a nutrient rich diet.
Firstly maintaining hydration is important as dehydration can easily occur in a hot and humid country like Malaysia. From mild dehydration symptoms like headaches, tiredness and difficulty in concentrating to more severe ones like dizziness, disorientation and fainting can occur. The focus should be to at least have the recommended eight glasses of fluid a day which needs to be done between sunset and dawn.
The ideal choice is still water but soups and water rich fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, watermelons and oranges also count. Avoid too much of soda and fruit juices as they contain too much of sugar and will stimulate your insulin levels especially during dawn has this will induce hypoglycaemia later and increase hunger pangs. Also tea and coffee can act as diuretics and can make you lose more water and increase dehydration. Also avoid salty foods as it can aggravate thirst.
The next important thing is nutrition. Most of us look at food from our senses, which are taste, smell and visual appearance. I always feel that we eat more for our ‘tongue’ than our health. The reason we eat is to supply the right nutrients to our cells so that the cells are healthy which will keep our tissues, organs and body healthy. The main nutrients are vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, essential amino acids, complex carbohydrates for energy and water.
However the main food that has crept into our Malaysian diet are refined carbohydrates which are the main cause of the rise of obesity and metabolic diseases. So even during the fasting month it is important that we reduce our refined carbohydrates and focus on the important nutrients.
When first breaking fast go for plenty of fluids, fruits, soups and broth and avoid high fat and added sugars. Dried fruits like dates, apricots, figs, raisins and prunes are a great way to break the fast as they provide natural sugars for energy, minerals, fiber and other nutrients. Fresh fruits provide natural sugars for energy, fluid and some vitamins and minerals. Traditional soups based on a meat broth and containing pulses like lentils and beans and starchy foods like pasta or grains also provides nutrients and energy.
After breaking the fast make sure the foods you eat have a balance of complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, dairy, legumes, nuts and meat, fish, chicken and eggs. Though it is natural to want to treat yourself try to keep the amount of fatty and sugary foods and drinks to a minimum.
In the morning before starting the fast, it is again important to avoid foods with high sugar and salt content as the sugar will spike your insulin and increase your hunger pangs and also the salt will increase thirst. Drink plenty of fluids, go for high fiber and protein based foods that will get digested slowly and keep you full longer. Examples of foods include oats, rye, millet made as a porridge with some nuts and berries. High fiber breakfast cereals with milk, yogurt, cheese and wholegrain breads are other examples. Eggs are another good source but avoid hard cheese and processed meats as this contain too much salt.
I recommend exercise like walking during Ramadan especially after breaking fast at night. If you are going to the mosque maybe can walk part or the whole way there. Walking helps in digestion and also helps in the weight.
Sleep is important and try to get at least 6 to 7 hours if possible as poor sleep acts like a stress and increases cortisol which can cause other issues.
In case you feel you are not able to eat all the required nutrients in the short period while you break fast supplementing with vitamins and minerals can be considered.