Ditch pastries and pizzas to give body a health boost

Health experts are encouraging people to concentrate on healthy food and avoid pastries and greasy meals during Ramadan.

DUBAI // Health experts are encouraging people to concentrate on healthy food and avoid pastries and greasy meals during Ramadan. The holy month is about purifying the mind, body and soul. However, people often exaggerate their food intake during the iftar meal, which breaks a fast that lasts as long as 14 hours. The body's metabolism is slowest at sunset, when iftar occurs. Food should not be consumed in large quantities upon breaking the fast as it may lead to nausea and indigestion, nutritionists said.

Light refreshment should be taken after the call to prayer and then people should move on to the main course as iftar starts. "I advise people to break their fast with juice, water or dates and then the best thing to do is pray," said Dr Jane Darakijan, a nutritionist at Dubai's Manchester Clinic. "After 10 minutes have passed, the person can start the main dish, which should be something warm such as a vegetable or lentil soup, and then move on to eating solids. The main dish itself has to be divided into two parts, because when the stomach is completely empty it releases different types of enzymes such as HCL [hydrochloric acid] and pepsin, which are both highly acidic. To stop the acidity, food should be consumed slowly."

Mohammed Ahmed, a 20-year-old Emirati, is aware of such side effects when it comes to overindulging at an iftar meal and watches how much he eats. "I personally feel that overeating will have consequences like weight gain," he said. "I have my iftar with a small portion of food and I have small snacks afterwards to keep [calories] balanced." The minimum calorie intake during eating hours should be 1,400 calories to 1,600 calories divided into four meals - two dishes at iftar, a snack and the sahoor meal before the day's fast begins, Dr Darakijan said.

Certain foods should be given a wide berth during the month because they have undesirable side effects and could lead to weight gain and dehydration. "People should avoid foods with preservatives, canned foods, simple sugars and all the pastries, like manakesh and pizza, because such foods need a lot of time to digest," she said. "The [excess calories] from the food will convert to fat." Despite the importance of eating healthy foods during Ramadan to detoxify the body, fasting influences the individual positively on other levels.

"There are a lot of benefits that come with fasting, such as spiritual, psychological and social," said Sayed Abdeul Qader, an Islamic scholar in Dubai. "The Muslim while fasting is performing his Islamic duties and abstaining from food enhances his willpower the more he resists. "While fasting, the person feels what poor people feel who do not have food to eat, therefore he could give the less fortunate money."