ABU DHABI // Muslims are being urged to pay special attention to their health when fasting during Ramadan.
The holy month will begin on July 10 and health officials are offering advice to those who will not eat or drink during the hours of summer sunlight.
“Fasting in Ramadan, especially during long and hot summer days might be difficult, but there are tips to follow to ensure good health and avoid health problems,” said Dr Wafa Ayesh, director of clinical nutrition at Dubai Health Authority.
“Due to the long hours of fasting, consume slow-digesting foods including fibre-containing foods, which last up to eight hours, rather than fast-digesting foods, which last only three to four hours.
“Avoid anything hot, spicy or salty. Too much salty food will make your body retain water and give you the feeling of being bloated, while spicy foods also induce thirst.”
Slow-digesting foods recommended by Dr Ayesh include bran, wholewheat grains and seeds, vegetables such as green beans, peas and spinach, and dried fruit, especially dried apricots and almonds.
Sweet, sugary foods should be limited to avoid indigestion, heartburn and weight problems, she said.
Instead, meals should contain major food groups such as bread, cereals, dairy products, fish, meat, poultry, grains, vegetables and fruits.
Drinks with a high caffeine content should be avoided because caffeine leaches calcium from your system, which means you feel less full, Dr Ayesh said. Instead, aim for eight glasses of water by bedtime.
Caffeine withdrawal during Ramadan is a common cause of headaches, she said, and your intake should be reduced gradually in the fortnight before.
Dr Anita Das Gupta, a clinical dietician at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, said more people visited the hospital suffering from headaches and upset stomachs during Ramadan.
“These are very common. Initially, of course, when the system changes you end up with headaches but you get slowly used to it.”
Dr Das Gupta advises people to make sure they are hydrated and eat breakfast before sunrise to avoid headaches.
Too much fried food should also be avoided.
“If after the long fast they have fried items they can have acidity resulting in heartburn, so it’s better that they don’t have too much fried items, especially after fasting,” she said.
Fasting is a good opportunity for people who want to lose weight, Dr Das Gupta said, and also for families to learn the importance of healthy eating together.
“Since the family sits together to eat, this is traditional for them, healthy eating can be taught to the family at one time,” she said.
“If the wife is the one who cooks the food, if she cooks it properly, everyone sits and knows about what is healthy.
Dr Ayesh said people should avoid the temptation to overeat at iftar.
“Follow the Sunnah: break your fast with dates after the maghrib prayer, continue with a light starter such as soup,” she said.
“During the early evening have a healthy and balanced dinner.
“Do not overeat and be sure to drink a few more glasses of fluids.
“As family gatherings increase during Ramadan, people tend to eat more sweets. Serve yourself, your family and guests a dessert of fresh fruits and nuts – they are healthier than chocolates and candy.”
Those fasting should also engage in light exercise, such as walking for 30 minutes in the evening, Dr Ayesh said.
Rashi Chowdhary, a Dubai-based nutritionist, said there were five important rules to ensure healthy fasting.
These are eating a breakfast at suhoor to keep metabolism rates high; drinking plenty of water to keep hydrated; eating protein-rich meals to prevent the loss of lean muscle; eating one carbohydrate at iftar, such as rice, to avoid weight gain; and adding one portion of a natural laxative, such as a handful of prunes, to overcome the digestive problems that occur as a result of the drastic changes in your meal times.
Pregnant women or those who suffer from kidney disease should consult their doctor before fasting, Dr Ayesh advised.
Those with illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease may also need to adjust their medications if they are fasting.