How to eat healthily during the holy month

Ramadan is an ideal time to detoxify the body and lose weight, say nutritionists

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Whether fasting or not, Ramadan is an ideal time to detoxify the body and lose weight, say nutritionists. "Many people think they will gain weight during Ramadan as their metabolic rate will slow down. But if you counteract that with the correct foods then you can actually give your system a boost," said Ahlaam Ali of Power Eat nutritionists in Dubai. "Fasting has many health benefits as it rests your digestive system and cleanses your body of all toxins. Even if you are not required to fast for religious reasons, I would recommend it." The right combination of food and fasting during Ramadan, Ms Ali said, can leave you up to six kilograms lighter. The best way to start a day of fasting is with a breakfast, or suhoor, of complex carbohydrates and foods with a low glycaemic index, such as whole oats, which digest more slowly. "Whether you are eating before or after sunrise, it is still a good idea to eat something that will keep you going and keep hunger pangs at bay. Porridge is good as it releases energy slowly. Whole wheat pasta or brown rice are also good, if you can stomach them in the morning." Fruits such as banana and strawberries are beneficial as they supply vitamins and minerals. The religious fast starts before sunrise and ends each night with maghrib, or sunset prayers. At iftar, or the breaking of the fast, the body is ready for a health boost that can have long-lasting benefits, Ms Ali said. "At iftar, your system will be completely empty, so anything you eat will be fully absorbed. Therefore, it is really important not to stuff yourself with fried fatty foods or anything processed as this will lead to rapid weight gain. Nutritionally, the best foods to eat are lots of fruit and vegetables and to avoid carbohydrates." Ms Ali recommends breaking the fast with a few dates and vegetable soup since eating something hot satisfies hunger and soothes the digestive system. "A cold meal at iftar will make you more hungry and you will end up overeating. Keep the iftar meal small and warm and have a bigger meal later on," she said, suggesting that people avoid foods with a high glycaemic index such as breads, potatoes or rice. An evening meal of fish or chicken with salad and vegetables is the best way to keep yourself healthy and to lose weight, she said. Anjali Dange, a dietician at the Welcare Hospital Dubai, said people should maintain a simple diet and take care not to binge. "Binge eating is a fairly common habit during Ramadan, especially as the day is often spent feeling both hungry and thirsty. Therefore, at iftar it is important to eat low energy releasing foods, which contain less fat than traditional fried dishes or snacks like samosas, kibbe or French fries. Choosing snacks wisely, especially for breaking the fast, can help prevent further impulsive eating." Ramadan is an ideal time to shed kilos, Mrs Dange said. Both nutritionists stressed the importance of drinking plenty of water in the morning and evening to prevent dehydration. The Health Authority Abu Dhabi (Haad) has also issued guidelines to help prevent any heat-related illness as a result of fasting during Ramadan, and recommends starting the day with water and fruits and vegetables, and drinking plenty of water or unsweetened juice at suhoor. Haad advises limiting salt and sugar intake as both contribute to dehydration. Among the snacks it suggests avoiding at suhoor and iftar are crackers, chips, pretzels, sweets, cookies, pies, fizzy drinks and sweetened juices.