During Ramadan, it is common for nutrition to go slightly out of the window due to eating larger meals less frequently.
However it is important to remember that in times like these, we need to nurture our bodies with essential nutrients during the time we have from sunset to dawn. Evidence suggests that the health benefits of fasting include strengthening the digestive system and improving its efficiency, helping adjust fat and sugar levels in the blood, decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol, and improving heart health. So it is important to acknowledge and stop any unhealthy eating habits that could counter these benefits.
Choose whole grains, such as whole wheat, oats, and beans, which provide the body with complex carbohydrates and fibre that eventually provide us enough energy to last us through those fasting hours.
As for lean meats, prepare them grilled or baked. The main health benefit here is protein. While baking tends to give the meat a more delicate texture and taste, grilling produces a bolder flavour and allows fat to drip off the meat, reducing the meat’s overall calorie count. However, baking can be just as healthy as long as you don’t add oil, butter and other fats. Avoid fried foods at all costs.
It’s normal to want to reward yourself after a long fast, but try to limit your intake of fatty and sugary foods — especially sugary beverages. Remember that you only have a limited amount of time per day to eat and drink in order to provide your body with all of the necessary nutrients and fluids it requires, which is why the quality of your diet during Ramadan is particularly critical to feeling good.
As for exercise, it is understandable that we have less energy during the day and consequently going to the gym or keeping up with workouts can be difficult. But 80 percent of our health is diet and 20 percent is exercise, so to achieve 100 percent health, even 30 minutes of exercise a day can make a great difference as per several studies. To maximize those 30 minutes, workouts should consist of both resistance training and cardiovascular training.
To avoid weight changes during Ramadan, it is advised to watch portion sizes when breaking your fast. When you fast for a long period of the day, your stomach can become smaller and therefore hold less food. When we shock our bodies with large amounts of food during iftar, it would simply go back to its original size — or even larger — and we will have missed one of the month’s main advantages, which is reducing portion sizes.
Don’t skip suhoor, either. A balanced suhoor will leave you feeling energized and limit feelings of hunger and thirst during the following day. Chew thoroughly and slowly, because your brain needs time to process that you’ve finally had something to eat, and to realize that you’ve had enough to eat. Use smaller plates for dessert or other “unhealthy foods”, as it may help you eat less by making portions look larger.
Lastly, we cannot stress enough to focus on drinking water. Fluids have an important role to play in maintaining our body temperature, preventing infection, delivering nutrients to the cells and helping organs function appropriately. Dehydration occurs when your body is basically losing more water than it is absorbing, and the weather here in the UAE can directly or indirectly hugely disrupt water stores. For those who wish to lose weight during Ramadan, drinking water before every meal is proven to cause 44 percent more weight loss over a 12-week period compared to those who did not.
Water comes first. No drink can compensate for it, as water contains no calories. Stick to drinking one to two glasses of water every hour between iftar and suhoor to rehydrate and reap the benefits of your fast.
• Lina Shibib is a clinical nutritionist at Medcare Hospitals & Medical Centres.