What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is a form of time-restricted feeding which combines a fast and feast period daily for the duration of one month every year. It is the 9th month in the Islamic calendar. In 2022 Ramadan is from the 2nd of April to May 1st. It is practised by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer and reflection. All Muslims are invited to fast from dawn (suhoor) to sunset (iftar) and abstain from sexual activity and smoking during the daylight hours.
Fasting is mandatory for all adults with the exception of physically/mentally unwell individuals, the elderly, and pregnant/breastfeeding women. Those who are exempt from fasting, are still encouraged to increase their prayers and timing mealtimes to eat with the other members of the household that are following the Ramadan, and make a donation called Fidya, to help feed others in need.
Nutrition and hydration during Ramadan:
Fasting from dawn to sunset leads to significant changes in energy and nutrient intake. During fasting hours when no food or drink is consumed, the body uses its stores of carbohydrates and fat to provide energy. However, the body cannot store water, and for this reason dehydration is very common. Dehydration causes stress and alteration of the kidneys with results of headaches, irritability, low mood and fatigue.
When comparing nutrient intake, some studies have found an increase intake of fat and carbohydrates during this month, due to the fasting period that often makes people hungry and in need of energy-dense foods. Reports show that people consume fortified meals such as oats with dates and berries, full-fat yogurt, honey in porridge or butter and cream in vegetables. Weight gain is therefore common after Ramadan. 40% of Muslims gain weight due to the increased consumption of foods rich in fat and carbohydrates. However, other studies suggest that fasting can also lead to appetite loss and weight loss.
Calorie intake is also affected by modifications in the timing and composition of food eaten.
Is fasting good for health?
While fasting can make you feel tired, dizzy and constipated, it can also have a positive impact on health. There is evidence of consistent improvement in blood lipid profile. Both systolic and diastolic blood pressure are reduced after Ramadan. Moreover, fasting supports blood sugar management, brain function, growth and metabolism, and can be an effective nutritional approach for obese people who need to lose weight.
What to eat during Ramadan:
During this month only two main meals are eaten daily: suhoor (served pre-dawn) and iftar (served at sunset).
Should be a hearty meal to provide the energy throughout a day of fasting. It is important to include starchy foods that provide energy as well as high fibre and wholegrain varieties, as they keep you fuller and help prevent constipation. Some examples are oats with dried fruits, nuts or seeds; high fibre breakfast cereals with milk that provides nutrients like calcium, iodine and b vitamins; rice and couscous and rice pudding with fruit; pasta, yogurt and bread.
IftarIs characterised by the consumption of dates followed by a glass of water. Dates are a great way to break the fast, as they provide natural sugars for energy as well as minerals like potassium, copper and manganese. Other foods to consider are fruit and dried fruit which also provide fibre, nutrients and energy. A soup can also be a light way to break the fast and to maintain hydration. Traditional soups are based on meat broth and often contain pulses or pasta for extra protein and energy.
In both suhoor and iftar times, the intake of fluids is essential. At least six to 8 glasses of water are recommended to prevent dehydration. Moreover, there are some specific beverages rich in fibre and nutrients that are consumed during these times. In the Middle East, there is jallab (a sweet drink made of dates, rosewater and carob, usually served with pine nuts and raisins) and khoshaf (a drink made with boiled dried fruit and flavoured with rosewater). A smoothie made with fresh fruit and water is equally as good and easy to make.
Top tips to prevent common issues during Ramadan:The most common patients’ complaints during Ramadan are headaches, heartburn, and constipation.
- Headaches: you can tackle headache by reducing caffeine intake and switch to decaffeinated tea and coffee, herbal tea or water. This can also help you to improve sleep quality. Another way to reduce headache is to avoid salty food, as they increase thirst. For instance, we recommend you swap salt with herbs and spices and avoid foods such as halloumi, feta cheese, olives, crisps and smoked salmon. Reducing salt intake will be beneficial to prevent dehydration and embrace a healthier lifestyle in the long term.
- Heartburn: this is also another common complaint. The smell and sight of food can increase gastric secretions causing heartburn during a fast. Therefore, it could be useful to prepare the food prior to Ramadan and freeze it.
- Constipation: one of the reasons why it’s essential to be hydrated during Ramadan is to avoid constipation. People who are dehydrated and not consume enough fibre, risk to be constipated. We recommend you aim at 30 g of fibre a day that you can find in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains as well as exercising throughout the day to help stimulate bowel movement.
A month of fasting would be a difficult feat for anyone and comes with its own challenges and changes to your body's nutrition. These can be difficult to handle, so it's vital you are still fueling and hydrating your body correctly. For those looking for hassle free meals, our mini diet plan offers just one main meal and two snacks to keep you nutrient filled.
We recommend you consume specific energy-dense foods to include after the day of fasting as well as energy-boost drinks that will help you to prevent dehydration.
Once Ramadan is finished, there is a three-day celebration called Eid-al-Fitr where people come together to eat, drink and enjoy the end of the fasting.
We wish you all a wonderful Ramadan. Keep hydrated and eat well!