Tips for Healthy Fasting During Ramadan - UFIT

Refuel your body the right way throughout Ramadan with some top tips from UFIT's Nutrition team.

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Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. In this month Muslims all over the world fast from sunrise to sundown. During the fast muslins are banned from eating, drinking and smoking. 

The purpose of fasting in the Islam and other religions as well, is to make people take their minds away from everyday things, escape hedonistic and materialistic pursuits, so that they become more aware of God and reconnect with faith and also with the family and the community. 

During Ramadan social life are very active. People are hosting or dining out almost every night. The main event is the "iftar" meal, the evening braking of the fast meal. This meal is an abundance meal that can include even 10-12 courses of all kinds of delicious foods.

This period may cause many people to gain weight and disrupt the balance for people suffering from diabetes. The reason for that does not have to do only with the daily big dinner parties, but also because people don't exercise as much and are tiredness because of the late night’s dinners and the early mornings, rising before dawn to eat and pray.

However, Ramadan month can be actually a chance to improve your health, nutrition intake and lose weight if it is done properly. In fact, intermittent fasting can help one feel healthier and extend life expectancy. 

Recent studies discovered that reduced meals frequency primes the body to lose fat. Other studies demonstrate lower levels of sugar and LDL cholesterol, which are a risk factors in the development of cardiovascular diseases. 

There are studies that show that fasting has positive effects on the immune system. Researchers found that fasting could affect stem cells to start producing new white blood cells, to reinforce and strengthen the immune system. Another aspect of the immune system is the improvement in inflammation related diseases due to fasting and reduction in allergies reactions.  For example, one of the studies showed better mobility and reduction in pain among rheumatoid arthritis patients, who took upon themselves intermitted fasting. 

What happens in our body during fasting?

During a period without food, the body starts using up its energy reserves to create energy. 

First the body will use the glucose it has from the last digested meal. If the person does not eat again, the glycogen reserves from the liver and muscles will be broken down into glucose. Note that the body enters into a fasting state eight hours or so after the last meal, when the gut finishes absorbing nutrients from the food.

Later in the fast, once the glucose runs out, the body would move on to breaking down fat reserves and that is when people lose weight. 

The problem is that with a prolonged fast of many days or weeks, the body starts using protein for energy, and that makes people weak and looking very thin. However, Ramadan fast lasts only for 12-16 hours a day. If people are getting good healthy meals prior to fasting and afterwards, they can prevent the loss of body mass. 

How to make your fasting Healthier?

Here are some ground rules for a healthier nutrition during Ramadan, so that you can gain spiritual lifting along with improved health:

  1.  As Singapore tends to get high temperatures, try to avoid the sun and stay in cool shady areas. 
  2. Drink lots of water, herbal tea and watery foods such as soups and fresh raw vegetables.
  3. Many people find it hard to wake up at dawn and eat the "suhoor", the meal before daylight fasting. However, this meal is extremely important and will make a big difference in your physical and mental state during the next 12 hours of fasting. 

 This meal should include:

  • Fresh vegetables
  • High fibres complex carbohydrates such as rye bread, oat, barely, which slowly release energy to keep hunger pangs at bay for longer.
  • High protein food such as dairy products, eggs
  • Unsaturated good fats such as avocado, tahini, nuts and seeds.
  • The tradition is to break the fast by eating sweets, mostly dates. A better idea is to start your meal with a bowl of soup. In case you really feel the need for sugar, have one portion of fruit (melon, water melon, grapes), wait for a while and then proceed to eat dinner. 
  • Avoid very fatty, fried foods. Choose fresh raw/steamed/ stir fried/ baked/ grilled foods. 
  • Avoid foods based on refined carbohydrates (sugar and white flour), such as cakes, biscuits, chocolates and sweets. 
  • Avoid or reduce caffeine-based drinks such as tea, coffee, coke and diet coke. Caffeine is a diuretic and stimulates faster water loss through urination.
  • Avoid very salty and very spicy food such as cold cuts, smoked fish, olives and pickles, salty cheeses, processed sauces, fast foods and heavy processed snacks.
  • For food richer in taste, add some fresh herbs to your cooking. Mint, sage, oregano, dill, lemongrass and so many others will upgrade the taste and at the same time will improve your digestion and add so many other health benefits.
  • Eat slowly and do not over eat. Oversized meals might make you feel heavy, bloated or cause heartburn. Overtime you might also gain weight as a result. 
  • Try to keep active as much as you can. Evening walk, after you had your dinner, might be a good way to add movement to your day. It will also improve your digestion and prevent you from continuing to sit by the table and keep on eating.

Example for an Iftar meal:

  • Water with lemon and mint
  • Homemade vegetable soup
  • Green leaves salad with olive oil
  • Stuffed vegetables with meet (zucchini/eggplant/grape leaves)
  • Chicken breast / baked salmon

or

  • Homemade vegetable soup
  • Cooked lentils or other beans 
  • Baked vegetables 
  • Green salad with tahini sauce

Example for a Suhoor meal:

  • •    Lots of water and herbal tea

     +

  • 2 eggs cooked/ fried/ poached/ green omelette
  • Vegetable salad or cut vegetables
  • 1-2 slices of rye bread or whole meal bread
  • Avocado and cheese

or

  • Oat porridge cooked in milk /soy milk/ almond milk with chopped fruits, nuts and seeds. 

Please not that if you suffer from any health condition/pregnancy you might need a medical/ nutritional consultation and supervision in order to fast. The guidelines above are general recommendations for healthy people. 

Wishing you a Healthy spiritual up lifting and energizing Ramadan.

Thanks to our amazing author, and part of the Nutrition team at UFITNoa Harari and UFIT Team