Besides the spiritual benefits associated with the holy month of Ramadan, fasting from dawn to dusk also brings about various physical and mental benefits. If done properly, the healthy outcomes of fasting could include the removal of toxins from the body, weight loss and increased mental wellbeing. But with the sweltering heat and long hours, restricting fluid and food intake can also have a negative impact if you do not take precautions, leading to heartburn, constipation, dehydration, irritability, lack of concentration, weight loss or weight gain.
So as Ramadan begins, here are the top ways to keep yourself healthy and strong while fasting.
Eating a healthy iftar and suhoor: Iftar, the evening meal that ends a Ramadan fast, must begin with dates, then soup, a salad, followed by the main course. Long hours of fasting causes a tendency to crave sweet or unhealthy food, so an ideal practice is to begin a meal with two to three dates. This helps to ease the stomach into eating after a long day of fasting and replenishes the body’s fluids and blood sugar levels. The main dish, which can be delayed until later, must be balanced. It should consist of wholesome ingredients, plenty of fruits and vegetables, in addition to sources of carbohydrates and proteins.
Suhoor, the meal consumed early in the morning before beginning the fast, is also vital, and must not be skipped, as it provides you with the strength needed for fasting during the rest of the day. It must be rich in wholesome foods that give you protein like oatmeal, cheese, labneh, fresh fruits and vegetables. Choose the healthiest and wisest options.
Things you should know about Ramadan diet: Do not consume fried foods that can cause increased cholesterol levels, instead opt for healthy cooking methods, such as baking, grilling, boiling and roasting. Caffeine must be avoided as much as possible, as it leads to a loss of water, which further increases thirst.
You must try to include foods packed with proteins in every Ramadan meal, such as meat, legumes, dairy products and eggs, which will also help to increase your satiety level and avoid overeating. It is important to have fewer carbohydrates, as they make you inactive and sleepy. Sweets must be either prepared using moderate amounts of oil and sugar and low-fat dairy products, or consumed in moderation.
For vitamins and minerals, make sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables during Ramadan. Include dates, dried fruits and nuts in your diet, as these provide plenty of nutrients and energy. Starting your Iftar with two to three dates helps to replenish blood sugar levels after fasting, but should be consumed in moderation to avoid weight gain.
Portion control and moderation: Limiting portions during your meals is the best way to avoid overeating. Eating too much, too soon can cause problems such as frequent urination, which leads to dehydration, indigestion, heartburn, nausea and low energy levels. For those who feel full quickly during iftar, eat dates, soup and salad before, while the main dish can be delayed until later. This ensures that you will not be uncomfortably full after a day of fasting.
For dessert, you must allow occasional indulgence while making sure that you are practicing portion control. Limit the portion to a few bites of one type of sweet. Moderation in the consumption of deep-fried foods is also important.
Meal Planning: Planning and preparing your meals in advance will make it easier to be organized, start by preparing weekly plans to make wiser choices about what to eat and what not to eat. Planning ahead will prevent you from deviating from it, and choosing a less healthy option in the moment. You should not be over- or under-nourished by the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Remain active: Fasting during the month of Ramadan can be a real trouble for bodies, if not done correctly. Some tend to remain sedentary and gain weight during the month. You have to remain active and continue regular exercise during Ramadan, as it will help you maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. Some people prefer exercising just before they break their fast, while others prefer exercising in the hours before starting their fast.
Mild to moderate physical activity is recommended, and this must be based on personal preference as stamina levels among people tend to vary, and often people can get too fatigued or tired. If you are not one for workouts, you can opt for brisk walks, as it is a comfortable exercise that is suitable for people of all ages. Fitness enthusiasts can spend time at the gym or engage in outdoor sports activities.
It is better to focus on light cardio exercises, and not put yourself through very high intensity training during this time. Light exercises and workouts like yoga or the treadmill, or even using lower speed levels on the machines at the gym during the month of Ramadan will do you a lot of good.
A high carbohydrate intake, such as bananas, peanut butter, and sweet potato are best foods for people who exercise, as this is important for increasing energy levels and stamina. For those who want to lose weight, it is best to avoid heavy meals, have zero carbohydrate diets, and eat more of white meat, fruits and vegetables.
It is important to avoid the sun as much as possible, especially for those who work outdoors.
Hydrate yourself: Remember to stay hydrated and drink enough water, at least two liters. A well-hydrated person can tolerate a fast much better than a dehydrated one. Your choice of drinks should be refreshing ones, such as coconut water, which helps to maintain hydration during a fast, as well as lemon juice. Fruits and fruit juices that have high water content like melons and strawberries are also beneficial.