Ramadan is here again! Each year we find the month comes around very quickly. We spend weeks beforehand trying to prepare food, organise the house and get mentally prepared for the long fasts. Ramadan remains in the summer for many across the globe, with the fasts being up to 12-18 hours long. The benefits of Ramadan are endless: time to focus on your deen, more time spent with family, increased reward for good deeds, stronger sense of community and so on.
Many researchers have attempted to look at the effect of health of Ramadan fasts on the human body. There are a varied results, largely because each study is conducted on a different type of group in a different part of the world. However, many have shown weight loss is consistently seen in the month, as is a reduced in cholesterol along with an increase in healthy lipids known as HDLs. With long fasts in the summer months, dehydration is something many of us experience. Sleep patterns change which can leave us feeling tired and drained, particularly as the month goes on.
As a doctor and personal trainer, I get asked how we can maintain a healthy lifestyle in Ramadan every year. Personally, I think Ramadan is a great time to kickstart new, positive health behaviours because you are easily able to eliminate bad food choices. Ensuring you have a healthy mindset towards food and eating whilst fasting will allow you to physically stay as strong as possible, allowing you to get more out of the month.
Avoid junk food
Consuming crisps, chocolates, fried foods, takeaway meals is never a great choice on a regular basis at any point in the year. During Ramadan, as meal frequencies are significantly reduced we have to try and pack as much of our daily nutrient requirements into the two meals you are able to eat. By eating junk food instead we are taking in “empty” calories; our body is simply taking in calories that will have little or no nutrition benefit for us. This will leave us feeling drained and lethargic in the long run. Opt for home cooked, nutritious meals instead.
What makes a nutritious meal?
Each meal should have a balanced amount of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and good protein. Complex carbohydrates, like potatoes, rice and bread, will let your body slowly release energy throughout the day, rather than giving a spike in sugar levels when eating cakes, biscuits and sweets. Having a form of protein, from eggs, meat and legumes, will give your body the building blocks to repair, restore and grow. Try to include lots of vegetables in your meals as well to help keep your vitamins and mineral intake at the level it needs to be.
Dehydration is a big issue in Ramadan. Between Iftar and Fajr, try to consistently be drinking small amount of water regularly. Add in some lemon slices if you find plain water unpalatable. Avoid buying store flavoured waters or juices as these often have hidden sugars. Another way to get fluid into you is by eating fruit and vegetables high in water content; watermelons, strawberries, celery, spinach are all good examples and can be whipped into a smoothie for the whole family to enjoy. Lastly, avoid too many cups of tea and coffee as these can add to dehydration.
Sleep patterns can be very disturbed in Ramadan as we may stay up late in prayer and sleep after fajr. Try to make a routine for the whole month whereby you are getting at least 5 hours sleep, if not more, during the night. On top of this, try to catch a 20 minute nap during the day to help increase your attentiveness. Be aware of your tiredness level, especially when driving.
Eat your suhoor
With the short period between iftar and fajr, many skip suhoor because they feel full or are too tired to eat. This can be dangerous simply because you are increasing your fast time unnecessarily. Try to have a small amount if you are unable to stomach a proper meal. A simple toast with a boiled egg or a smoothie can be a great way to have a nutritious suhoor.
Periods and fast breaks
If you are not fasting for a few days in Ramadan, keep up the habit of eating good nutritious foods. This will help keep you strong when you are back to fasting. A point to keep in mind is that the changes to our sleeping and eating habits can have an affect on the body clock. Many women find their periods change during Ramadan; generally, this is a normal effect for the changes our bodies see in Ramadan and is not a cause for concern. If you find your periods do not return back to normal or there are any new problems, definitely see your doctor however a missed or late period in Ramadan is common.
Dr Aishah Muhammad, a qualified medical doctor and personal trainer, is passionate about helping people improve their health and fitness through positive lifestyle changes. She shares recipes, workout ideas and lots of health related content. Follow her on her blog www.grainsandgains.com and find her on instagram @grainsnsandgains