By Nutritionist Golnar Khaleghi
Islam encourages Muslims to ensure that they are mindful of their health as this is key to happiness, and what we consume directly affects our health.
The blessed Prophet once said: “God has a right over you; your body has a right over you…” To strike a balance between the needs of the physical body and your spiritual needs, you must on the one hand consume the right type and amount of food and on the other hand develop excellent interpersonal skills. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is an opportunity to make significant changes in your lifestyle and develop healthy living choices. This is a great opportunity to focus on bringing back a balanced and through fasting you begin to learn how to manage your eating habits, how to improve self-control and discipline.
To fast or not to fast- Ramadan and diabetes
When we fast, at about eight hours after our last meal, our bodies start to use energy stores to keep our blood glucose levels normal. For most people, this is not harmful, however if you have diabetes, especially if you take certain tablets or insulin, you’re at risk of of both hypo and hyper glycaemia (blood glucose being too low or too high), diabetic ketoacidosis (caused by high levels of ketones in the blood), dehydration and thrombosis.
With long fasts the risks of hypos and hyper and dehydration are high. A further problem that can occur, is the risk of high glucose levels following the larger meals that we eat before and after fasting at Suhoor (Sehri) and Iftar. People with Type 1 diabetes are generally advised not to fast as it is too dangerous. Those who have their diabetes under control, either by their diet or using tablets, may be able fast. However, their GP may require them to change their medication to help them take tablets outside fasting times. Those who need insulin to control their diabetes are generally advised not to fast. If you have complications associated with diabetes, such as poor vision or heart or kidney disease, the risk of aggravating these is very high and you should seriously consider not fasting.
How does fasting affect the body?
For many people, the key question regarding fasting is whether it is good or bad for your health. A quick overview of what happens inside the body during fasting:
The changes that occur in the body in response to fasting depend on the length of the continuous fast. After eight hours of fasting and after the last meal the body enters into a fasting state. This is when the gut finishes absorption of nutrients from the food. In the normal state, body glucose, which is stored in the liver and muscles, is the body’s main source of energy. During a fast, this store of glucose is used up first to provide energy. Later in the fast, once the stores of glucose run out, fat becomes the next store source of energy for the body.
The kidney is very efficient at maintaining the body’s water and salts, such as sodium and potassium, therefore a balanced food and fluid intake is important between fasts.
However, body fluids are lost through sweat. To prevent muscle breakdown, meals must contain adequate levels of carbohydrates and some fat. Hence, a balanced diet with adequate quantities of nutrients, salts and water is vital.
Results from studies on the health effects of Ramadan fasting are mixed. These are due to variable such as the length of the fast and the weather conditions experienced. Some studies have found that people lose weight during Ramadan although it was observed that they tended to put this weight back on after Ramadan. For overweight individuals who would like to lose weight and keep it off, ensuring that you maintain a healthy diet and get active when Ramadan is finished may help you sustain any weight lost due to fasting. Furthermore, some small studies have looked at the effect of Ramadan fasting on factors like blood cholesterol and triglycerides (fat in the blood) and found a short term improvement in some cases although some studies found no effect. However, more research is needed to confirm health benefits of fasting on the body.
What to eat and drink at Iftar
With such an elaborate spread we usually eat like crazy once Iftar kicks in and ignore the idea of keeping our diets clean and healthy. overindulging can lead to physical discomfort and pretty much defeats the purpose of our fast. This can however be easily eased by making sure you intake small portions at a time and don’t over eat.
When first breaking the fast go for plenty of fluids, low fat, fluid-rich foods. Below are some examples:
How to prevent getting thirsty
What to eat and drink at Suhoor
Drink plenty of fluids, choose fluid-rich foods to make sure you are well hydrated for the day ahead and go for starchy foods for energy, choosing high fiber or wholegrain varieties where possible as these tend to be digested more slowly. Below are some examples:
This is a common problem and has many causes. Headaches during a fast could commonly be due to dehydration or hunger, inadequate rest, or the absence of addictive substances such as caffeine or nicotine. A moderate and balanced diet, especially not missing the pre-dawn meal and consuming adequate quantities of fluid are essential. Prevention is always better than a cure. However, if you do not adequately rehydrate before a fast, your risk of dehydration is increased and you may experience a general feeling of being unwell, lethargy, muscle cramps, dizziness and disorientation.