The way you should approach your diet and eating habits during the fasting period is similar to the way you should be eating at other times, that is, with a balanced and healthy diet that covers all the food groups. Eating a balanced and varied diet will not only ensure that you have everything you need to be healthy but will also influence how you feel, your ability to concentrate, and most importantly, your ability to enjoy the period of fasting.
Eat a variety of foodstuff containing healthy carbohydrates and fibre. No single food item supplies all the essential nutrients in the amounts you need, so it is extremely important to eat a variety of foods to ensure you have an adequate diet. Variety also reduces your likelihood of being exposed to excessive amounts of contaminants in any single food item. To assure yourself of an adequate diet, you need to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and healthy lean proteins while fasting. Complex carbohydrates such as beans, peas, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, and cereals contain many essential nutrients in addition to calories. Increasing your consumption of certain carbohydrates can also help increase dietary fibre, which tends to reduce typical symptoms of chronic constipation, diverticulitis, and some types of bowel syndromes.
Avoid too much fat. It is best to avoid consuming excessive fat or deep-fried foods, which will not only give you immediate trouble with heartburn or gastritis but will also put you in danger of developing a myriad of diseases. Avoid high-fat foods by doing the following:
• Use low-fat milk and milk products.
• Choose lean meat, fish, poultry, dry beans, and peas as protein sources.
• Limit your use of eggs, and cut down on the consumption of organ meats.
• Restrict your consumption of butter, mayonnaise, cream, and shortenings and products made from them.
• Trim excess fat off meats.
• Choose healthy alternatives such as baked samosas, chapattis, grilled chicken/fish, homemade cakes, homemade puddings and sweets with low-fat milk, and fruit purees.
• Choose healthy cooking methods such as broiling, baking, steaming, and shallow frying, rather than deep-frying or frying.
Avoid consuming too much sugar. Avoiding the consumption of excessive amounts of sugar is important for avoiding weight gain because there are many empty calories in sugary foods. Avoid excessive sugar in your diet by doing the following:
• Use smaller quantities of all sugars, including white sugar, brown sugar, honey, raw sugar, and syrups.
• Eat fewer foods containing sugars.
• Select fresh fruits or fruits canned without sugar or with a light syrup rather than a heavy syrup.
• Check food labels for sugar content or sucrose, glucose, maltose, dextrose, lactose, fructose, or syrups. If these appear first, then the product contains a large amount of sugar.
Avoid consuming too much sodium. Sodium is present in many beverages and foods we eat, especially in certain processed foods, spices, sauces, chutneys, pickled foods, salty snacks, and sandwich meats. Baking soda, baking powder, monosodium glutamate, soft drinks, and so on contain sodium. Avoid consuming too much sodium by doing the following:
• Learn to enjoy the unsalted flavours of food.
• Cook with only small amounts of salt.
• Add little or no salt to the food served at the table.
• Limit your consumption of salty foods, fried foods, junk foods, processed cheese, pickled foods, and cured meats.
•Read food labels carefully.
Stay rehydrated. Our bodies need fluids, and water is undoubtedly the best of these. Every cell in your body needs water to function properly; otherwise, you may feel tired or lethargic and find it difficult to concentrate. Food, especially fruits and vegetables, can also supply your body with water. For example, watermelon is more than 90 per cent water; on a warm day (when you're not fasting), eating plenty of salad leaves, tomatoes, and cucumber will boost your water intake.
Always remember that the Holy Month of Ramadan teaches us about self control and self discipline, and so, you should never break your fast with a feast. Plan your fasting month in a healthy way so that you are not only satisfied spiritually and mentally but are also able to achieve all five dimensions of health: physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual.
Monika Seth/Nutritionist and diet consultant specialising in weight loss at Al Raffah Hospital