Fasting is not a licence to eat whatever you want after dark
Though Ramadan is largely concerned with learning self-discipline and compassion, many people who have been fasting during the day look forward to breaking the fast every evening with family and friends, whether at home or at one of the city’s many impressive iftar buffets. After a long day without food, the temptation is often to opt for carb-laden dishes that leave you feeling full quickly. Yet most nutritionists are united in the opinion that this is one of the worst things you can do. New research in the Middle East suggests that though cholesterol levels have been shown to fall during fasting, BMI tends to increase.
‘Some people may argue that they’ve gone without food and drink all day, so are justified in assaulting their helpless tummies with an overload of oily, sugary and incredibly heavy foods,’ explains Ahlaam Ali, a lifestyle and weight-loss consultant at Dubai-based Powwer Eat. ‘But they will only feel ill and lethargic afterwards.’ Here are Ahlaam’s key tips for breaking fast.
What to eat at iftar Most of us think we need highly sugary foods to recoup our energy levels. Sugars are fine as long as you get them in their most natural form. Fresh fruit juices are great for boosting energy levels, as is a bowl of mixed fruit salad. Dates are also a fabulous source of natural sugars, and a great start to the eating process at iftar. Overall, foods high in water content are the best, such as soups, salads, vegetables, juices and fruits – watermelon, nectarines, kiwi and grapes all have a particularly high water content. It’s best to avoid citrus fruits at iftar (grapefruit, orange, lemon) as they can cause a lot of acidity on an empty stomach.
A good meal would be a clean piece of fish, chicken or barbecued meat with lots of salad.
How best to break the fast Start with two dates, followed by a cup of very light tea (no sugar or milk) or a glass of fresh mango or strawberry juice. Wait for an hour. Walk away from the table and go for a stroll, to the gym, or to say your prayers. During this time make sure you take small sips of sassy water (water mixed with fresh ginger, cucumber, lemon and mint leaves that is said to combat bloating) to help you refresh and give you a boost of vitamin C. Following this break, have a light dinner to keep up energy levels. Easing your body in is important, as it will be deprived, so whatever you put into it will be retained and absorbed immediately. All the goodness and vitamins from healthy, nutritious food will be absorbed, but equally all the fat and sugar from unhealthy food will be absorbed and stored.
What to avoid at iftar Skip highly salted foods such as fries, burgers, anything in a heavy sauce, fried meats and apparently ‘healthy’ salads with unhealthy dressings. Not only are these laden with calories, but they will also leave you very thirsty. Samosas and savoury pastries are also culprits, as they all contain at least 100 calories a piece. Fried foods are an absolute horror, and should be replaced with baked or grilled options. Many Ramadan buffet staples that are fried can actually be baked, and the calories halved as a result.
What to eat at suhoor Suhoor [the meal eaten just before sunrise] is very important, and necessary from the fasting point of view as it will keep you going until iftar – make sure you wake up for it. You need to eat low GI (glycaemic index) foods as they will keep you full for longer. Have a bowl of oatmeal with fruit, such as banana, a handful of chopped almonds and cinnamon. This will keep you going until at least 4pm. You can also have a piece of fruit and a cup of light tea, or vegetables with brown rice or quinoa. Low GI foods digest slowly, and don’t cause an insulin or sugar spike, keeping you full and your sugar levels balanced for longer.
What to avoid at suhoor Fried foods heavy in carbs, cheese or spices should be avoided as they will simply leave you thirsty and lethargic, not to mention helping your waist expand significantly. Most of us think that having starved ourselves all day, it is okay to overload our systems with all sorts of food when we do get the opportunity to eat, because ‘our system needs it’. Actually, quite the opposite is true. Find out more about Powwer Eat’s detox and tailored meal programmes at www.ahlaamali.com, or email Ahlaam Ali at firstname.lastname@example.org.