The key to ensuring a healthy body throughout Ramadan is preparation. In fact it’s key, says Banin Shahine, an expert in nutrition at Fitness First. “Fasting may only last for 30 days, however, considerable thought should go into the days, weeks and months, leading up to Ramadan,” she says.
Banin begins her preparation with caffeine withdrawal. “Two weeks before the start of Ramadan I begin preparing my body and start to delay my morning coffee to the afternoon, which reduces the risk of headaches.” Shahine also advises starting to fast one day a week in the lead up to Ramadan, increasing the number of days to two or more a week if you can. “This allows for an adjustment period for our bodies, and decreases the side effects of fasting,” she says.
Managing your eating habits
“If you eat and drink properly between suhoor and iftar, you will give your body what it needs in order to cope with fasting,” says Shahine. The right carbohydrates will give you energy. Ensure that they are high in water and fibre and low in sugar. Shahine suggests making salads and soups. “Carbohydrates don’t just mean rice, bread and pasta,” she says. Add high-value carbs to your soups, such as sweet potatoes, beets, squash and broccoli or add green leafy vegetables to your salads.
“With an unusual sleeping pattern, fish is the best source of protein, as it is light, highly nutritional and full of good fats. If you do want to consume red meat, ensure you are leaving four to six hours before you sleep, as you may encounter digestive problems if you don’t. Also, don’t obsess about evening sleeping habits. You can sleep during the day, but you cannot eat during the day, so prioritise meal times,” Shahine says. She advises splitting the main meal into three or four portions, and steering clear of traditional fried foods and sweets shared at gatherings. “Good fats are not bad,” she adds. “People should understand the value and benefits of fat in the body. Good fats include vegetable oils, raw nuts and avocado, not fried fat or high-sugar foods.” Shahine also reminds those who are fasting not to lose sight of the real reason behind it. “We fast to remind ourselves of how it feels to be hungry. There are a lot of people dying from hunger, they don’t have any access to food and so we have to appreciate what we have.” She says that as soon as you remember this, it’s much easier to control your cravings.
Hydration is possibly the most critical thing during Ramadan. Drinking enough water is vital, particularly as Ramadan is now falls in the hotter months. According to Shahine, “If you eat too much, you are not drinking enough water. Your body needs two to three cups of water at any one time. If you drink in excess, water will turn to urine and not be absorbed. People have problems with digestion and constipation while fasting and it is because of dehydration.”
So just how much water does your body need? “Multiply your body weight in kilos by 0.03x1.4 and the number you are left with is the number in litres that your body needs,” explains Shahine.
Children and fasting
The start of your children’s journey with fasting requires a considerable amount of preparation. “I see a lot of parents encouraging their children to fast without any plan in place. It’s best to start your children’s fasting no earlier than nine years old with the optimum age to begin fasting being between nine and 14 years for boys and girls,” says Shahine.
Before any child fasts, they must have a consultation with the doctor, who will take your child’s blood to check the levels of iron, vitamin D, and ensure the body is equipped to handle the fast. “Only with confirmation from the doctor should you proceed,” says Shahine.
“Parents must monitor their children throughout Ramadan, keeping them active, but also keeping an eye on energy levels and fatigue.”
Parents play a vital role in a child’s fasting journey. Lead by example and ensure your children maintain healthy habits during iftar and suhoor. “You can make it easier for them by giving them healthy, wholesome foods,” advises Shahine. Try not to “reward” your children at iftar with high in fat, sugary foods; you must keep their diet similar to that of a non-fasting day. Also make sure your children wake up for suhoor, a healthy balanced breakfast will give them enough energy for the day ahead.
“Finally, make sure your children are aware of why Muslims fast. It will help them understand why we fast and reduce any negative feelings towards it,” says Shahine.
The first few years will be difficult while they adjust, however, you can make it easier for them by following the doctor’s advice and teaching them what you have learnt over the years. Make sure your children enjoy the month as much as you do.