Ramadan is a time for reflection, refocusing on God and also for self-sacrifice. As such, it can be a challenging month for those who fast during the day, particularly if it’s their first time. With that in mind, we met up with Nathalie Haddad, managing director and dietician at Right Bite Nutrition and Catering services to bring you seven steps to help you make the right choices when breaking the fast and stay healthy throughout.
1 Try and stay as hydrated as possible
As Ramadan begins earlier this year, the days – and, as a result, the length of the fast for the initial few weeks – will be longer than last year. The longest fast at the beginning of Ramadan is expected to be around 14 hours and 50 minutes, so make sure you drink more water between iftar and suhoor. This will also reduce the incidence of dizziness and headaches.
2 Break your fast with dates and juice
After a day without any food or water, you will need to be careful not to shock your system by breaking the fast with heavy, fatty, carb-laden foods. Ideally, choose three dates and half a cup of juice. Though as a fruit dates will provide slow-releasing energy, they are also very high in sugar, and over-indulging could lead to weight gain. If you don’t feel like fruit juice, swap in one cup of low fat milk or laban.
3 Don’t overeat at iftar
Whenever you’re feeling absolutely ravenous, there’s the temptation to fill up at the next meal and make up for lost time and calories by doubling your usual portion size. This is not a good idea during the rest of the year, and certainly not at iftar. During the Holy Month, your metabolism will slow down to help your body preserve the energy from each meal, burning calories much more slowly. Eat more than you need to, and you’ll find it very easy to put on weight.
4 Avoid dishes served in a sauce
As you should be giving high-fat, high-salt food a miss, it’s wise to avoid any dishes that contain meat in a sauce, as they’re likely to be heavy on both. The salt will dehydrate you, while the fat and meat can both contribute to feelings of fatigue, constipation and, ultimately, weight gain. Opt for dry, grilled meats and salads where possible, and try always to start with a soup – preferably broth-based and without cream – and include pulses such as lentils and chickpeas for extra fibre. Other top offenders include fried pastries (put that cheese sambousek down!) and traditional sweets.
5 Swap traditional desserts for fruit
Refined sugars are unhealthy the best of times, and should always be eaten in moderation, but if you’re heading off to a gourmet iftar where there’s bound to be a wealth of choice at the dessert table, try and exercise a little self-restraint. Eating a lot of sugar will certainly give you a burst of energy, but you’ll soon start to feel lethargic. Given the time of night you’ll be eating these (ie. not long before bed) you won’t be giving your body long enough to burn off the extra calories. Opt for fruit instead to not only improve your mood, but also control your blood sugar levels and cravings for longer.
6 Move around
While it’s not recommended that you take up a kickboxing class or start training for a triathalon, don’t use Ramadan as an excuse to take to your bed and stop exercising completely. With a slower metabolism, you’ll need a little light exercise to keep things moving and aid your digestion. For more tips on how to exercise responsibly during this time, see this week’s Sport & Outdoor section.
7 Don’t skip suhoor
The temptation can be to skip this early morning meal – but don’t. You’ll need the energy and water to keep your hydration levels up over the next few hours’ fast, and your metabolism will certainly need the boost. Resist, as much as you can, the temptation to have your usual coffee, as the caffeine will dehydrate you, and make you more likely to suffer headaches and heartburn throughout the day.
Right Bite Nutrition and Catering services deliver personalised healthy meals to your door year-round, including during Ramadan. For more information visit www.right-bite.com or call 04 342 5208.
View our comprehensive Ramadan guide here