It is important that staff maintain healthy, nutritious eating habits when observing Ramadan. Muslims worldwide are observing Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, as a month of fasting.
A story by Rana Harb
During Ramadan – the word comes from the Arabic root ramiḍa or ar-ramaḍ, which means scorching heat or dryness – it is important that staff maintain healthy eating habits. Here, WFP Egypt-based nutritionists Dr. Alia Hafiz, Michele Doura and Ayan Barre bring you some tips to help you stay fit and healthy during this holy month.
Never skip ‘Suhour'
Just as breakfast is the most important meal of the day, ‘Suhour' (the meal eaten before dawn) is equally important during Ramadan. The pre-dawn meal helps your body stay hydrated and fuelled up on energy and nutrients until your next meal at iftar. It also helps you avoid overeating when you break your fast at sunset.
A well-balanced meal at ‘suhour' contains:
• Complex carbohydrates: Oats, wheat, lentils, grains and other complex carbohydrates (like fava beans) are slow-releasing carbs, helping keep your blood sugar steady and giving you a feeling of fullness for the greater part of the day.
• High-fibre foods: Fibre-rich foods are digested slowly and include cereals, dates, figs, bran, whole wheat, grains, seeds, potatoes, vegetables and almost all fruit especially apricots and prunes. Bananas are a good source of potassium and other essential nutrients that help keep your body hydrated.
• Protein-rich foods: High protein foods like eggs, cheese, yoghurt or meat are also recommended as they can help replenish your energy throughout the day.
Aim to eat at least 7 servings of fruit and vegetables every day
Fruits and vegetables are a great snack between meals, and a healthy alternative to pastries and sweets usually consumed during Ramadan. Some fruits and vegetables naturally contain high water content, especially cucumbers, watermelons, melons, squash and pumpkins. Eating those after fasting hours can help keep you hydrated. One serving of fruits and vegetable can be quantified as:
• ½ cup (125 ml) of fresh, frozen mixed vegetables/fruits or 100% real fruit juice or vegetable juice
• 1 cup (250 ml) of leafy raw vegetables or mixed salad
• 1 fruit (average size)
Try to cut down on sugary and processed foods
Avoid heavily processed, fast-burning foods that contain refined carbohydrates such as sugar and white flour, as well as fatty foods like Ramadan desserts. They are high in fat and low in nutrients.
Break your fast slowly and don't overindulge
While it is tempting to overindulge at Iftar after a day of food deprivation, remember that you should slow down.
Start with a few dates and water and then wait before starting your main meal. Dates are a great source of energy for the body, helping it to secrete digestive enzymes in preparation for the upcoming meal. Afterwards, you may get started on some warm soup.
Avoid heavy oils and fats in your meal. Make sure you consume plenty of vegetables and a good portion of protein and enough carbohydrates, with a little fat. Remember you should eat slowly and give time for your body to digest the food.
Make soups a regular item on your Iftar meals
Soups are warm, soothing on the stomach and easy to make. They provide the body with fluids, vitamins and minerals while offering a great way to incorporate vegetables. Try making soups from colorful vegetables available in season such as carrots, tomatoes, pumpkins, bell peppers, spinach, zucchini and eggplants. Remember to limit the amount of salt and oil you use while preparing them. Add flavour with fresh herbs.
Drink at least 8-12 cups of water a day. Drink plenty of fluids for hydration from the period of Iftar to the time of suhour. Beware of consuming a lot of popular sugary Ramadan drinks such as Tamarind and Hibiscus. Although juices, milk and soup are sources of fluids, water is the best choice, so try to consume other drinks in moderation.
Avoid caffeinated drinks
Caffeine is a diuretic that stimulates faster water loss, leading to dehydration. It is best to avoid caffeinated drinks such as strong tea, coffee and colas, or drink them in moderation.
Avoid deep frying
Try to avoid fried foods or those prepared with large quantities of oil. If frying cannot be avoided, one tip would be to reduce the quantity of oil used. Instead of using one cup of oil you can cut down the amount to half or quarter of a cup. It is best to avoid frying with animal fat such as ghee. Alternatively, recommended oils to use are monounsaturated fats such as sunflower, canola and corn oil. Olive oil is not recommended for frying foods.
Avoid working out during fasting hours
To avoid dehydration, it's best to postpone working out until after fasting hours. We suggest you work out at a time when energy levels are at their best and rehydration is possible, such as after Iftar. Allow at least 2-3 hours after eating to begin your exercise routine, to give your body enough time to digest properly. Maintain hydration throughout your workout and don't forget to drink plenty of water after, to replenish the water and mineral losses due to sweating. Water regulates your body temperature, lubricates your joints and transports nutrients throughout your body. Staying hydrated is particularly important during exercise.
Adapt fasting to your physical condition
Prior to Ramadan, Muslims, particularly seniors, should consult a doctor, as should pregnant women, children and people with diabetes taking medication to control their insulin levels.