Ramadan do’s and don’ts: Your guide to staying healthy, fit throughout the month

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While the holy month of Ramadan is a time for reflection, prayer, and community it is also a time when people are more conscious of their health and the foods they eat.

Questions like “What should a healthy Iftar and Suhoor meal consist of?” and “How much should I be eating if I’m fasting all day?” are regularly asked.

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Clinical Dietician at Healthbay Clinic Dubai answered Al Arabiya English’s questions about healthy habits people should have during Ramadan and the best tips those observing the holy month should follow to stay healthy and fit.

1)What should a healthy iftar meal consist of?

A healthy Iftar meal consists of two parts, Abdelghany said, adding that those fasting should break their fast with one or two dates, followed by a glass of water and a cup of low-fat yogurt or soup.

“Warm soup comforts the stomach after a long day of fasting, replenishes your body with fluids, and helps prepare the digestive system for this blessed meal,” she said.

Carrot soup is pictured on a dining table. (Shutterstock)
Carrot soup is pictured on a dining table. (Shutterstock)

Its best to avoid cream-based and ready-made soups as they are heavy in calories as well as high in sodium, and may cause gastric discomfort. Better alternatives include vegetable and lentil soups.

The main meal should consist of a generous amount of protein – such as meats, chicken, fish, or beans – with a side of vegetables and carbohydrates.

“Try to always start with the protein and the vegetables and top up with carbs and appetizers to make sure that you get your proteins before feeling full,” Abdelghany said.

“As for the appetizers and pastries, try to limit these to one or two pieces and make sure they are baked and not fried.”

2) Should people eat more than usual during Ramadan since they are not eating all day? How can they ensure they are getting enough nutrients?

People should not overeat during the night to account for fasting during the day, according to Abdelghany.

“Human bodies were made to fast. In fact, our ancestors have always been fasting for long hours due to scarcity of food, so it’s very natural for our bodies to fast,” the clinical dietician told Al Arabiya English, adding that our bodies actually adjust to fasting long hours after three to four days.

Overeating, as well as undereating, during Ramadan is not advised, she said.

“We should aim to meet our needs not only in terms of calories but also in terms of proteins, carbs, vegetables, fluids, fiber, vitamins and minerals.”

“To ensure we are getting enough nutrients, we should aim to have two meals and a snack during the eating window: A healthy and balanced iftar meal, a snack two or three hours later, and then healthy balanced Suhoor meal before bed or predawn.”

3) Is it healthy to drink coffee or caffeinated beverages after breaking your fast? Are there better alternatives for people who are addicted?

“Caffeine and caffeinated beverages are diuretics, which lead to the loss of fluids and increase risk of hydration,” Abdelghany said.

One to three cups of coffee a day is considered a moderate amount, as long those who were fasting ensure they drink enough water along with it to make up for the loss of fluids, according to the dietician.

Many cups of coffee are placed on a wooden table. (Stock image)
Many cups of coffee are placed on a wooden table. (Stock image)

“There also other alternatives that are lower in caffeine, such as tea. For those who wish to have more coffee but are worried about dehydration, they can have one cup of coffee and have two to three cups of tea during the non-fasting hours.”

4) Should people indulge on sweets during Ramadan?

“Sweets are loaded with sugars and fats and lack protein. This combination is the worst and it’s the leading cause of weight gain during Ramadan,” the clinical dietician told Al Arabiya English.

Even if people replace their meals with desserts, weight gain is still likely because sweets cause a spike in sugar levels, she said. This causes the insulin hormone to spike suddenly in the body as well, and triggers the storage of fats.

She advised those who want to indulge in sweets during the month to cut their intake to two or three times a week rather than daily.

Its best to have desserts two or three hours after the Iftar meal to avoid overindulging.

A man makes traditional sweets Qatayef during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in Benghazi, Libya. (File photo: Reuters)
A man makes traditional sweets Qatayef during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in Benghazi, Libya. (File photo: Reuters)

5) What fulfilling Suhoor could people have to prevent hunger while fasting?

Making the right food choices for Suhoor during Ramadan is very important, because those fasting need to avoid meals that increase hunger, thirst, and fatigue throughout the day.

According to Abdelghany, the best Suhoor meal includes a source of protein, a complex carbohydrate, and vegetables, fruits, or nuts.

Some examples of healthy and fulfilling Suhoors are smoothies, oatmeal, banana or oat pancakes, or a sandwich filled with a source of protein and vegetables.

6) Should people exercise during Ramadan? If yes, is it better before or after breaking their fast?

“Exercising during Ramadan is very important, especially if you already have a previous routine of training. Actually, stopping your workouts while fasting will cause muscle mass loss,” the clinical dietician told Al Arabiya English.

According to Abdelghany, to get the most of your workouts during Ramadan, there are two time slots that are most effective.

The first is an hour or two before Iftar.

“In this case, make sure the exercise is low to moderate intensity, like walking or cardio or low impact exercises. The session can last 45 min to one hour maximum,” she said.

“Avoid weight lifting or strength training if you wish to exercise while fasting,” Abdelghany added.

The second best time to work out during Ramadan is after Iftar.

“In this case, you can do high intensity interval training (HIIT), weight lifting, or circuit training and the session can last from one hour to one and a half hours.”

Read more:

Want to avoid weight gain in Ramadan? A dietician shares 10 things you must do

Ramadan: How to prevent feeling thirsty, tired while fasting

Working out during Ramadan: Everything you need to know to stay fit this month

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