Get Ramadan-ready with these healthy pre-fasting habits, food tips from UAE experts

UAE-based nutritionists urge Muslims planning to fast to begin incorporating healthy habits before Ramadan to avoid complications.

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Nutritionists in the United Arab Emirates say Muslims should begin practicing healthy habits ahead of Ramadan to avoid weight gain or health complications during the holy month.

Archana Baju, a clinical dietitian at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, said with Ramadan just around the corner, Muslims should start preparing now for how they will say healthy while fasting.

“Ramadan is close,” she said. “Now is the right time to plan for a healthy and nutritious Ramadan.”

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Firstly, said the doctor, caffeine needs to be controlled.

“Caffeinated beverages do not only keep you alert but also act as diuretics and leave you dehydrated. During fasting, dehydration can be a concern so try to refrain from drinking coffee before the holy month begins.”

Practice healthy habits before Ramadan

Muslims should also start drinking lots of fluids from now on, practice portion control and opt for healthy meal choices.

“These pre-Ramadan preparations will help your body adapt to the intermittent fasting phase in an appropriate way,” said Baju.

In fact, she said Ramadan is the perfect time to lose weight.

“Healthy meal practices and an active lifestyle are important,” she noted. “Focus on hydration. Apart from water, fresh fruit juices, milk and infused water are also good choices.”

“Include water-containing fruits and vegetables like cucumber, zucchini, lettuce, watermelon, peaches, apples, and tomatoes.”

Muslims should also try to include complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, fruits, and vegetables during Iftar and Suhoor meals,” she said.

“Adapt healthy cooking methods. Use grilled, baked, and air-fried starters instead of the fried ones. Also, use low-fat or lite versions of dairy products in cooking.”

“Include a variety of herbs and spices that can enhance the flavor and at the same time reduce oil to create a healthy version. Meanwhile, instead of sugar-loaded desserts, plan for healthy alternatives like fruit skewers, granola parfaits, fruit puddings, etc.”

“Importantly, avoid greasy, fried, and sugary foods to keep ingestion, bloating, heartburn, and other gastrointestinal issues at bay.”

Ramadan-friendly diets

Clinical Dietitian Juliot Vinolia, of Medor Hospital in Dubai, told Al Arabiya English that Ramadan is the “best time of the year to revive and rejuvenate your mind and body,” adding that Muslims fasting should consider incorporating fiber and nutrient-rich foods in their diet this Ramadan.

“Fasting helps our body to reboot and delete toxins even at a cellular level. The blood vessels and gut get cleared off unhealthy fats and cancer-causing chemicals which we accumulated while consuming super processed foods,” she said.

Fasting is a double-edged sword when combined with the right foods it can cut out the disease-causing genetic material. The body absorbs in the most at the mental and gut level during fasting.”

Vinolia added that unique hormones and enzymes are produced only during a healthy fast. In order to get the best of these enzymes, people must have a nutritionally adequate diet, including more plant-based, home-cooked fresh meals which are healthy, cost-effective and also climate friendly.

Echoing her sentiment, Clinical Dietitian Davie Telan at the Salma Rehabilitation Hospital in Abu Dhabi told Al Arabiya English that people should aim to include fiber in their meals in order to “feel fuller and extend satiety for longer periods of time.”

“Make sure to have a complete meal that includes fruits, vegetables, starchy foods, dairy foods, protein-rich foods and natural fats. A complete meal will help control your appetite and even boost your immune system. Remember that quality, not quantity, of your meals during Suhoor and Iftar is what matters.”

She encouraged people to incorporate fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes into their diets during the holy month to ensure an appropriate intake of necessary vitamins and minerals.

Dr. Areej Al Khalil, a specialist in family medicine at Saudi German Hospital Dubai, said while fasting may seem difficult, there are numerous benefits to the body and mind, including weight loss, improved metabolism, and increased mental clarity.

“Breaking the fast is an important part of the Ramadan experience, and it is essential to do so in a healthy and proper way. The best way to break the fast is by eating a light meal that includes plenty of water, fruits, and vegetables.

“Avoid heavy, fried, or fatty foods, as these can cause digestive problems and make you feel sluggish. Instead, opt for protein-rich foods, such as lean meats, fish, and beans, and complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice and whole wheat bread. A healthy and balanced diet will help you maintain your energy levels throughout the day.”

Eat differently for Suhoor and Iftar

Suhoor is the meal eaten before dawn during Ramadan, after which people fast until after sunset, whereas Iftar is the evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset.

Different rules apply for Suhoor and Iftars, the doctors said.

“Suhoor is an important meal that should include complex carbohydrates, protein, fruits, and vegetables,” she said. “Avoid coffee during Suhoor,” Baji explained.

“Delay the Suhoor meal as much as possible as this meal provides sufficient energy throughout the day.”

Vionlia explained that Suhoor should not be skipped because it can lower metabolism and aid with fat storage in the body. She advises Muslims to avoid sugary and carbonated drinks, as well as highly processed carbs like sweetened breakfast cereals, cakes, pastries, biscuits and white bread.

In addition, Telan said that overindulging in fried and processed foods should be avoided because it could exacerbate the risk of chronic diseases and cause weight gain.

“Avoid too much salt as this will dehydrate you and make you thirsty during the day. In lieu of salt, use herbs, spices, lemon, or lime to add flavor to the food,” Telan explained.

For Iftar, Muslims should break their fast traditionally with three dates to replenish themselves with adequate nutrients and energy.

“Drink water/ milk/ soups to rehydrate appropriately. The main meal should include protein choices (lean chicken, fish, lentils, beans) with complex carbohydrates (brown rice, quinoa, couscous, whole grain pasta) and 1-2 cups of colorful vegetables,” said Baju.

For Iftar, Vinolia advised Muslims to avoid spicy and deep-fried foods and opt for healthier meals made in an air fryer instead.

She warned that consuming excessive sugar and fat after fasting hours can lead to fatty liver disease and increase the risk of gall and kidney stones.

“Carbonator devices are easily available online which can greatly replace sugar loaded soft drinks with plain fizzy sparking water which can be flavored with lemon, mint, cucumber or berries.”

Exercise little and often

Baju said Muslims should stay active as much as possible to boost their energy levels.

“Small walks and stretches in between long sitting schedules are a good choice,” she said. “Avoid strenuous activity during fasting.”

“People with medical conditions must consult their physician regarding fasting to avoid any health complications.”

Vinolia advised starting each day with a low-intensity stretching routine to prevent muscle stiffness and keep colonic muscles active. She added that the best time to work out during Ramadan if you are fasting is at least 1 hour after Iftar because it will ensure that an individual’s hydration is replenished, giving that person the time to have regained some glucose to energy and water-starved muscles.

“Though it might seem possible and time friendly to exercise around 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., it might lead to complicate dehydration, lead to muscle injury, ligament tears and migraines,” she cautioned.

“Choosing a moderate exercise regimen is better than a strenuous regimen as it may lead to more injurious during the fasting season. Adjusting carb, protein and fat in tune with the exercise can help one lose fat and achieve a heathy weight.”

Telan also offered the same advice, stressing that high-intensity exercises must be avoided and that people should prioritize strength training over cardio workouts in order to slow down the process of muscle loss while fasting.

Staying healthy while pregnant

Dr. Naela el-Sayed Ismail, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at Prime Medical Centre Dubai, told Al Arabiya English that fasting practices should differ for women who are pregnant.

While pregnant women can fast, whether they should or not depends on an individual women’s condition and capability to abstain from food for a long stretch of time, she said.

For those that do, Dr. Ismail advises women to keep hydrated between Iiftar and Suhour, with the recommended water intake being about two liters a day, she said.

“Eat food that is rich in water as cucumber and watermelon and avoid coffee, tea and caffeine-rich drinks as it makes your body urinate more and loose fluids.”

Meals should include low glycemic carbohydrates like wholemeal bread, oats and sweet potatoes, foods that are rich in fiber such as as leafy vegetables and protein-rich food like eggs, fish and chicken.

After eating, pregnant women are advised to take supplements and go for a walk to improve digestion and absorption of food.

Moderate exercise including walking, swimming, yoga and Pilates is also recommended.

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