Nutrition During Ramadhan/fast

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Muslims breaking their fast during the month of Ramadan

By Christine Beinomugisha

Ramadan is a holy month in Islam and Muslims observe fasting from dawn to sunset. Ramadan word itself signifies the amount of heat and dryness, which indirectly signifies the increase of fluid and mineral requirement. Those who are ill, travelling long distance, pregnant and nursing women, elderly with chronic illness are exempted from fasting. However many people fast during Ramadan irrespective of their health condition. Coping with the nutrient needs becomes very essential especially for these vulnerable section. A well balanced diet will minimize the negative consequence of fasting.
Ramadan fasting is intermittent lasting from 12 – 20 hours followed by food intake and again for same hours fasting for a period of thirty days. The main source of energy during fasting is the breakdown of glycogen stores in liver and muscle and there will be some amount of fat loss and muscle tissue breakdown. There is a significant loss of fluid and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, magnesium, calcium). Glycogen stores can be replenished once the food is consumed. The main concern when fasting is the fluid electrolyte balance. The fluid requirement is generally high it is necessary to drink enough water before and after fast to prevent dehydration.
Ramadan fasting does not lead to malnutrition since there is no restriction on type and amount of food intake before dawn and after sunset. However factors such as unbalanced food diet, less intake, presence of any acute or chronic diseases can lead to under-nutrition. Increased intake of fatty food, refined foods, sweets, junk food can lead to over-nutrition. Thus it becomes very important to choose right food and right quantity to stay healthy.
Very important Things to remember when fasting
Sufficient fluid intake
Drink a minimum of 8 glasses of water. Sufficient fluid intake is necessary to flush out the toxins, relieve the kidneys of the burden of concentrating the urine to maintain blood homoeostasis as well as to prevent dehydration. Fluids can be in the form of soups, juices or plain water.
Make sure to conserve body water
During the day stay in cool areas and limit physical activity so as to prevent excess fluid loss from the body.
Do not overeat
Do not overeat as body’s regulatory mechanism reduces the metabolic rate and ensures efficient utilization of the body’s energy reserve in times of hunger. Eating more will just add on to the calories leading to weight gain. Have balanced, nutrient rich meals to replenish the recommended allowances of protein, vitamins and minerals.
Choose low fat
Use low fat/skimmed milk & yoghurt, low fat cheese, lean meat as these too provide excess calories that will be stored as fat and thus weight gain.
Have balanced meal
Diet after fast should not be different from our normal routine diet. Make sure the meals contain complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, maize bread, millet products and whole grain bread, meat (lean meat), beans, fruits and vegetables.
Avoid excess consumption of sweets and refined products
Refined products and sweets get digested very quickly in comparison to complex carbohydrates (whole grains and cereals) as they are digested slowly. Thus complex carbohydrates are a better choice as there is constant supply of energy for a longer time and gives a feeling of satiety all long through the fasting hours.
Balanced calorie intake
Avoid unnecessary calorie consumption in the form of sweetened beverages, carbonated beverages instead go for healthy choices like water, fruit juice with pulp, soups (without cream). Do not eat too many nuts as they can add on to your caloric consumption and fat intake.
Say “No” to fried foods; Avoid fried and fatty food as it can cause heart burn or indigestion.
Rest; Schedule your sleeping hours as enough rest is also important.
Stay fit
Engage in light exercise like walk or stretching exercise. Ideal time to exercise is early in the morning, before fast or in the evening after fast. Never exercise when fasting as it makes you lose excess body water and exercising in starving state will lead to muscle tissue breakdown.
Stay with us for the next article “Tips on diet management of chronic illnesses during Ramadan/fast”

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