Halal or Islamic Dietry Guidelines
Health Tips During Ramadan
Ramadan is a month where believers learn to exercise self-control. A major facet of this is the abstinence from food and drink that is prescribed to all healthy Muslims during the hours of sunrise to sunset. Although the sick are exempt, many continue to fast and therefore abstain not only from eating and drinking water but also from consuming oral medications and intravenous nutritional fluids. This article provides a personal reflection on what advice might be pertinent for fasting Muslims in good health and those on medication.
Advice On Diet
During years where Ramadan falls in the winter, and the long hot days of the summer a mere distant memory, most of the health problems are likely to arise from inappropriate diet, over-eating and insufficient sleep. Firstly, there is no need to consume excess food at Iftar (the food eaten immediately after sunset to break the fast), dinner or Sahur (the light meal generally eaten about half an hour to one hour before dawn).
The reasons for this are two-fold. Firstly and most importantly such a lifestyle contradicts the principal aims and spirit of Ramadan. A learned scholar once said that "There is no receptacle more odious to God, than a belly stuffed full of food after a fast" and therefore "of what use is the Fast as a means of conquering God's enemy and abating appetite, if at the time of breaking it one not only makes up for all one has missed during the daytime, but perhaps also indulges in a variety of extra foods?" Indeed, there is a concern that it is becoming customary for some to "stock up" for Ramadan, so that more is consumed during this time than in the course of several other months combined. It is therefore worth reflecting on the true objective of fasting which is to experience hunger and to check desire in an attempt to reinforce the soul in piety.
Secondly, the body has regulatory mechanisms that reduce the metabolic rate and ensure efficient utilization of the body's fat reserves in times of hunger. Add to this the fact that most people assume a more sedentary lifestyle whilst fasting and the implication is that a balanced diet that is even less in quantity that normal will be sufficient to keep a person healthy and active during the month of Ramadan.
To remain healthy during Ramadan, normal quantities of food from the major food groups: bread and cereal, milk and dairy product, fish, meat and poultry, bean, vegetable and fruit should be consumed. (Vegetarians and Vegans should amend this list as appropriate). Intake of fruits after a meal is strongly suggested. In actual fact, our diet in Ramadan should not differ very much from our normal diet and should be as simple as possible. The diet should be such that we maintain our normal weight, neither losing nor gaining. However, if one is over-weight, Ramadan is an ideal time to shed those extra pounds!
In view of the long hours of fasting, we should consume the so-called 'complex carbohydrates' or slow digesting foods at Sahur so that the food lasts longer (about 8 hours) making you less hungry during the day. These complex carbohydrates are found in foods that contain grains and seeds like barley, wheat, oats, millet, semolina, beans, lentils, wholemeal flour, and unpolished rice.
In contrast, refined carbohydrates or fast-digesting foods last for only 3 to 4 hours and may be better taken at Iftar to rapidly restore blood glucose levels. Fast-burning foods include foods that contain sugar and white flour. Dates are an excellent source of sugar, fibre, carbohydrates, potassium and magnesium and have been recommended since the days of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) as a good way of breaking the fast.
Fried foods, very spicy foods and foods containing too much sugar such as sweets, the delight of many Muslims, can cause health problems and should be limited during Ramadan. They cause indigestion, heart-burn, and weight problems. Fasting can often increase gastric acidity levels in the stomach causing a burning feeling, a heaviness in the stomach and a sour mouth. This can be overcome by eating foods rich in fibre such as whole wheat bread, vegetables, humus, beans and fruits. These foods trigger muscular action, churning and mixing of food, breaking it into small particles, and thus help reduce the build up of acid in the stomach.
Drinking of sufficient water and juices between Iftar and sleep to avoid dehydration and for detoxification of the digestive system should be encouraged in fasting individuals. However, the intake of large amounts of caffeine-containing beverages should be avoided especially at Sahur. For example, drinking too much tea will make one pass more urine and inevitably cause the loss of valuable mineral salts that your body would otherwise need during the day. Fruits such as bananas are a good source of potassium, magnesium and carbohydrates. However, bananas can cause constipation and their intake has to be balanced with adequate fibre intake.
It is recommended that everyone engage in some kind of light exercise, such as stretching or walking. Exercise, together with a balanced diet, should help everyone watch their weight during Ramadan. Anyone overweight should increase the amount of exercise and reduce the amount of food intake to help reduce weight.
It is also important to follow good time management procedures for Ibada (prayer and other religious activities), sleep, studies, work, and physical activities or exercise. A good balance in the amount of time attributed for each activity will lead to a healthier body and mind in Ramadan.