By Hassan Riaz, Pharmacist, Horne Street Pharmacy
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, it’s a time of year where Muslims around the world fast during daylight hours for the whole month, engage in extra acts of worship and help the less fortunate through charity and community service.
This year, in the UK, that’s up to an incredible 20 hours of fasting each day! Abstaining from all food and water isn’t easy, especially if you couple the duration of each fast with the warm, summer weather. For that reason, a healthy Ramadan is vitally important.
Whilst fasting is obligatory upon all Muslims who are sane and have reached the age of maturity1, there are exemptions for certain individuals and fasting isn’t due upon them, until their condition or state improves.
Who is exempt from fasting in Ramadan?2
> Anyone with a medical illness can be excused from fasting if one reasonably fears that the act of fasting would increase the condition or delay the recovery process.
> The same ruling applies to a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding and reasonably fears that fasting will either harm her or her baby.
> A traveller, travelling a distance greater than 57.5 miles3, is also exempt from fasting if the journey is commenced prior to dawn.
Reasonable fear is determined by manifest signs, a relevant past experience or upon the notification of a medical professional.
What are the benefits of fasting?
If done correctly, fasting during Ramadan can provide numerous health benefits. It’s an ideal month to re-align your diet and make amends, ensuring a balanced diet is followed. If you’re overweight, it’s an opportunity to lose weight, but that’s only possible if healthy eating is adhered to. Ramadan is all about making changes and it’s an amazing opportunity to quit smoking. At the Hub Pharmacy, we offer services that can help you in your smoke-free journey before, during and after Ramadan.
How to fast safely this Ramadan
The month of Ramadan is a great opportunity to focus and incorporate a healthy and balanced diet as part of your life. Through fasting, an individual learns how to mend eating-habits, improve self-control and increase discipline. Essentially the energy consumed through what is eaten during non-fasting hours is what will be utilised for energy throughout the day. So if you intend to remain active and alert throughout the duration of the day, then it’s imperative that you eat healthily.
During fasting hours, the body uses its stores of carbohydrates and fats to provide energy once all the calories from the foods consumed at the Suhoor (pre-dawn meal) are used up. With warm weather expected in May and June this year, most people who will fast in Ramadan will experience mild forms of dehydration, which in turn could cause headaches, tiredness, and difficulty concentrating.
The Eatwell Guide is an interactive tool designed by Public Health England, allowing for better control in achieving a balanced diet. It’s an ideal tool giving you a better representation on quantifying what you should be eating whilst fasting, ensuring dehydration, constipation, indigestion and weight gain aren’t problems for you this Ramadan.
Foods that harm and foods that benefit
Suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, should be a wholesome and moderate meal that provides sustained energy release for the remainder of the day. Complex carbohydrates are a good choice to incorporate in this meal, they can be found in grains and seeds, like barley, wheat, oats, wholemeal flour, lentils, and rice. Fibre-rich foods are also digested slowly and include cereals, fruit, and vegetables, including figs, olives, pomegranate, and dates. Caffeine-containing drinks should ideally be avoided since caffeine is a diuretic and can stimulate water loss, which could, in turn, result in dehydration. Water, juices, and soups are great means of staying hydrated throughout the day.
Iftaar, the evening meal to break the fast, should incorporate the various food types enabling an individual to aim for a balanced meal. Dates are favourites to commence this meal since they provide a refreshing burst of energy almost instantaneously. Avoid deep-fried foods such as pakoras and samosas or high-sugar and high-fat foods such as Gulab Jaman, oily curries, and parathas. It’s best to stick to grilling or baking any meat, chicken, or fish, as opposed to frying. Olive oil is also an alternative with some studies showing it can reduce excess cholesterol around arteries, and reduce cardiovascular risk.5
The foods listed above are amongst a classification of foods that stem from the Prophetic Diet, a diet which instils eating in moderation over excess and establishing health over illness. Those undertaking Ramadan this year, are encouraged to eat healthily to avoid any medical complications.
For further information on healthy eating during Ramadan, feel free to visit your local Hub Pharmacy.
1 H. Shurunbulali, Nur al-Idah
2 A. Quduri, The Mukhtasar al-Quduri
3 A. Khan, Fatawa Ridawiyyah
4 Public Health England, The Eatwell Guide
5 R. Estruch et al, Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet